How to be the BEST: Lessons I learned from Rio Ferdinand


How do you stop complacency setting in when you become the world’s most expensive defender?

What characteristics do you need to win 6 x Premier League titles, 1 x Champions League, 1 x FIFA World Club Cup, and 2 x League Cups?

How do you deal with setbacks and mistakes to go on and win 81 caps for England?

"Success leaves clues."
- Tony Robbins

There are a lot of clues to pick up from a footballer who’s played for one of the biggest football clubs in the world, won almost every trophy in English domestic football, and is having a successful career in music, television, and business while balancing it all with a happy family life.

Download 1 page summary of the lessons + insights I learned from Rio's interview here.

I listened to Rio Ferdinand's interview on The High-Performance Podcast, where he shared the secrets of his high-achieving life.

Here are 5 lessons I learned and how you can apply them to your own life on your road to success:

1. To become relentless, hard work is the key

As a kid, Ferdinand always wanted to improve and be the best at whatever he put his mind to. He became obsessed with being the best.

This led to Ferdinand developing a relentless commitment to taking consistent action towards his goals, regardless of the challenges he faced along the way.

He understood that in order to achieve the goals that you want in life, you need to work hard.

Ferdinand recalls playing with people who had all the ability but lacked the mental fortitude for hard work, which hampered their attempts at being successful.

That's when he realized that hard work trumps ability every time.

"I just knew that I had to outwork everyone."

By being relentless in the pursuit of our goals and consistently working hard to achieve them, we’re able to lay solid foundations that will help us on our journey to becoming successful.

2. Setting Goals

At the start of every season, Ferdinand set goals for himself to improve as a player.

"I've got to be a good footballer. What's next? I want to be a top footballer. I want to be elite. I want to be considered one of the best in Europe, one of the best in the world."

These goals motivated him to work hard and look for marginal gains to improve as a player in order to achieve those goals.

There’s a reason why top-level athletes, successful entrepreneurs, and high achievers in all fields set goals.

Setting goals gives you a long-term vision of what success looks like and short-term motivation to consistently take action towards achieving those goals.

Having clearly defined goals allows you to measure your achievements as you reach those goals.

This helps to build your self-confidence as you recognize your ability and competence in achieving the goals that you have set.

Download a free copy of my Ultimate Goal Setting worksheet here.

3. The importance of Failing

Ferdinand advocates failure and the importance of failing to move forward.

"It's the only way of finding out where your limits are."

However, in today’s society where success is glamourized, failure is seen in a negative light.

There is a reason why high achievers all agree that failure in life is necessary for success, and Ferdinand is no different.

Failure doesn’t mean that you haven’t worked hard; it simply means that you need to take another approach to achieve what you want.

There are also benefits to experiencing failure. Failure strengthens you, teaches you to value, gives you a sense of direction, gets rid of fear, and brings experience.

Ultimately, failure makes you a stronger person and teaches you resilience on the road to success.

4. Fault vs Responsibility

When recounting his 8-month ban for missing a drug test, Ferdinand explained it’s easy to blame people and shift responsibility to others as a way out when faced with fault and overcoming challenges.

"You need the pride and the determination not to allow that and take responsibility for your actions."

When you blame others, you surrender control of a situation. Taking responsibility gives you that control back.

Taking responsibility for a problem creates space for solutions to be found.

In Ferdinand’s case, he used the 8-month ban as an opportunity to learn and improve as a player.

As a result, he was fitter than before and earned a man-of-the-match performance against Liverpool in his first match back after the ban.

Taking responsibility for our problems is important because that’s where real learning and real-life improvement come from.

5. Celebrate your successes, but don’t take success for granted

After winning trophies with Man Utd, there would be very little celebration.

I was always fearful of doing that (dwelling on past success) because I thought by doing that, I was taking his eyes off what to goals ahead.”

Ferdinand didn’t want to enjoy the moment too much because he wanted to understand how to repeat the success.

However, taking the time to recognize your achievements allows you the chance to pinpoint exactly what worked so that you can repeat it in the future.

On reflection, Ferdinand recognized that if he had his time again, he would spend more time enjoying the moment rather than always looking at ahead to the next thing.  

However, while celebrating success is important, Ferdinand does note caution against overindulging in the celebration as it could impact future success.

"If we'd gone the other way, would we have sustained the success that we went on to achieve?"

Final Thoughts

Ferdinand's interview provides some great insights into what it takes to reach and sustain success at the very top of your profession.

His three no-negotiables for high performance sum up his perspective on what it takes to succeed:

  • High Standards
  • Work Ethic; and
  • The Hunger and Mentality to Win
Download 1 page summary of the lessons + insights I learned from Rio's interview here.