What Do You Do In The New Year When The Three Crowns Don’t Work?

Posted on January 1st, 2016 by

You’re going to fail this year. Oh, Happy New Year from TLC!

Guess what? Everyone else you know is also going to fail.

You are going to practice the Three Crowns of attitude, effort, and sportsmanship. And sometimes you are going to fall on your face. Sometimes literally. So why even bother getting back up? That’s a question I have asked myself often.


One of the best answers I ever got was from Sam, a student in a college class I was facilitating called “Changing The World.” I asked the question, “If you knew you couldn’t change the world, would you still try?”

Sam’s answer has stuck with me ever since:


Why? I asked.

Because I’m stubborn, he said.

And that may just be the crux of the Three Crowns. Because they don’t come easily and they don’t come naturally. To anyone. We seem to think that simply knowing the philosophy is enough to succeed at them on a consistent basis. But the Three Crowns are habits, just like brushing your teeth is a habit, or buckling your seat belt, or practicing your topspin forehand until you have it grooved for a match.


So what do you do when the Three Crowns don’t work? You get back up. And you start again. And again. And again. That is how habits are formed. And one day the natural reaction to getting knocked down will be not to even think about it. You just do. You get back up. You smile. You brush yourself off. You say “Good job” to your opponent. Why? Because you have a lot of Sam in you. Even if you don’t know it yet. And stubbornness can be one of the greatest forces for good in this world.

So fail away. I’ll be failing beside you. And I will get back up with you. Because I’m stubborn, too.

Happy New Year.

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  1. Barbara Wilkinson says:

    John makes a very good point about the order of things, that the validity of the Three Crowns does not depend on us.

    I am picky about words and I think that we need to remember the full terms of the Three Crowns. For example, if we think their validity depends on us, we have “an attitude”, a “negative” one in this case. So we need to make clear that we attempt to have a “positive” one, which is where we have difficulties at times. When it comes to effort, we need “full effort” because a little bit will often not be enough.

    What are we striving for anyway? I think the goal of any competition or challenging task is to hold your head up high and to know that we have done what we could under the circumstances with full effort, preserving our opponents’ and our own self-respect, i.e. practicing sportsmanship. So we will hold the Three Crowns up high, as heavy as they might be at times. This is were perseverance and/or stubbornness come in.

  2. John Whitmer says:

    Hey, the Three Crowns always work. Limited perspective of an outcome might occasionally make it appear they don’t. And being stubborn – as Sam – may help recognize this. But whether we recognize it or not, they work. Their validity doesn’t depend upon us, it’s the other way around.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Great point. Maybe the post should be titled “When It Feels Like The Three Crowns Don’t Work…” or “When We Try Our Best At The Three Crowns And Still Fail….”? or “Why The Three Crowns Are Valuable Even When We Don’t Get Them Right…” The point is, I won’t always get it right. And then what? There are people I have had conversations with who say you can control the Three Crowns 100% of the time. Maybe I am just lacking in skills, but this has not been true in my life, and I have been aware of them for 35 years. That implies perfection is possible. It is not, in my life, anyway. And when I pretend it is, I bring grief on myself and on others who feel like they must just not be “good enough” if they can’t be perfect. So then the Three Crowns becomes a hindrance to a fulfilled life rather than a tool that helps me lead a fulfilled life. Like anything else, when the doctrine becomes an absolute, it becomes a prison cell rather than a key to unlock a prison cell. But I may have wandered off point here because it’s after midnight and I’m sleepy :). Your point of us depending on the Three Crowns and not the other way around is key. To unlock a cell. See how I worked that in? Thanks for making my brain work at this late hour and your probing point!

  3. Nathan Hellyer says:

    Love the post, it got me thinking. Thanks, Neal

    Stubbornness or perseverance? I want to be the guy who never gives up, plays steady and true. But what about our stubborn ideas and prejudices? The lesson of TLC that is so hard but so important is respecting our opponents—even their stubbornness or failings. We come to the court and immediately judge our opponents. We see them as good or bad tennis players, jerks or cool people, well outfitted or out of sorts. I wonder how they see me. As I battle my opponent on the court I see them as someone to beat, someone I absolutely do not want to lose to, and someone that is lesser than me. But as we chat on change overs and between sets, I realize that we are the same. We both are seeking recreation from our typical days of work and responsibility. We are both watching the clock because we have families waiting for us to come home. However, for an hour or two, we challenge and push one another. I want to be stubborn and be the last man standing. Strangely, I not only want my opponent to fail, but I also depend on them to fight back to the end to know that my victory was worthy.
    What about my ideas and beliefs? I ask myself, why do people other than me cling so heavily to such stupid ideas and beliefs? Why are they so stubborn? And I look in the mirror and I see how stubborn I am. Is this bad? No. But we need to appreciate that just like on the tennis court we our depending on the other to truly understand our own beliefs. And the other depends on us to stand firm. But just like when we hit a ball out or we double fault or our opponent hits a winner, we need be a good sport and accept the play for what it is—to realize for a moment that we failed. So it is with our stubborn ideas. When we clearly see how misguided our ideas have been we need to see them for what they are and be willing to change; just like we may need to change the mechanics of our serve that we have stubbornly repeated over and over only to not truly reach our potential. Change is hard because we our stubborn, but sometimes we need to be stubborn in order make the change. Because the only way to make changes in play or beliefs is to habitually try something new—over and over again no matter how many times we fail. As Stan Wawrinka contends, “…try again, fail again, fail better.” Stubborness and change–two constant frenemies.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Love it, Nathan! “Stubbornness and change – two constant frenemies”. Thanks.

  4. Thue Rasmussen says:

    You are a gem at telling stories about real life that inform and stimulate us to be the better persons that we can be–with reflection and persistent effort (and some good luck every now and then). Thank you for being such a valued influence on so many!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thue, If everyone who read this blog knew you, they would say the same to you. You are a constant inspiration to me and our whole staff. One of my heroes.

  5. Brian Smith says:

    Plus if you lay face down for too long, someone is eventually going to cover you with dirt! RIP?