Watch and read Prof. Tim Noakes’ inspiring talk at Successness Fest 2017
Prof’s inspiration highlight: “Winners imagine their dreams first, they want it with all their heart and expect it to come true, there’s no other way to live.”
This is a full transcription of Prof. Tim Noakes’ motivation talk at Successness Fest Cape Town, 2017
“I brought these from my life to show you. So that song is of course Liverpool’s hymn as it were, my parents are from Liverpool and I owe a huge debt to them. So there they are, this is my father in his cricket team in 1931. and excuse me I get emotional, those are two very brave people. They came to Africa at the end of the second world war because they thought there were more opportunities in Africa and they were correct. Neither of them ever went to university. I could go to university and everything I’ve achieved was based on their decision to leave Liverpool and come to South Africa.
So I’m going to talk about hope in your heart and belief systems and I’m going to begin my story, because I was originally a runner, with this fabulous story of this man who did not fight in the Second World War. So he’s also part of the great generation – the people who fought in the Second World War like my father.
But he didn’t fight, neither of these people fought in the Second World War and they both wanted to leave a legacy. On the left is Roger Bannister and on the right is John Landy, many years ago they wanted to break the 4-minute mile and that was the world record. And these were the two athletes who would do it. On the left was Bannister who achieved it, and if you go back and look at the world records for the mile, you will see that the world record came down from about 4:08, down to 4:01. At the end of the Second World War these were Swedish runners, they were not fighting in the wars, so they had time to train. And anyway, during that time, John Landy ran the mile 7 times in 4 minutes and 2 seconds, 7 times! And he said:
“Frankly I think the 4-minute mile is beyond my capabilities. 2 seconds may not sound match, but to me it’s like trying to break through a brick wall. Someone may achieve the 4-minute mile the world is wanting so desperately but…”
You can never achieve anything if that’s your belief because your subconscious controller in your brain will tell you that 4:02 is good enough. So Bannister then broke the world record and then this happened – 46 days later John Landy ran 4 seconds faster than he had ever run in his life before also breaking the 4-minute mark.
One of the key reasons for the difference was that Bannister had a coach and Landy didn’t. The coach believed in Bannister and that was key.
So Bannister speaks 50 years later about what happened on the day of the race. He arrived at the race field, at the track, and it was miserable, rainy, wet. He said: “I’m not racing today” and his coach called him in and said the following to him:
“You can run 3:56 mile and if you have the chance and you don’t take it, you may regret it for the rest of your life. You can run a 3:56 mile in good conditions and in these conditions you can run in 3:59.”
50 years later he still doesn’t know whether his coach actually believed but that wasn’t enough, it wasn’t important because he achieved it.
Here is his coach and his coach says:
“Training is principally an act of faith. You have to believe that through training you will become fitter and healthier and we don’t talk about that, we talk about changing your physiology. The reality is training changes your brain perceptions of what you can achieve. The great hurdle is the mental barrier.”
So if I asked this audience, I can train you, all of you to run the Comrades next year, some of you will immediately say it’s impossible, I can’t do it. Others will say, when do we start. And that’s the difference because we put up this mental barrier, and you have to get over the mental barrier first, to be successful.
So here is Bannister again speaking:
“I shall always regard the crux of my coach’s contribution that on the day of the race, he gave me this self-belief that, despite the bad weather, I could break the 4-minute mile, and I believed him. That’s what coaches are there for, to make you believe.”
Here’s the next great runner Herb Elliott, and he said:
“To run a world record you have to have absolute arrogance to think you can run a mile faster than anyone who’s ever lived, and then you have to have the absolute humility to actually do it.”
And in South African terms, Wayde van Niekerk, is the athlete who epitomizes the humility and the arrogance needed because he set a world record in one of the most difficult disciplines – the 400m in the Olympic Games. And he is incredibly humble, but that hides a discipline and an arrogance that you have to have. You can’t have too much of either or you won’t succeed.
The next great runner who really inspired me, was a guy called Jim Ryan, and this is a picture of him as a 17 year old, breaking the 4-minute mile, becoming the first school athlete in history, to break the 4-minute mile. He only started running 4 years before. So he’s never run – he was completely useless at everything – and when he was 15 his coach called him in and said the following to him:
“Let’s talk about goals here. What do you think you can do a mile in?” And he says yes: “This year, I don’t know, maybe….” And the coach says: “Not this year, I mean by the time you’re a senior, in 2 years’ time?”. And Ryan says” I’ve never given it any thought, maybe I can run 4:10″. And the coach says: “I’m talking about the 4-minute mile Jim! No high school boy’s ever run it and I think you can be the first. I’m convinced you can do it.” And what does he say? Coach, I think you’re crazy.”
So what happens, 2 years later he breaks the four-minute mile. This is the point. That we have to set goals. Because most people don’t have the goal, they don’t understand their ability.
Ryan goes on:
“At the time I had no idea what a 4-minute mile signified. I was only 15 years old, basically still a child. Coach was certain about my ability, even if I wasn’t myself. He’d already tutored several very successful milers and believed in his coaching system. As difficult as it was to make the adjustment to consider myself a champion, a front runner, as a good athlete I did my best to trust in the coaches judgement and to believe his words. Though I was initially dumbfounded by his prediction, it did in fact prove not only to be accurate, but it set me on target for what would be the essence of my life for some years to come. I was willing to go along with his higher goals than I had thought possible.”
This is the greatest athlete of all time, he said I’m the greatest and he says he said that even before he knew he was, which of course shows the humour that he understood that it was a strange statement.
We’ve heard about American football. We had that lovely ‘Inches speech’, and American football is a game of inches. It’s the most complex sport in the world, and the athletes who participate are the best athletes, in my opinion, in any sport in the world. And this is one of the great ones. Winners imagine their dreams first, they want it with all their heart and expect it to come true, there’s no other way to live. This guy’s not only a supreme athlete physically, but he’s an astonishing mental athlete as well. Here’s his coach, and this is the key that you can’t have a great athlete without an exceptional coach. This is what his coach said:
“Joe Montana came to the San Francisco 49ers believing he was extraordinary. My job was to convince him that he was beyond extraordinary.”
And how many times have we been challenged to be beyond extraordinary. Very seldom, mostly we’re told the opposite. There is one very famous moment in his career, I’m just gonna show you that moment, not just for what happens, but for those belief systems. And so this was a very famous game, it was the semi-finals as it were for the Championships of America, and Joe Montana, it was all down to him, he had one play to succeed, and this is how it is remembered. That’s what sports all about, those moments of perfection that you spend your lives building on, and believing it’s possible.
When I started running, Nike running shoes didn’t exist. One man had a vision that he wanted to produce the best running shoes in the world, even before he’d even had the first shoe, and that was Phil Knight. He signed up two people early on, the athlete on the right, Steve Prefontaine, and Geoff Hollister on the left. Geoff Hollister was the first employee of Nike. He’s my age, exactly my age. And he sold Nike shoes out of the back of his car. He has colon cancer and wrote his autobiography. In fact he wrote one of the best finishes to a book I’ve ever read. He said the following:
” When someone has a belief in your future more than you do, that’s the key to coaching. You have to have more belief in the athlete then the athlete believes in himself or herself. It’s not about how long you live but how you contribute. It’s about doing your best and doing the right thing. It’s about recovering from your mistakes and not giving up. It’s about the baton pass to the new generation. It’s about the realisation that you cannot go alone, that it takes a team. In the end we are somewhere in the middle, part of a never ending process. The future will never remember what was in your bank account or what kind of car you drove. The future will remember that wild life – your wild ride of life – where you believed in others and left a gift behind for someone else to dream the impossible. The gift was your own life, the gift was your own life. It does not matter whether it was long or short, what did you leave behind? And what we have to leave behind, is the coaching of people to believe in themselves.”
That’s one of the great messages I’ve learnt in my life.
I was fortunate to be a consultant to the Springbok rugby team that won the 2007 Rugby World Cup and I learnt a great deal from that cause they were an astonishing team, and their coach was an – an astonishing coach as well, Jake White. And this is what he wrote in his book, and I never understood it until I asked him how did he know this at such a young age, as a 17 year old. He wrote, one of my dreams for the future, my greatest dream is to play rugby, especially for the Springboks, but even to become their coach, I’ve seen how you can make people believe in themselves, how you can show people that every single person can be a winner if you want it. And I asked Jake, how, at the age of 17 did you know that? He said it was simple: ” I was hooker for the Jeppe high school team and once a month or so, the coach would come down and say on a Monday, gosh you know so and so, you really played well last – on Saturday, I think you’ve got a future in this game, you could play provincial rugby or you could become a springbok. Then what happened is that guy, the next week, he would start playing as if he was already a Springbok”.
But Jake said: ” Unfortunately the coach never said that to me. So I’m here to become the coach rather than the player.”
When he first meet the team, they had just won the World Cup in under 21 and he said:”You just won the under 21 Rugby World Cup, you will win the 2007 Rugby World Cup”. The players said: ” It’s impossible Jake”. He said: “No, you’ve just beaten them, you’re gonna be playing them again in 4 years’ time, why not?”
And he stuck with that belief, and he worked on it for 4 years. And at the end the players achieved what the coach said they would on the first day he coached them. It’s a classic example of belief in the athletes.
The other person I was fortunate to work with was Lewis Pugh, and Lewis, as you know from Cape Town, a lawyer from UCT, cold water swimmer, who’s become one of the world’s leading environmentalists. He wanted to swim 1 kilometre at the North Pole in a speedo and return alive. My job was to make sure he returned alive.
So it all began. He came to my office one day and said: “Can I swim around the Cape Peninsula?” Because he’d spoken to everyone else in Cape Town and they said NO. I said: “Well I understand the physiology, yes you can do it.” So he went out and did it. It took him 13 days and he got back and when he arrived back on Muizenberg beach, he phoned me at my offices in Newlands. And he said: “Coach, I couldn’t have done it without you”. And I said: “What do you mean?”. He said: “You believed in me. I just needed one person to believe in me. There was a moment when I was swimming off Hout Bay where I had to ask the question, do I continue or don’t I. And I said to myself that there’s one person who believes I can do it, so let’s go and do it”
Then next he asked me: “Can I swim at 80 degrees north of the island of Svalbard?” And I said: “What’s the expected water temperature?” He said: “0 to 5 degrees Centigrade”. So I said: “I can’t guarantee you will live”. So anyway, we went and did some experiments and proved that it could be done, and he managed to achieve that. We went down to the Antarctic and he did a swim for a mile in the water temperature of 2 or 3 degrees. This was a classic swim, and you can see he’s pretty tired and very, very cold, his muscles were at a temperature of 31 degrees centigrade, the normal is 37. They stayed 31 for 3 hours after his swim, despite the fact that we’d warmed him, he was just an ice block when we pulled him out.
We then went from Omsk in Russia, to the North Pole, so we took the – the boat trip to the North Pole, it took 7 days, it’s now 3 days because the ice has disappeared so much and then we came back. And at the North Pole he swam 1 mile in about 18 minutes. And the key to the success of the project was that we had absolute trust in each other’s abilities. He knew that I would not allow him to swim into trouble and damage himself and I knew that he would keep swimming as long as long as I gave him the message that he could continue.
My final example is one I’m really proud of. I was working with this rugby team from the University of Cape Town. Everything is stacked against us. We don’t have the money to get the best athletes and we are academic, and so they’re pretty academic students that we have. A few years ago in 2014, we won this competition 39 – 33. But the problem was that, 7 minutes before the game were finished, we were completely out of the game and were 18 points down. The game was over essentially and the other side must have assumed they were going to win.
And so, if we take you back to the game, at 74 minutes, we were 18 points down, so we have to score 18 points in 7 minutes, and we’ve only scored 15 in 74 minutes. So what hope have we? So what happened at this moment, was just before this moment, two of our players had been injured – one was concussion, the captain, he’d been taken off and the other player had hurt his neck, and he had been stretchered off. So there was a 5 minute period in which this player, number 10, Dean Grant, who had played an atrocious game on that day, but was our key player of the whole season, and the coach had said: “I will never take him off, never, I don’t care how bad he plays, I promised to support this player”. And fortunately he left him on because at 74 minutes into the game, Dean Grant, had a vision, that’s all you can say. He had a vision. so he called the players together, and this is what he said to them:
“Oakes, I can’t tell you or explain to you why, but I know that we’re gonna win this game. now that’s ridiculous, it seems this game is completely unwinnable, but something has just told me that we’re going to win and it doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not but I promise you a miracle is going to happen now. Boys, you have to believe, but believe with your whole heart but we’re going to win here, and I promise you we will. A miracle is going to happen now, but you have to believe.”
And what had happened at that moment was that we put the reserve bench on, the full 7 reserves came on at that time. And so they were on the field, and they didn’t conceive that they had lost the game because they’d only just come on and they conceived that they were being put on to win the game. So this is the power of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy, is defined as a false definition of the situation, evoking new behaviours which make the original conception come true. So what happened in the next few minutes was we scored 2 tries, and the game went into overtime, went to 82 minutes, and then this is the concluding minute or so. We’re still 2 points behind, we’re deep in our own territory, they should have ended the game, they had an opportunity to end the game, we charged down a – a drop kick attempt. And – and this is what happened………
What I didn’t have time to tell you was just how the team had been prepared for that match because it was assumed that we would lose, there was nothing because the team was so much superior – the Potch team. I gave them a book to read and it was called the – ‘The boys in the boat’. It’s a story about 8 young men who go to Washington University, and start rowing as a crew, and after 2 years, this is in 1934, after 2 years the coach says to them: “You are going to win the Olympic Games gold medal in 1936”. Even before they had won a major competition. And it’s a story of how these guys bond, and then go on to win the Olympic gold medal, 2 years later. One of the key moments is that the night before the final, although they are the best team, they win their semi-finals and they’re given the worst draw because it’s organised by the Germans who decide we don’t want the Americans winning this gold medal. So they put them in the worst lane with lots of wind etc. But worst of all the stroke – who’s the most important oarsman – is so sick that the coach says we can’t row him tomorrow. The team says: “We row with him or we don’t row at all.” Anyway they take off, and he’s in terrible shape, and with 500m to go, their crew is way down, like a length down. Over the last 400m they close in and they win by 6 inches. And in the book they describe how that was because they finally came together as a unit, and that was what they were going to take away from it. And we said to this UCT team: “Go out and do something special, that will be remembered for the rest of your lives, because that’s what sport gives you, this opportunity to do that”.
And so my final statement is from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was the former president of the United States, remembered as one of the people who really changed the future of the United States and he said:
“Men and women are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”
And I hope that my talk has shown you that if you believe in an outcome it’s much more probable that you’ll achieve that outcome. Thank you very much.”