Dr. Bert Mandelbaum is known throughout the world as a leading expert in the diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions, especially those related to the knee. Combining his love of sports and medicine, Dr. Mandelbaum’s expertise is sought by some of the world’s most prestigious athletic organizations including the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball among others. Most recently, he served as a FIFA medical officer at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, following service as team physician for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team during its five previous World Cup appearances.
Dr. Mandelbaum is passionate about living every day to the fullest and helping others do the same. Guided by nearly three decades as an orthopedic surgeon treating thousands of patients from all walks of life, Dr. Manelbaum has identified a common link among those who are able to overcome mental and physical adversity in search of victory, whether in sports, in their profession, or in their personal life.
That link can be distilled into a simple truth: in order to truly win in anything, we must draw on the inner victorious spirit that is the birthright of every human being. In his first foray into book authorship, Dr. Mandelbaum has written The Win Within: Capturing Your Victorious Spirit, which is accompanied by a companion website, win-within.com. In The Win Within, he explains how the ability to succeed comes from that powerful spirit that dwells inside us all.
Dr. Bert Mandelbaum received his medical degree in 1980 from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and completed a fellowship in sports medicine at the University of California Los Angeles. He currently serves as medical director of the FIFA Medical Center of Excellence in Santa Monica, California, as director of research for Major League Baseball, and on the US Olympic Committee National Medical Network Advisory Group.The following is an excerpt from The Win Within: Capturing Your Victorious Spirit.
From chapter 5, “The Ramparts of Victory: Optimism and Hope.”
Ability is what you’re capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.
My staff, coworkers, and fellow surgeons call me the “Energizer Bunny” because of the constant energy and good mood I maintain, even if I’ve just gotten off a fifteen-hour flight from China. Why do I put so much effort into staying positive, even when I don’t necessarily feel like it? Because I’ve found that having an upbeat attitude is more motivating to my staff and team than any complaint about my lack of sleep could ever be. My attitude spreads to them, and everyone generally performs better and has a better outlook on the future. When we have optimism, we possess a crucial component of the victorious spirit.
When adversity strikes, we absolutely must remain positive, viewing the setback as a motivator rather than a hindrance. In these moments, the victor harnesses his or her passion to see the misfortune not as a failure or a roadblock but as a marker of progression. This problem isn’t the end of the journey, the victor thinks. It’s just a bump in the road on the way. Of course optimism shouldn’t negate our grasp on reality: realistic idealism is what we should strive for. It’s vital to staving off the self-doubt that comes with unexpected hardship. It helps you see that just because something unanticipated went wrong along the way, it doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it and still reach your goal.
Optimism is vital precisely because, throughout the course of life, so many things will go wrong. Trivial or catastrophic, setbacks and upsets pepper our existence, but they have to. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t run into problems. We wouldn’t develop without the experience of them. Our lives aren’t measured in a vacuum. We define ourselves—and are defined by others—by how we react to the things that happen to us. Every occurrence, good or bad, presents an opportunity for knowledge and growth. A negative experience doesn’t warrant a negative reaction. We have to surpass our temptation to resent or withdraw from our afflictions if we are to learn from them.
Further, optimism, in its fullest and most useful form, is an action rather than a simple mindset. Our thoughts must not only be hopeful but must also be outwardly manifested in our actions and expressions in order to make a reality out of our imagination. We have to communicate our own hopes and positivity to those around us in order to actually change the reality of a situation instead of just tolerating it. With these elements of anticipation, endurance, recovery, and active communication in place, we can enjoy each positive moment to its fullest. Perhaps more importantly, with this understanding of the significance of an active optimism, we can make something out of any experience.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup: Winning Through Optimism
The 2010 FIFA World Cup stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, was a setting of mystery and uncertainty. This was the first World Cup ever hosted in Africa. A terrorist attack on an African soccer team’s bus had occurred only months earlier and, while it was deemed unrelated to the security of the World Cup, there was tension in the air. A workers’ strike had taken place during the stadium’s construction, and there was some political conflict regarding the “hiding” of slums from the tourist community. During qualifying matches, several controversies arose, involving questionable goals and crowd unruliness, building on the tense atmosphere. The neck hairs of everyone in the stadium, including my own, were constantly on end. We were all unsure if this tension would erupt or fizzle. This uncertainty only added to the overall anxiety.
The US Men’s Soccer Team was in a particularly ambiguous position. While the team had improved since the previous years, the team was by no means favored to win. There were many sensational wins during the qualifying stages, most of which were counterbalanced with the disappointment of a loss. We qualified, though, and the players were set to face off against England in the first match of the first round. The two teams had not played each other in a World Cup since 1950. The match ended in a 1–1 tie, granting the team neither the inspiration of a victory nor the frustration and motivation of a loss.
Slovenia was the next opponent in line, a team we had never before faced. Again, the match ended in a tie, leaving the team only to wallow in the uncertainty of their standing. Any comfort in familiarity was far off, as the team was matched up with Algeria, another team we had never played. We, the doctors and coaches, prepared the players the best we could physically and technically, but how were they supposed to mentally prepare themselves? How were they supposed to anticipate an unknown team, especially after playing a series of such indeterminate matches leading up to it? There was no momentum of victory to feed off of, and no personal knowledge of the Algerian team to find solace in.
All that the team had to work with was their optimism. While optimism should play its role even when there is a certain momentum or level of comfort, it needed to be brought out tenfold in this scenario.
We found ourselves more intimidated by the unknown, by the equal chance of glory and disappointment, than we would have been by facing a known soccer superpower. We didn’t want to fantasize a triumphant win and make a potential sting of defeat that much harsher, but we also didn’t want to sell ourselves short. If we went in pessimistic, our attitude would dictate the course of the match, and we’d be defeated before we even started. So, we had no choice but to hope, even if there were traces of self-deception in our optimism.
So we went into the match hopeful but vulnerable, floating in the disconcerting limbo of uncertainty. By halftime, we were no more certain of our fate than we were during the qualifying matches. The match was scoreless, and the stalemate dragged well into the second half. Both teams played hard, showcasing only their best performance to their unfamiliar opponent. Obviously, progression into further rounds was at stake, but so was the pride of both teams, particularly that of the US team who sought to solidify their compromised status with a decisive victory.
Relentless play continued into the eightieth minute, then into the ninetieth. No score. Would the match end in yet another tie, eliminating the US from the tournament? After all their preparation and dedication, would the team fade into insignificance without enough wins under their belt? For the US players, there was no time for these doubts in the heat of the action, no time for even the slightest anguish when each second required total focus and a fiercely positive outlook if they were to score. The burden of anxiety was entirely on the spectators, each of us holding our breath and gasping with every action. The Algerians played harder and harder as the clock counted its final minutes, but the US kept up. As the seconds kept ticking away, even those of us on the sidelines and in the stands could no longer afford to be doubtful. Our gasps turned to cheers. We each changed from a spectator of a potential disaster to a participant in the collective optimism pushing the team closer to victory.
In these moments, the only thing in the stadium keeping its composure is that steadily ticking clock. As the final minutes count down, a shot on the US goal is saved, and the ball is tossed down the field.
With his world-class speed, American Landon Donovan sprints after it, ahead of an opponent by only a single stride. Advancing down the field, he passes. A shot is taken. Deflected! The ball lingers in front of the goal as an American and an Algerian tumble into the net after a struggle. Like lightning, Donovan comes from behind! The ball is just sitting there! The net is open! Donovan shoots! GOOOAAAL!
The US Men’s Soccer Team won the game, 1–0, and preserved their integrity. While they weren’t able to progress much further in the tournament (they were later eliminated by Ghana), the victory remains a key moment in last-minute soccer history. The team channeled their optimism. In anticipating the Cup, the team maintained awareness of their less-than-best status but didn’t let it psych them out. They needed to be realists to an extent, so they would be continually motivated to train and develop further, but they never took a defeatist standpoint. They never stockpiled seal meat. They maintained this stoicism throughout the match. In its final moments, instead of focusing on the ninety grueling, disheartening, scoreless minutes that they had already played, the team focused on the time that they still had.
We all have to tap into optimism in our lives, even during those moments when we aren’t faced a chance to win the World Cup or break a scoring record. We have to treat our past experiences, good and bad, as fruitful in bringing us insight. With this positive retrospection, we can then look to the future, ready ourselves for what might happen, endure, and recover. With optimism, we captain our life’s ship and sail the open seas of unimagined opportunity in front of us.