What a Navy SEAL Taught Mike Matheny about Winning

Mike MathenyMike Matheny, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, is always looking to learn more about what it takes to succeed—in sports and in life. A dedicated student of history’s greatest coaches, Matheny has also learned invaluable lessons from role models outside of sports.

He once took the Cardinals players and coaches to visit the Naval Special Warfare Unit in Coronado, California. Their visit occurred during Navy SEAL training and Matheny called it one of the most “eye-opening experiences” he’s ever had.

To become a Navy SEAL, it requires a level of physical exertion few of us could ever imagine going through. The very few servicemen who survive the first four weeks of grueling training must then make it through one final week-long test in which they’re only allowed four hours of sleep (two hours on Wednesday and two hours of Thursday). It’s no wonder that the few who are honored with the SEAL name are considered some of the world’s most elite warriors.

During his visit, Matheny learned something very interesting about what it takes to become a Navy SEAL…


We spent the day talking with established veteran SEALs, and it was obvious there was something different about them. I asked one, who had served with multiple different SEAL teams as both a leader and an instructor, what were the characteristics he commonly saw in those who made it through the process and were selected. He listed the following five:

1- Physical toughness (“The easiest quality to find,” he said.)

2- Mental toughness

3- Moral toughness (He described this as “Doing the right thing all the time, even when nobody’s looking.”)

4- Team orientation (“A belief that the needs of the team are greater than your own.”)

5- Humility

Now, there’s a list that can be applied to any area of life. That’ll work at home, in the office, on the team, anywhere.

And it sure reinforces the need for coaches to help raise high-character kids. They may not be destined for the big leagues, but they just may make a difference in the boardroom and, who knows, maybe even become modern-day heroes who fight for our freedom.


– Mike Matheny, from his book (with Jerry B. Jenkins) The Matheny Manifesto

It’s striking to hear a Navy SEAL call physical toughness the “easiest quality to find” of those required to make the cut and become a SEAL. Not only does it emphasize that mental toughness is more important than physical toughness, but isn’t it interesting that the three other qualities he listed were all character qualities?

In other words, it’s much harder to find men of high character than it is men of high physical ability.

No matter how impressive your physical and intellectual abilities are, you’ll never reach your potential at work, in the arena, or at home if you lack the qualities that make you a person of high character.

Character means doing what’s right, sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others, and showing humility. When it comes to improving yourself, character must always come first on your list of priorities.