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Hallmarks of the Potential Champion Athlete

After nearly 45 years of coaching this is my version of Bud Winter's (see General coaching) chapter on 'Champs & Chumps' in "So You Want To Be A Sprinter".

Every athlete I have ever met dreams of being a champion but only a few will achieve true success. Why? Most of those with abundant talent will not make the necessary commitment. Many of those who are really committed will lack either the genetic talent or high quality coaching! Only a few will have parents with the right attitude. Which athletes have the most chance? Those with supportive parents, high quality coaching and those given the required amount of genetic by their family line.

I could use my definition of true success - that is succeeding in optimising one's ability - and this 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 and YOUR parents are winners if YOU assist them 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.

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.

Winners 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. The parents are knowledgeable and supportive, the child has 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.
  1. If the parent is driving/pushing/coercing/cajoling the child parental interference will ensure the child is uncoachable .
  2. The first is to reject the athlete as soon as the weakness becomes apparent - a not uncommon approach with coaches who are ego driven or coaches employed by institutions such as Sports Institutes.
  3. A second is to employ a “make or break” approach in which the athlete is subjected to a very rigorous routine and he or she makes the decision about continuing or not. Again, this is a not uncommon approach in an institutional type of situation and it most certainly is the approach taken by the elite units of most of the world’s Armed Forces eg. Australia’s Special Air Forces or the US Navy Seals. Getting selected into the Kenyan team also has this ‘survival of the fittest’ aspect. This rarely works with school age athletes!
  4. The third option is to try and work through the athlete’s problems. This involves significant time and patience and the coach must try balance the amount of time and energy he or she is putting into this athlete with the needs of all the members of the squad as well as keeping family or work considerations in mind.
The CHAMP and the CHUMP

Let us compare the “Champ” and the “Chump”, two characters made famous by San Jose State College coach Bud Winter, one of the all-time great sprint coaches,  in his excellent book “So You Want To Be Sprinter”.

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

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

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