Winning Plays

Tackling Adversity and Achieving Success in Business and in Life


By Matt Mayberry

Formats and Prices




$25.99 CAD


  1. Trade Paperback $19.99 $25.99 CAD
  2. ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
  3. Audiobook Download (Unabridged)

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 25, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

No one goes undefeated when playing the game of life. Matt Mayberry is no exception. He’s faced setbacks beyond his control and lots more he created himself. But even after conquering addiction, realizing his lifelong dream to play in the NFL, and then having it taken away from him in an instant, he came from behind yet again to achieve more success than ever before.

Sometimes we are knocked down-and even out-by circumstances within or beyond our control. That’s life. But these moments can be opportunities to tap into inner strength and start over. By sharing how he treated failure as a way to start over, Matt is now a nationally sought-after speaker and success coach to audiences of more than 100,000 people per year for Fortune 500 companies, NFL and NBA teams, government and nonprofit groups, professional associations, and universities. In WINNING PLAYS, he presents his strategies to survive and thrive in the real world, no matter what gets thrown your way.

Just as no football team can be successful without a solid game plan, you can’t be successful without one either. This book is full of Matt’s inspirational, motivational, and prescriptive advice, such as: be authentic, create opportunities, power through adversity, reaffirm your goals, rebuild, and many other strategies for developing your own personal game plan to succeed in business and in life.


Begin Reading

Table of Contents


Copyright Page

Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact Thank you for your support of the author's rights.


Some incidents, events, and dialogue are drawn from my imagination and are not to be construed as real, even though they are based on real characters, conversations, and events. Most of the names used are of real people. But I have changed the names of some individuals and modified identifying features of others and some places in order to preserve their anonymity. The goal in all cases was to protect these people's privacy without damaging the integrity of my story.


Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

—Thomas A. Edison

For most people, from the time we reach the age where we can read, talk, and write, the word failure is regarded as negative. Starting in childhood, we get it drilled into our heads that failure is appalling and unacceptable. In sports, the only celebration is the team or individual who comes out on top. The one who wins the lead in the play is applauded, and the rest who tried out are suddenly the losers. Then you have the business world, where if you fail as an employee, you may no longer be trusted with important projects, you may get demoted, or you may even be left without a job. If you're in a leadership position, it's almost certain that you will catch negative media attention and the critics will come calling left and right.

But the most successful men and women in the world—the game changers, those who have created something far bigger than most—are also the biggest failures. How can this be? This is because failure isn't really a failure; it's just one effort among many to move forward, to become the best you can be. It is the journey of learning from multiple failures and turning them into success over and over again. It is a process of recognizing the gift, the benefit, the lesson learned, and using it to catapult ahead. And if I can do it, anyone can.

As a former NFL linebacker for the Chicago Bears, I have had to constantly reprogram my mind and motivate myself even in the midst of some of the most difficult times in my life. As a former drug addict, I have had to continually remember who I am. The strategies I share within these pages are the same ones I've been implementing every day for the past ten years. These strategies have helped me achieve some audacious goals as an entrepreneur, a motivational speaker, and a maximum performance strategist. Once I learned to see each failure as a gift—a blessing in disguise—things started to change.

I know what it's like to be knocked down and out, and I've learned to expect challenges because that's just the way life is. You have to expect challenges, too, in order to be prepared. However, you don't have to let the challenges or apparent failures define who you are.

"But, Matt," I can hear some say. "I'm so stressed out. I have two jobs, and I'm barely making ends meet. I can't take another failure. I'll never make it."

I hear you. I understand. We're all asking more of ourselves than perhaps at any other time in history—or so we like to think. Life is difficult and complicated. It's rough out there. Wars, economic and health crises that plague the globe, and pending planetary disasters present new, unprecedented challenges for us as human beings.

But no matter what's happening in the world, we all have dreams. We must cling to our dreams. We want to be the hero of our own destinies, winners in the game of life. No matter who we are or what country we live in, we want opportunities for advancement, good homes, significant and satisfying careers, and great relationships. We're all the same on some level. We all have goals, and we all want to believe that we can become successful.

When failures or setbacks happen, as they inevitably will, some will simply quit. Some will blame others for misfortune and settle into mediocrity. Many will want to give up, but their dreams won't let them. Having goals and dreams is important. It can help you through the hard times, the dark days. And if you quit, it's all over.

I know both sides of this coin. I often played the victim role in high school. I had to utilize whatever strength I had left within me and find new dreams and goals. Over time I have realized that we all have a spark of greatness in us. None of us is destined to be a victim. Each time we're knocked down, we have to get back up again. It's simple but true.

I'm not a victim of my past or my circumstances. I am an incredible being—a victor—who knows that the power of a champion resides within me. I'm the dreamer who keeps on dreaming. I am recognizing my gifts and acknowledging my blessings in disguise. I continue to rack up the gifts, one failure and success at a time. And I want to show that the same can be true of you.

It's never too late to begin. If you're reading this book, then I know you're curious. Perhaps my story can help you. I'll show you how to find that deep, burning flame within yourself, and I'll explain how to rekindle your dreams and become the person you were destined to be. It is my hope that this book can serve as a beacon of hope, an inspiration, and a guide on your path of life. Once you've finished it, you'll have learned how to turn any failure into a gift, redefine your philosophy on how you view adversity, and never let hard times get the best of you again.

Chapter One


You learn from the mistakes you make and from the mistakes other people make. The truth is, you don't learn from success; you learn from failure.

—George Clooney

I made it to the NFL and became a linebacker for the Chicago Bears. I reached a pinnacle of success that was even greater than I ever imagined. But before all that, at sixteen, I was almost dead. At the very least, I was a wayward youth who could have easily landed in prison. At sixteen, I was already a hard-core drug addict—and I had countless lessons to learn.

I know that many people have been in the shoes I used to wear, and many people will be in those same shoes tomorrow. They will be from all ages and walks of life. Some will move forward, and some will stay in that very dangerous place, experiencing all the darkness life has to offer. The fortunate ones will recognize the gift of failure and use their failures as stepping-stones to achieve success.

Some folks like to say that people don't change, but I'm here to tell you that no matter who you are, you can change. You don't have to accept your failures as a one-way ticket to nowhere. Everyone has failures. We have them every day—in school, at work, in relationships, and in striving to achieve our bigger goals in life.

Throughout this book, I'll offer you surefire ways to turn those failures into gifts and successes. But first, let me describe one of my first major failures and how I reprogrammed myself and my life. That turnaround made all the difference and helped shape me into the man I am today.

Being a drug addict in high school, I hurt many people. The truth was I simply didn't care. My personal goals consisted of getting high. I had abdicated my sense of success and self-esteem to a lower, base goal of being acknowledged by other people whom I deemed to be my most prized allies. I thought I had to hang out with certain people to be accepted. This meant associating with those who were older, more popular, and into every drug imaginable—drugs that were the products of wild, delinquent, and even criminal behavior.

I'm not talking about mischievous kids who dabbled once in a while in a nefarious world for the thrill of the forbidden. No, I'm talking about diving headlong into the extreme, out-of-control behavior that hurts people. The behavior that gets people locked away in prison. And gets people killed.

One night when I was desperate to get high, I was stressed out and wanted to still my mind immediately. The thing was, I didn't have much money, and I didn't want to pay for the coke I so desperately craved. I felt entitled and believed that I deserved to have whatever I wanted.

Charlie and Joe, two drug friends I got high with often, met me that night at a vacant parking lot. "Here's our money," said Charlie, handing me a wad of small bills. "Call Robert." He told me to call because I knew how to get in touch with the well-known drug dealer.

"You know what, guys? I'm not gonna pay." Adrenaline pumped in my veins, and I felt tough, invincible. "I'm gonna knock the guy out and take everything he's got."

Charlie and Joe looked at me like I was crazy.

"Yeah, right," scoffed Joe. "Shut up. You're not going to do that. Just make the call."

I laughed. "Okay. Watch me."

I made the call, and we were given instructions on where to go. We piled into one car and drove to a secluded park to meet Robert. He stood underneath the tall oak trees, shrouded in the shadows.

"Wait here," I told Charlie and Joe.

I got out of the car, puffed up my chest, and marched over to Robert. Without saying a word, I squared my shoulders, clenched my fist, and hit him in the face as hard as I could. He crumpled to the ground with one punch. Piece of cake, I thought. I reached down into his coat pockets and took all his coke, weed, and money.

Full of arrogance and self-satisfaction, I sauntered back to the car.

"Good God, Matt," said Joe. "I can't believe you did that. In one punch!"

"It was easy." I laughed like it was no big deal and divvied up their share of the money and dope.

"C'mon, let's get outta here before he wakes up," said Charlie.

"Let's go see Laura," I suggested, referring to one of our friends who got high with us.

We laughed hysterically as we drove to Laura's.

Once we got there, Joe blurted, "You won't believe what Matt did."

"He knocked out the dealer in one punch," said Charlie. "You should have seen it."

"You didn't," said Laura.

"Yes, he did," said Joe. They elaborated, going over every detail with great enthusiasm as if I were a hero.

Their admiration gave me a rush of power. I had no remorse. I was so clueless; I didn't even worry about the dealer getting even with me later on. Our drug world was tough and dangerous—people got killed for stealing drugs and money from dealers. But I had no concern for the fact that I was playing with fire.

The sad thing was that I knew deep down what I was doing. Somehow I had lost all sense of logic and discrimination. No matter who I was hurting, I simply didn't care. I wanted what I wanted. Narcotics ruled my every thought, my every action.

Something was clearly bothering me, though. I had previously created lofty goals for myself for high school, college, and sports. For my career and life. When had those goals fallen away and become irrelevant?

Fear is often the catalyst for changes both good and bad, and I suppose fear was in there somewhere. Perhaps I was afraid of not being accepted and not being good enough to achieve my big plans in life. Somehow I had picked up this sense of entitlement. I didn't even want to try. It was probably fear of not achieving that made me stop pursuing my goals.

After all, how many people actually attain success in sports—a career that requires skill, discipline, talent, and sometimes even a dose of good luck? I'm sure that was bothering me. But I never considered it. Whatever was disturbing me, I pushed it aside and thought only of my next quick fix. I craved that false sense of power and ego that comes from getting high and being regarded highly by those who make their own rules and break the ones they don't like.

I was young, naïve, and misdirected. Living an unexamined life, I never noticed if I was moving forward and achieving my goals, and I never questioned whether my actions were leading me to a path of success or failure. My thinking was skewed, and my attitude sucked. I felt entitled to anything I wanted. I was reckless and didn't care about anyone or anything except getting high and partying. Every street drug I could get my hands on—marijuana, crack, cocaine, quaaludes, meth, and every hallucinogen in between—I tried. My objective was to get high and stay high. That was all I thought about. As a result, I quickly spiraled into becoming a true and committed addict. I relied on my daily high to get me through the days, and I avoided thinking about what I was doing and who I was hurting. I was up for any illegal and bold challenge. I wanted to fit in and impress my wild friends.

I had turned a dark corner. My relationships with family and friends no longer mattered to me. My grades were definitely suffering. Yet somehow I remained involved in sports despite the drugs. I had always been into sports, even in elementary school. In high school, I continued playing baseball and football. In many ways, the only fragments of self-esteem and personal achievement I had left were through sports.

I'm not sure how, but I maintained my achievements in sports. I got high, and I played high. I was relaxed on drugs and somehow continued to play well. No one seemed to notice, and I thought I was fooling everyone.

It was crazy. But this was my life, and though I was hanging on by a thread, I was still hanging on.

The stark truth was that I had clearly become a delinquent and a desperate addict. And not even my teammates were safe from me. On a Thursday in May, I went into the locker room looking for money. I stole one of my teammate's wallets and took all the cash in it. I had breached the trust of my teammates already in many ways, but I had now reached a new low.

The coach found out about the incident and called me in to see him.

Feeling cocky, I sat across the desk from him with legs sprawled in front of me. I didn't have time for this.

The coach stared at me in disbelief. A part of him knew the truth, but like my family, he didn't want to believe the worst about me even when it was looking him right in the face. "Did you steal one of your teammate's wallets?" he asked point-blank.

I ignored him and gazed out the window.

The coach had a soft-spoken voice. He was not an "in your face" kind of guy, but he was firm. "I'm going to give you one chance and one chance only to tell me the truth." He folded his hands on the desk and said nothing more.

"I don't know why I'm here," I finally said, slumping my shoulders and sinking into my chair.

"Matt, you're lying." The coach's face was pinched in pain, his brows furrowed. He shook his head. "You need to go see the dean upstairs right now." I could feel his disappointment.

I didn't realize it at the time, but the coach had wanted to help me. He gave me the opportunity to tell him the truth. But I had done everything I could to steel myself against his earnest attempt to get me through this.

I had failed a key test. The one guy who was willing to help me find my way got up and shut the door behind me as I walked out of the room. He was done with me.

I had just lost a true ally, and my future was now in my own reckless hands. I was spiraling downward even farther.

I walked upstairs to the dean's office and went in with a smug smile. There was no way I was going to admit the truth, and there was no way they could know the real truth.

The dean was a stern man and the ultimate disciplinarian. He was a "take no prisoners" sort of guy. "We got word that you stole one of your teammate's wallets. Is this true?" He folded his arms and looked at me with burning eyes.

"No, it's not true." I stared back at him, daring him to question me.

"Follow me," the dean said as he picked up his keys.

We headed downstairs to the boys' locker room. He went straight to my locker and unlocked it.

"What are you doing? You can't go through my stuff!"

Despite my protests, the dean rummaged through my personal belongings and found my backpack. There, at the bottom of the backpack, was the missing wallet. "Matt, you are in serious trouble. Not only did you steal your teammate's wallet, but you lied to all of us."

I was furious. How dare he go through my things! He couldn't do that!

"Follow me," said the dean.

We returned to his office, and he dealt out my punishment. "I'm going to suspend you for one day and give you five days of detention."

I looked at him blankly but laughed to myself. Really? That's it? That's all you've got? What a joke.

"Matt, it is a privilege to be a student athlete here at Hinsdale South, and you haven't lived up to the standards. I am forced to release you from the baseball team."

That was a direct hit to my heart. "What do you mean? You're kicking me off the baseball team? You can't take that away from me. You can't do that! I'm the best player on the team and you know it, and you're kicking me off? You guys need me!"

The dean picked up a ballpoint pen and tapped it on a pad of paper like a toy drum. He knew I was throwing my talent away, but he was resigned to this decision. "We can do whatever we want, and that's exactly what we're doing. You're excused. You can go now."

Baseball had always been my best sport, giving me the only true sense of confidence I had ever known. I was a standout youth, and my coaches had insisted that I had all the talent in the world. I was told repeatedly that I could get drafted professionally. Up until high school, I, too, thought that would happen.

Somewhere I had lost the dream and my confidence to achieve it. Everything completely changed when drugs became my priority. I had stopped looking toward my goals. I had lost my vision, my sense of hope, and my potential. Things took a bleak turn after I got kicked off the baseball team. My heart began to pound to the beat of defeat and failure.

I teetered on the edge of getting thrown out of school altogether. As I tested everyone, I disrespected my teachers and fought anyone who so much as looked at me the wrong way. I, Matt Mayberry, am a force to be reckoned with, and I dare you to question me or try me. I vandalized anything that wasn't mine, I was truant, and I was failing all my classes. I lost count of my suspensions. How I wasn't expelled entirely is still a wonder to me.

What is even more of a wonder is how my life turned around. Little did I know that the next decade would be completely altered and I would be transformed. It wasn't long ago that I was invited to be a featured guest at that same high school in Illinois where I was kicked off the baseball team. As the speaker at their staff breakfast, I gave an inspirational message and reminisced about my dark days at Hinsdale South and my journey over the past ten years to where I am now. I thanked the school for not expelling me and for giving me endless chances. Shortly afterward, they nominated me for the Hinsdale South Hall of Fame.

But in 2004, that vision of achievement was not even a remote possibility.

Back then, my guidance counselor told me that if I didn't change my life immediately, I would probably never graduate from high school and could end up in jail or be dead before my eighteenth birthday.

Their warnings had no effect on me. I scoffed at their concern and the disappointment in their eyes. I could do no wrong! I was overbearing, falsely confident, disrespectful, and driven by only one motivation—to escape reality by getting high. In that world of narcotics I felt powerful, popular, and awesome.

I don't blame anyone else for my actions. Today, I refuse to take the "victim" route. I came from a good family and a good neighborhood. My parents were happily married, churchgoing folks. I was simply my own biggest problem, yet I thought my problems were because of everyone else—not me. After all, I was invincible!

That feeling of invincibility stemmed from the high of drugs, and it made me destructive and reckless. I lived for immediate and temporary gratification and fulfillment—my next high. I searched for it in dark places. Dangerous places. The next puff of a blunt, the next swig from the whiskey bottle, the next wild party. I had no faith in anything other than drugs and myself. Everything was about me. And I was willing to live my life to the fullest at everyone else's expense.

When I was sixteen, during the height of this crazy era in my life, I received a letter from my grandparents, the only people I had any type of compassion for at the time. A line in the letter grabbed my attention:

"Matt, you're slowly killing all of us. Your grandma and I are dying because of you."

That letter touched a small part of my cynical, cold heart. For a few short minutes, I felt a bit of shame. In Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem," he wrote about how light can get through the cracks.

When my grandparents wrote me that letter, they opened a tiny crack, and a tiny bit of light seeped through that tiny crack into my dark world.

It can take a while to learn a life lesson, though, and once again, I catapulted into a dark, dark place.


1. Refuse to be degraded. Don't let those closest to you degrade your potential. I wasn't born into an environment that would predict I would become a full-blown drug addict at the age of sixteen. I had a good, loving family and a nice life. No, it was because of the people I surrounded myself with on a daily basis. John C. Maxwell states in his book How Successful People Grow, "According to research by social psychologist Dr. David McCleland of Harvard, the people with whom you habitually associate are called your 'reference group,' and these people determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life." Think about that for a minute—95 percent. If you're wondering if the percentage in that study is correct, that's not the point. The point is that who we choose to spend our time with absolutely makes a difference in our lives. When people express to me how disappointed they are or how big of a rut they're in, I ask them to check their inner circles. This certainly isn't the case all the time, but more often than not, a link within an inner circle has been sabotaging their success.

2. Friend analysis. Take the time right now to examine your inner circle. Are the people you associate with adding value to your life? Or are they hindering you from reaching your true potential?

Does your daily environment force and encourage you to grow?

Are you constantly stepping out of your comfort zone?

Are you excited and passionate about life?

Are you challenged to become a better man or woman?

Does your vision for your future inspire you?

Are you fired up, or discouraged, each time you share a new idea or dream of yours with your inner circle?

Do you view failure as a gift and an opportunity to help you get to where you want to go?

If you answered no to more than four of the above questions, your current group of friends and inner circle may be preventing your growth and success. I'm not telling you to immediately get rid of your close friends or cut off ties with beloved family members. However, I hope you start to analyze the members of your inner circle.

3. Be authentic! Be unique! Don't try to fit in. Dare to stand out. Be you! Looking back on my journey and everything that went wrong during that dark period of my life, I wanted to fit in. I stopped being myself and thought it was cool to hang out with people who snorted cocaine and broke the law. Since then I've learned that one of the most powerful characteristics, at least in my humble opinion, is authenticity. Don't spend one minute trying to "fit in" just because you think that's the cool thing to do. Being your unique self is an extraordinary gift that the world needs. You have talents and abilities that no one else has. At the end of your life, you'll never regret living authentically and staying true to who you are. The power of authenticity in business is a game changer as well. It lets your customers, prospects, and everyone else know that you're real. The brands that neglect the human touch or forget that business is and always will be about people are missing a major component of what it takes to win.

Creating a list of all the characteristics and values that make up Matt Mayberry and that I want to embody has helped me stay true to who I am. My list contains five key values and then five characteristics I strive to practice and instill in my everyday life. I carry this list always. I have one version in my briefcase, another on my desktop, and a final version on my mobile phone.

Make your own list and carry it with you. It will motivate you to become the best version of yourself.

Chapter Two


Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

—attributed to Marcus Aurelius

I didn't know exactly what it meant to go astray, to fall short, to lose my way, when I was sixteen. Back then, I thought I knew everything about life and that I had all the answers.

As I got halfway through my grandparents' letter, a sentence captured my full attention: "Matt, if you go to the drug treatment facility, we will give you $500."

I have always loved my grandparents more than anything, but being in the depraved world that I was living in for so long, I have to admit that the only thing that completely reeled me in was the five hundred dollars. Ka-ching! When they mentioned the money, I pictured all the cocaine and weed I could purchase with it.


  • This is a fabulous book. How we respond to failure determines success more than anything else. It is something you can learn, and should learn, and nobody can teach you like Matt Mayberry can. Don't let your failures define you. Read this book and learn how to transform failure into the building blocks for a bigger future.—Matthew Kelly, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Rhythm of Life and The Dream Manager
  • A brilliant, empowering look at the positive side of failure. Failure makes you stronger and better if you are willing to learn from it and thankfully, Matt shows us how.—Jon Gordon, Bestselling Author of The Energy Bus and The Carpenter
  • Matt's ability to motivate, inspire, and lead people to becoming the best version of themselves is unbelievable!—Stedman Graham, chairman & CEO of S. Graham & Associates, and a New York Times Bestselling Author
  • Matt Mayberry is the next big thing in the personal development world. And this book is going to once and for all shift the perspective people have about failure. Read WINNIG PLAYS; it'll change the way you think about setbacks forever!—Rory Vaden, New York Times Bestselling Author of Take the Stairs
  • Athletes at the top level know best how to overcome adversity to turn their mess into a powerful message. Matt has done just this in sports and life, and this book will guide you in doing the same.—Lewis Howes, New York Times bestselling author of The School of Greatness
  • WINNING PLAYS is a story of hope and renewal. Author Matt Mayberry has seen the highs and lows -- from drug addiction to an NFL career cut short -- and he knows what he's talking about when he writes about finding success in the ashes of failure. Let his story inspire you to achieve your goals.—Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of To Sell Is Human and Drive
  • As Matt Mayberry's former teammate, I have seen him put to use all of the ideas and strategies within the pages of this book. He shows us how to turn failures into great opportunities. As an NFL veteran, I wish I had this book when I first started my career.—Rodger Saffold, NFL veteran and offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams
  • If you think your failures are painful, you haven't met Matt Mayberry. His experiences with persevering in the face of adversity are full of inspiration and lessons for all of us.—Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take

On Sale
Jul 25, 2017
Page Count
272 pages
Center Street

Matt Mayberry

About the Author

MATT MAYBERRY is a highly acclaimed keynote speaker and performance strategist. A former Indiana University and Chicago Bears linebacker, Matt is one of the most widely-read columnists for, where he writes on peak performance, overcoming adversity, leadership, and motivation. Matt’s work has been featured on ESPN, Forbes, Huffington Post, ABC, NBC, Fox Business, Fox News, Business Insider, and MSN Lifestyle. As the CEO of Matt Mayberry Enterprises, he helps individuals and organizations all over the world to maximize their potential to achieve breakthrough performance.

Learn more about this author