With the Winter Olympics underway, it’s the perfect time to think about being great in our sports! As we get into the new year, we have a new opportunity to be great and do great.
But with that comes letting go of things, embracing the grey and accepting where we are now while not losing sight of our big goals.
Athletes often have goals – “I want to go to the Olympics;” “I want to play Division I college ball;” “I want to run the Boston marathon;” “I want to make it to the pros.”
But what does it take to get there?
Desire is a huge part of it, because without that you won’t put in the training that is necessary to get there. The desire comes from within—it’s your passion to reach your dreams. But, you probably have that already, so let’s concentrate on some of the necessary traits not always so easy to accomplish.
Own your discomfort.
Discomfort is a funny thing. In sport, often we experience discomfort when we’re afraid - afraid of failing, afraid of not living up to our own expectations, afraid of disappointing others. We might be afraid of a specific skill or play, or we might just be afraid of getting hurt. Instinctively we either try to ignore this discomfort or just run from it. After all, who wants to be uncomfortable?
But sometimes we have to be uncomfortable to become great.
As athletes, we must push ourselves beyond what is comfortable to us in order to improve, learn new things, go to new heights, and ultimately be great. When we run from our discomfort or even just attempt to ignore it, not only does it not go away, but it shows up at the most inopportune times. Yet, when we own our discomfort we can actually learn quite a bit. Failures have a funny way of teaching us so much. Failure humbles us so we are forced to learn about ourselves. We need to dig deep and find that hidden inner-strength that maybe we never needed before we failed. It teaches us about persistence and even empathy.
Shaun White is a great example of failing and coming back. After winning gold in the men’s halfpipe in 2006 and 2010 he ended with a disappointing fourth at the 2014 Olympics.
“I'm happy for the guys who did well. It just wasn't my day. I'll live on to fight another one,” he said in 2014. “…It's one of the most frustrating things for me. If I land my run and I'm beaten, I'm OK with that. I didn't get that chance tonight, and it happens."
White came back in this year’s Olympics and nailed the qualifying round. In finals, he hit his first run to take the lead, but after Japan's Ayumu Hirano put up an impressive second run, White was in second. After falling on his second run, White had one last run to take the gold – which he did.
“Standing at the top, high-fived my guys and just remembered this is snowboarding. I’ve been doing it my whole life,” White had said after the qualifying round.
Focus on the goal.
Focus is fostered by goal setting, mental imagery, positive self-talk and mental toughness. When you want to zero in on accomplishing something great, set goals. The trick is to not just set the outcome goal (i.e., make the Olympic team, get drafted, get a college scholarship).
Outcome goals are great, but that is only part of it. Setting short-term goals throughout the process is the key to keeping focus on the overall goal - What do you need to do today to start making progress toward your dream?
Canada's Mikael Kingsbury, mogul freestyle skier, did exactly that- focused on what he needed to do to reach his dream. As a kid he first saw the sport while watching the Olympics. He made a poster with the Olympic rings and the words, Je vais gagner, which means "I will win." In 2014 he made the Olympic team and won the silver. He has 13 consecutive World Cup wins as well, but his dream was always to win in the Olympics. This year he reached that dream!
Once you have your goals set then you can start preparing for them, and visualizing them using mental imagery.
Train to be mentally tough
Mental toughness is about having confidence, focus, perseverance and vulnerability (see my blog, Finding fuel on an empty tank). Mental toughness is about confidence, focus, perseverance, and vulnerability. To be great you need to be confident yet vulnerable with your emotions, focused and capable of persevering in the face of defeat.
Find the best coach for you.
Good coaching isn’t only about finding the best coach out there in your sport. It’s about finding the best coach for you.
For any one individual to be great or do great, it actually takes a village to get there. Choose wisely those to have close to you, providing support—emotional, instructional, instrumental or companionship as these people are truly your life-lines as you set out to reach your dreams.
Diana Nyad, world renowned open-water swimmer, was the first to successfully complete
the 103-mile swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys (she did it in 111 miles) without the aid of
a shark cage. Nyad was 64 when she conquered this challenge, after four failed attempts and three decades of not swimming a stroke!
In her book, Find a Way, she talks about her 30+ year journey of conquering her goal and
how many times over she was forced to own her discomfort as she swam beyond years of sexual abuse and endured extremely challenging situations (being attacked by the deadly box jelly, for example), road blocks, and heart-wrenching defeat. She was prepared mentally, physically and logistically but quickly learned there is always the unexpected in the great open water.
It was her own desire and her village of support that eventually led to a successful swim, but even that wasn’t without struggle. After 53 hours she emerged, conquering such an amazing feat, and spoke these words to the crowd, “Never, ever give up,” “You’re never too old to chase your dreams,” and “It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”
What great words of wisdom. Sometimes things get in the way of reaching our dreams. People and/or things try to stifle our goals.
As you start to carve out and zoom in on your goals for the 2018 season, find your village, stay focused and be prepared for things not to be perfect.