Using Disrespect to Motivate Yourself and Prove People Wrong

In sports, as in life, sometimes when you feel slighted and disrespected, it can give you extra motivation to do well to prove people wrong.

Michael Jordan was famous for it, Brett Favre is going through it now, and I’ve even used it myself for extra incentive.

“It” happens when people underestimate you.

A lot of people were put off by Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction speech last month, when he recounted many instances when people said he wasn’t good enough.  Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he never forgot it, so he became the greatest player of all time.  Writers said he’d never win a championship, so he won six.

In 1993, LaBradford Smith of the Washington Bullets scored 37 points against Jordan and the Bulls and supposedly said, “Nice game, Mike.”  Jordan vowed to score 37 points against the Bullets the next game by halftime and he scored 36 by halftime, 47 in all in just 31 minutes.  The funny thing is that Jordan admitted later that Smith never taunted him, but he just made the story up to give him extra motivation.

Now, just hours before Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings takes on his former team, the Green Bay Packers, there’s a lot of talk of revenge.  This is different than the Jordan situation, though.  While the Packers decided to let Favre go a couple of years ago in favor of Aaron Rodgers, it was partly because Favre kept going back and forth and wouldn’t give Green Bay a decision about whether he wanted to come back instead of retire.  When the deadline had passed with Favre deciding to remain retired, the Pack decided to go with Rogers.

Last summer before Favre signed with the New York Jets, it was clear his first choice was to go to Minnesota because they were one of Green Bay’s major rivals.  Favre wanted revenge.  He would like nothing better than to prove the Packers wrong.  But the Packers made the right decision.  Favre broke down at the end of last season, and though he’s having success this year, it’s mainly because he’s on a very good team.  And most football insiders know that Favre takes away as much as he gives, as he has more interceptions than any QB in NFL history (Click on “Quarterbacks” on the right side of the blog to see what I wrote about Favre a year ago).

Still, the idea of proving someone wrong can be very strong, and if you can use it as motivation, more power to you.

You see this most often in sports when an underdog uses disrespect as extra motivation to win.

Three years ago I wrote about why I like working with kids with autism under my first FAQ at http://www.coachmike.net/autism-faq.php:

I’ve always loved sports, and I root for the underdog. Anybody who has played sports or been a sports fan knows that when someone says you can’t do something, you love to prove them wrong. I prefer working with the kids who have the most severe disabilities because I love the challenge. One of the things I like most about working with kids with autism is the amount of progress that they have the potential to make.

I remember a time when an autism therapist asked why multiplication should be taught to a child who would never have a reason to use it.  About a year after that, the child mastered triple digit multiplication.

When I tried out for the junior high school tennis team in ninth grade, I was cut from the team.  I made the team the next year in high school, and during my junior and senior seasons I had a combined record of 23 wins and eight losses in doubles.  Then I lettered for four years at Division III Ohio Wesleyan University, albeit a small university.  I never forgot that the coach wrongly cut me in ninth grade and put other players on the team ahead of me whom I was better than.

Then in 2000, I signed up to play in a 4.0-level tennis league.  They told me I would play the first match and then I showed up and they said I wasn’t going to play the first match – I would have to watch.  So I went home, cancelled the check, and looked for a 4.5-level (higher level) league.  I found one and won six of the eight matches I played in doubles.  Some tennis board had to decide whether to let me play or not after cancelling the check and writing a new one.  Luckily, they did.

I’m not trying to compare Michael Jordan to me, I’m just saying that proving people wrong can be a powerful motivational tool.

How many times has the media counted someone out?  John Elway can’t win a Super Bowl (he won two).  Peyton Manning can’t win the big one (he won a Super Bowl).  Kobe Bryant can’t win an NBA title without Shaq (he did it last year).

Keep giving people motivation.  Keep saying they can’t do something.  But don’t put limitations on anyone.  I just searched on the word “limit” from the “Autism” category of my blog.  It came up three times:

I quoted from the book “Engaging Autism” by Stanley Greenspan:  “Schools tend to be very structured and to put a high priority on compliance and limit setting, rather than on engaging, interacting, problem-solving, and thinking creatively and logically.”

Then, from “Sports for Children with Autism,” which I wrote last summer:

“I never would have thought hockey would be a great sport for kids with autism because of the need to skate and handle a stick simultaneously, but it turns out that it can be great, and it just goes to show that we shouldn’t put limitations on anyone.”

And finally, this:  “A lot of people are familiar with the amazing story of Jason McElwain, an autistic teenager who scored 6 three-point baskets in a game for his high school team a few years ago. This type of success doesn’t happen a lot, but it would never happen if too many limitations are put on children who have autism and other disabilities who want to play sports.”

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