Do You Have The Will (To Prepare) To Win?

Mar 02, 2018 1 Min Read


During my childhood, those words were preached to me by my dad and sports coaches. For a young, ambitious athlete, there was a constant focus on practice and preparation. In fact, practice seemed to be as important as the Friday night game where I came from.

That conditioning built into me a love for practice which I have carried into my professional life – so much so that I derive almost equal satisfaction from practice as I do from playing the game.

For that, I have not just my dad and coaches to thank, but famous basketball coach, Bobby Knight.

After all, the words repeated to me over and again as a kid were in fact his.

The rest of Knight’s quote went like this:

Everyone wants to win but not everyone wants to prepare to win. Preparing to win is where the determination that you will win, is made. Once the game or test or project is underway, it is too late to prepare to win. The actual game, test or project is just the end of a long process of getting ready, in which the outcome was really determined. So, if you want to win, you must want to prepare to win. Once you prepare to win, winning is almost anti-climactic.

In sports, it’s easy to focus on the need for practice – in fact, the majority of an athletes’ time is spent on exactly that – but in our professional lives, the demarcation between practice and “the game” is blurred.

In reality, very few professionals have time to practise, unless they are working with a coach.

It’s little wonder then that their leadership doesn’t improve.

Paul Fitts and Michael Posner, famed psychologists and experts in the area of performance improvement, argue that people stop improving because they stop preparing.

They’ve discovered that most of us pass through three distinct stages when acquiring a skill, a behaviour, or an attitude (the three core ingredients of performance).

  • First stage: Practice – it is here that we consciously focus on getting better. When we improve, we then move into the second stage.
  • Second stage: On the job improvements. That is, learning by simply doing, not thinking. During this second stage, we concentrate less, as we’re actually getting better at carrying out a task. Then comes the third stage.
  • Third stage: Auto-pilot kicks in. Instead of improving, we just do.


At this point, we feel we’re as good as we need to be and therefore stop practising and preparing.  

The trouble is, we’re not as good as we need to be, or can be. As Bobby Knight said, it is essential to keep the will to prepare.

Here’s the point: when it comes to being successful, there’s a lot more to it than desire.

Success largely comes down to putting in time and effort so that when an opportunity arises, we’re ready to give it our best.

Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, is a case in point.

He realised that his role at the helm meant he was effectively a professional decision-maker, so he set out to become the best decision-maker he could.

How? By spending decades studying how to make decisions effectively and constantly learning how to improve his odds of being right.

He embodies the will to prepare.

Dalio and many other famed executives understand the importance of having the will to prepare, do you?

Concluding thoughts

As a chief executive officer (CEO) coach, I spend my life working privately with executives as they prepare to win.

You can think of the coaching sessions as practice.

Just as athletes spend time in the gym or on field before they step under the spotlights and in front of the crowds, executives need to do the same kind of vital preparation.

Knight once said, “Among all the things I believe, and all I’ve gathered from the people who have influenced me, I think one tops the list: The importance of preparation.”

He was right.


It is up to leaders to inspire oft over-extended, frustrated people and help them see the opportunities that come with any crisis. How does one person inspire others in such an environment, and encourage them to play to win? To check out how you can play to win, read this article.



A thinker, speaker, and writer to the core, Dr. Tommy holds a doctorate in strategic leadership from Regent University, and is the founder of EMLC where he is the region’s leading CEO Coach. In addition to writing a number of books – including the Amazon #1 best-seller, Leadership Dubai Style and 10 Tips for Leading in the Middle East, Dr. Tommy is the editor-in-chief of Emerging Markets Business – The Authoritative Review. Email to get in touch with him!

Reposted with permission.

Share This



This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

You May Also Like

Diverse characters holding up jigsaw pieces

Why Allyship Is Key to Gender Balance

By Ilian Mihov and Zoe Kinias. Gender balance remains an unmet goal. Despite progress during the last 50 years, women and men continue to experience unequal opportunities, particularly in employment, politics, leadership and economic empowerment. To drive meaningful change, we must set an ambitious agenda and rally men and women to achieve it.

Nov 14, 2022 4 Min Read


The Intern Show EP1

Oct 15, 2020 33 Min Podcast

GLN's Gary and Roshan Thiran

The Leaderonomcs Show: Better Leaders Make Everything Better

Gary Schwammlein from the GLN shares Insights on Culture & Leadership in this Leaderonomics Show Special Episode. Gary shares some deep insights on how everything rises and falls on leadership

Sep 13, 2018 21 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader