“If you’re gonna run, be at the track and I’ll give you the workouts; or if you're gonna stop running, then do that. You decide. I can’t coach desire.”
Bill Bowerman, coach to Olympic runner and record holder, Steve Prefonatine, and co-founder of Nike.
It’s hard not to think that some of the athletes we’ve been watching this week in the Rio Olympics possess superhuman powers and that success is limited to those few people who were born with a special gift. That it’s just not possible for the rest of us. But it’s really only a select few who extraordinarily rely on natural talent — the rest of them have gotten to where they are through leaning into key personality traits, hard work and dedication. Just like we can train our body, we can train our mind — it is always up to us. And just like training our body, training our mind is difficult. But regardless of whether you’re an elite athlete, the characteristics that define the champion mentality can be attained by anyone who wants to excel in life, it just takes a little training.
You need to love what you’re doing, or what you’re working towards. Top athletes have a hunger for their goal. They’re fuelled by passion, enthusiasm and a vision. Regardless of your level of talent or ability, you need a fire and drive that comes from within if you want to achieve a certain goal. The more clearly you can hold that picture in your mind and focus your attention on it, the more likely you are of achieving it.
Courage is a big one. Courage to succeed means having courage to fail, to sacrifice, to face obstacles and push yourself physically and mentally. It takes endless amounts of courage to push your boundaries and break through mental barriers. Once you have the desire, finding the courage to go for it is the next important step. Understanding that failure is a part of growth and not letting fear hold you back is what will ultimately allow you step out of your comfort zone and challenge your own potential.
Real champions (in sport or in life) decide early on in their journey what they believe and pull from internal motivation. It’s very common to experience an external trigger that ignites a desire to achieve something, but to work at it and truly commit takes intrinsic motivation. Once you can find the drive and motivation to know what you want to achieve, it’s easier to let go of things that once seemed like a sacrifice.
COMMITMENT TO GROWTH
Elite athletes are constantly being critiqued. They look for their flaws and get excited about overcoming them. They seek advice and speak to as many people as possible to help them overcome all of the things they are doing wrong that could potentially be hindering their success. They surround themselves with experts and act as a sponge for knowledge, so that they can understand how to be the best they can be. To me, this is one of the biggest obstacles people face who have never experienced coaching. So many of us are ashamed of our flaws, are too worried about looking silly to ask for help or admit that we don't know something, and it is a significant barrier to success. We are all human, we all have flaws. It’s only when we recognise and embrace them that we can start to overcome them.
DISCIPLINE & CONSISTENCY
Athletes train day in and day out. They look after their bodies. They prioritise rest and recovery. And they work at this on a daily basis. Regardless of personal problems or difficult circumstances, they have the discipline to prioritise what they know they need to do to succeed and try their best, everyday. Adopting the discipline to dedicate energy to your training regime is one of the most profound things you can do in your day to day life that will help you keep momentum going and achieve your goals.
The ability to focus intensely on something means that we need to make space in our heads to do that. Mindfulness, the awareness of how we feel, what we are thinking, what is holding us back, how to concentrate — these are things that an athlete must master in order to push forward. Tune into what is critical to performance and tune out the chatter or negative self talk that may be hindering us. Being mindful means that we can learn to let go of distractions and take control of what we focus our attention on.
Dealing with difficult situations, putting yourself in challenging positions, having the odds against you — I think it’s fair to say that whether you’re an athlete or not, adversity builds character. Athletes don’t shy away from adversity. They learn to embrace the chance to prove themselves, to do something differently, and to challenge their own potential. Rather than avoiding pressure, they feel challenged by it and can channel it into an opportunity for learning. They let go of perceived failures or physical set backs and keep moving forward. Bethany Hamilton is a world class surfer who survived a shark attack in 2003. Her arm was bitten off, she lost 60% of her blood and she almost died. She returned to surfing just 3 months after her attack and went on to win the NSSA and repeatedly medal at international professional events. Bethany is still a professional surfer despite being told she would not be able to surf again.
“It's hard for me to describe the joy I felt after I stood up and rode the wave in for the first time after the attack. I was incredibly thankful and happy inside. The tiny bit of doubt that would sometimes tell me you'll never surf again was gone in one wave. I've learned that life is a lot like surfing. When you get caught in the impact zone, you need to get right back up, because you never know what's over the next wave... and if you have faith, anything is possible, anything at all.”