The Coaches' Desk >> Hallmarks of the Great Athlete

Hallmarks of the Great Athlete

In the 1960's San Jose State College coach Bud Winter, one the the all-time great sprint coaches, wrote a small book labelled “So You Want To Be Sprinter”. In the book he devoted a Chapter to the 'Champ' and the 'Chump'. In this chapter he listed the characteristics of the two major
types at athlete.

The Champ has the WILL TO SUCCEED. He/She:

The “CHUMP” has the WILL TO FAIL. He/She:


Every athlete dreams of being a champion and virtually every athlete a coach will meet wants to be successful but only a few will achieve true success. Why? Most of those with abundant talent will not make the necessary commitment and many of those who are really committed will lack either the genetic talent or high quality coaching! Which athletes have the most chance? Those with high quality coaching and above average talent.

The athlete who is willing to commit to pursuing their goal will succeed in optimising their ability. This is TRUE success. This can only happen if their training plan is optimum. Many committed athletes do not follow optimum training schedules. This applies regardless of the athlete’s natural talent.

YOU are a winner if YOU fulfil your God given potential.

YOUR coach is a winner if YOU assist him or her to fulfill YOUR potential

However to paraphrase the quote from the Bible “it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a highly talented athlete to achieve their potential”. Talented athletes are often so accustomed to getting success without giving full commitment that when that full commitment is required they are unable to give it. Indeed for those who are reasonably talented it is relatively easy to become one of world’s best precisely because most of their equally or more talented competitors are often not willing to do all that is necessary to maximise their potential. It is much easier for coaches to produce age group or collegiate champions than national or international representatives because at these less competitive levels natural talent will still be able to overcome commitment.

Later as talent evens out and the willingness to work hard becomes a more important factor it is not unusual for the athlete who has enjoyed early success to fail to progress significantly and eventually to drop out of the sport.

Willer's and Wisher's

When Herb Elliott said most athletes only train to 70% of their limit he was alluding to the inability of most athletes to really push themselves. Percy Cerutty described it a different way when he divided athletes into two categories, ‘willers’- those can make a 100% effort until the task was achieved- and ‘wishers’- those with equal potential and similar goals but who do not have the necessary dedication, perseverance or intelligence to be successful.

Willer's are athletes who commit themselves unreservedly to the task of achieving their goals. They will eliminate those activities in their lives that can be described as distractions. This does not mean they become hermits. A properly balanced annualized programme leaves plenty of time for work, family, friends and other activities. It does mean however that late nights and activities that require significant energy output on a regular basis have to be eliminated.

Willer's will:

Coaching "willer's" is a relatively easy task. Winners have enough common sense and intelligence to set realistic tangible goals and they commit themselves to achieving them. The coach is like the cox on a rowing shell. The athletes have ensured the boat is afloat and pointed in the right direction so all that is required of the coach is a few light corrections to the rudder and the athlete’s endeavours guarantee everyone arrives at their destination.

"Wisher's" are a much more complicated type of athlete. They come in all shapes and sizes.

Coaching "wisher's" is also a very time consuming task that will test the patience of any coach. If he or she is approached to coach such people there are a number of strategies.

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