Hallmarks of the Potential Champion AthleteAfter 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.
- have parents who are not living their child's dream.
- demonstrate a high degree of balance in their lives, though this does not mean they will be ideal parents, friends, employees etc because they will still have an undercurrent of focus that means they will never lose sight of the goal.
- possess a lot of common sense.
- be intellectually honest because an athlete who cannot recognise their own strengths and weaknesses or who cannot honestly examine their own performances in training and competition can never get the best out of themselves.
"Wisher's" are a much more complicated type of athlete. They come in all shapes and sizes.
- Those kids 'wish' to succeed to help their parents achieve a dream..
- Some don’t really want to work hard at all while others are willing to work hard but will not modify their lifestyles. Still others spend more time talking (dreaming) about what they WILL do than doing what they HAVE to do.
- There are those who are willing to work hard on some aspects of the training but shy away from other essential aspects of correct preparation.
- Others train really well but have real difficulty competing without reservation.
- Still others will manufacture injuries or illnesses just prior to competition to provide an excuse for failing to perform while others will train harder than instructed just prior to a race for the same reason.
- Finally there are those who profess to want success but will not train for the event they might achieve it in. Every sport is full of the 200m runner who should be running 400m, the 800m runner who should look to 1500m, the 1500m or 5000m who should try the steeplechase etc.
- If the parent is driving/pushing/coercing/cajoling the child parental interference will ensure the child is uncoachable .
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
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:
- Recognizes the importance of patiently following a goal orientated long-term training plan.
- Calls on hidden reserves during training and competition
- Eases back on training when physical or mental signs indicate the need to.
- Identifies which type of pain is a warning sign to be heeded and which is a challenge to be overcome.
- Seeks the best advice and travels to the optimum training venues regardless of any inconvenience
- Resists the temptation to train “behind the coaches’ back”
- Does not change any element of the programme without referring it to the coach.
- Takes the opportunity to train with groups when the workout is appropriate.
- Respects every competitor but idolises none.�
- Exhibits moderate behaviour and always appears unhurried.
- Is a good listener who and seeks knowledge
- Can differentiate between those with knowledge and those relying on ideas and theories
- Does not “sponge” off people, is loyal to those who help him/her and acknowledges it freely
- Has a weekly massage and daily relaxation routine ie yoga/tai chi, in place.
- Possesses the ability to relax before, during and after competition.
- Accepts pre race nerves but keeps anxiety and worry to a minimum
- Focuses totally on personal goals and is not distracted by what others are doing or saying
- Confronts limitations and works to overcome them.
- Keeps detailed personal training records
- Avoids compromising on sleep, nutrition, hydration and the safety aspects of training.
- Understands that training is useless unless the body is given the correct amount of time to regenerate.
- Focuses positively and aggressively on competition
- Never concedes defeat until the competition is over and even then only concede the defeat is a temporary which will be rectified at the next competition or the competition after that!
- Shows poise and courage in a crisis
- Trains and practises drills in all the conditions likely to be encountered in a race.
- fails to prepare themselves and/or their equipment properly for competition
- trains excessively prior to competition and/or fails to allow enough post race recovery time
- does not develop an established pre- competition routine and/or puts training ahead of racing
- gets injured or ill regularly especially just prior to competition
- jumps from one training regime or group to another and/or indiscriminately copies the others
- eases off because “its impossible to catch them” or because “I can’t win/place”
- expects times to “just come” or come easily because “I’ve been doing the training”
- ignores rest, nutrition, massage, stretching, relaxation eg yoga/tai chi, detailed record keeping etc
- never trains or practices drills unless the conditions are perfect.
- believes breathing, bike handling, drafting, transitions and pack running skills come automatically
- thinks any “hard” session is a good session without reference to specificity or physiology