We all have goals, objectives, and game plans to get us to where we want to go and who we want to become.

We put in the work and the reps, and we grind to make our desired future a reality.

And sometimes, no matter how much time and effort we put in. No matter how hard we train. No matter how much we sacrificed. No matter how bad we want it… sometimes, we still lose.


Well, no matter what we did to prepare, our opposition prepared as well.

“When you are not practicing, someone else is. When you meet him, he will win.” – Martial Arts Proverb”

This idea that the opposition gets a vote is borrowed from a similar sentiment in a chapter of Extreme Ownership.

In the chapter, “Simple”, the authors talk about the importance of keeping mission plans, instructions, and strategies as simple as possible.

One of those reasons: “… the enemy gets a vote.”

The authors go on to say, “Regardless of how you think an operation is going to unfold, the enemy gets their say as well – and they are going to do something to disrupt it.”

I wanted to explore this topic today as it highlights the importance of staying hungry and never letting yourself become complacent – if you aren’t working hard at what you want, someone else is, and if you think you have it figured out, there is someone out there ready to prove you wrong.

We don’t just show up in life and get the win, award or distinction. The opposition gets a vote too – and they won’t be voting for you.

My most memorable experience (more likes experiences) with the opposition getting a vote was the majority fo my high school football experience.

We lost… a lot. We were a small school which had its pros and cons. A personal ‘pro’ was that it enabled me to play both ways! The biggest con was that we lacked depth and couldn’t always keep up with the talent on the other side of the ball.

We prepared week in and week out. We felt good going into each and every game.

And so did our opposition. We practiced, prepared, watched film, conditioned and our opponents were doing the same.

Two out of my three Varsity seasons were marked with a 2-7 record before we put together a 6-3 campaign during my senior season and made it into the second round of the playoffs.

“Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

We learned the hard lessons from losing, and we learned a lot about ourselves in the process. Most importantly, I learned the lesson of earning every yard.

No matter how much we think we deserve something, or that it’s our turn to catch a break, someone is battling for that same yard too. And if we take on the mentality that it’s our turn to win, or we deserve it this time, we will lose that yard each and every time.

So while we know we won’t win the yard in every play of life, what can we do to improve our odds when the opposition gets in our way?

Go Head to Head with the Opposition

Football remains a very powerful metaphor in my life. The visual of breaking the huddle and running up to the line with a single objective in mind – run the play to the best of your ability, and win the yard.

That yard will mean different things to different people. On defense, you want to push the offense back, make the tackle or get the sack, and in a best case scenario force a fumble or interception and recover the ball. On offense, you want to knock your opposition off the line of scrimmage and get that first down and eventually a touchdown. Either way, both sides are battling for that first yard.

Both sides have practiced the perfect plays for all the down and distance situations, and one truth remains – so much uncertainty can happen in those few seconds after the ball is hiked.

One team executes better than the other, or one team wants it more. No matter how perfect the play call was, and how much practice went into running that play, the opposition gets a vote.

What can we do before, during or after those plays to increase our chances of success and put ourselves in the best mental space to want it more?

Here are some key mindsets and tactics to increase the chances of success, and how to roll with the punches when things don’t go to plan:

Respect the competition

This is more of a precautionary step, and also a mindset to carry with us whenever and wherever we compete.

Just as we strive to continually get better, assume your opposition is doing the same.

It’s when we get complacent or think we are so far ahead of the field that we let our foot off the gas, take a play off, or don’t give 100%. It’s during those times that things really get out of hand, and your opposition can take the lead.

Don’t lose focus, and never think for a second that your opposition isn’t putting in the time to knock you on the ground to win that yard.

Be flexible and relentless

Don’t let your mindset get thrown off when your plans get disrupted. Some people let it all fall apart when one thing doesn’t go as planned.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

Think in terms of what else you can try, or what the competition did that you can do better.

Be flexible, have some fun, and roll with the situation. Just because one play or one strategy isn’t working as you expected, iterate quickly and try different things. You will learn more when things go sideways versus when things are going perfectly.

And don’t forget, hard work and relentless determination can overcome an ineffective plan or strategy when we are able to keep our head and adapt.

Also, prepare contingency plans when you can – this will come with time, which leads me to my next point…

Build experience

The more we do something – the more we practice and put in the reps – the better we can adapt during times of disruption or difficulty.

This comes with one huge caveat – we must be willing to accept our failures, mistakes, and weaknesses and learn from them!

When things go wrong, it may be tempting to blame someone else. As leaders, we must take Extreme Ownership of the situation and recognize that whatever went wrong was our fault.

When we can take that level of ownership of a situation, we open ourselves up to great learning and experience that will help us better prepare for the next play, game, business deal, or other challenge of life.

Appreciate the challenge

Let’s be honest, if things went 100% to plan each and every time, life would get pretty boring.

If we are walking out onto the field with a very real chance of losing, then that means we are playing big enough – it means the stakes are high, and earning a victory will truly mean something.

So when things don’t go to plan curtesy of the opposition, be grateful for the meaningful competition and see what you can learn about your game planning, preparation, leadership, and yourself in the process

Dedicate yourself to continuous improvement

Whether or not everything went to plan, what can you do better?

Win or lose, how can you improve?

Being focused on continuous improvement for yourself and your team will keep you ahead of the competition if you are there already, or keep you hot on their heels until you eventually overtake them.

As soon as a person or team thinks they have it all figured out, or know it all, they are vulnerable and ready to be beat.

Be the person / team who is always willing to learn and make themselves 1% better every single day. If you do, the opposition’s vote will mean less and less over time.

So get out there, get after it, and Unleash your Inner Athlete.

Discussion Question: What is one thing you can do this week in your job, on the field, or in life to better prepare for when the opposition disrupts your best laid plans?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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