Published on July 26, 2016

Strive for Excellence, Anticipate Bumps in the Road

By Austin O’Brien, Genesis Sport Psychology Coach

Use your mind to strengthen the bodyThe journey to becoming successful in athletics is very stressful, and often less glamorous than what is portrayed by popular media and perceptions of professional athletes. It is usually thought to be a two to four hour daily commitment to your team or coach, but the reality is that being an athlete is a 24-hour, seven-day per week job.

We are expected to get eight hours of sleep each night, maintain a healthy diet, discuss it with our friends/family, and make smart social decisions--all outside of those two to four hours spent at practice. Additionally, many of us have school and/or work on top of these expectations!

There is no other job on the planet that has these strict demands and blends into our personal lives. Thriving in this challenging environment requires preparing for and expecting to encounter barriers along the journey, as well as absolutely loving what you do and being grateful for the ability to do it. 

My Own Training

I have been a competitive runner for 12 years and have definitely experienced more disappointments than successes. Throughout my career, I have been plagued by injury, horrific races, poor nutrition, lack of desire, and many more negative experiences.

However, these disappointments were excellent learning opportunities that led to being a part of four Iowa High School State Championship Teams, a 27th place finish at the 2014 Bix 7, and three NCAA All-American Honors, including one NCAA Championship in a relay.

Learning from disappointments has allowed me to perform at a level that was otherwise out of reach. I pursued excellence in both training and racing, but disappointments happen, and they are there to challenge us and provide opportunity to improve.

Pursuing Athletic Excellence

Many of us have dreams or goals that we would like to achieve in our sport(s). Some of us even have a plan, or at least a resource (e.g., coach) that can develop this plan. A plan acts as your standard of excellence because it is a detailed guide that creates a path to achieving your dreams and goals.

Keep in mind that you need to be flexible and forgiving in carrying out the plan. You will undoubtedly deviate from it at some point, and that is OK as long as you find your way back. Additionally, disappointments may lead to an adjustment in your plan.

For example, after experiencing an injury, your athletic trainer or physical therapist may implement strengthening exercises into your plan. They may seem tedious and frustrating, but they are meant bring you back to your standard of excellence and keep the pursuit of your dreams alive. 

As a competitive athlete and sport psychology coach, I have encountered many skills that are conducive to athletic excellence. Four commonly known skills that can be developed include:

  • Motivation
  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Stress management

Begin With a Dream

Continue striding for excellence no matter whatAthletes must love what they do and be motivated to adhere to their standard of excellence. Additionally, confidence is one of the most important contributors to peak performance. The most successful athletes believe in their ability and trust the hard work they have done in preparation for competition.

Developing focus helps you concentrate on productive tasks in the present moment. Finally, being an athlete is stressful and the ability to deal with these demands is vital for the long-term success and enjoyment in your sport(s).

I would encourage athletes to begin with a dream, or purpose for sport participation, followed by the planning of a standard of excellence that will lead to fulfilling this purpose. Follow the plan as closely as you can, and return to or adjust the plan when you drift away or experience disappointment.

Forgive yourself because it happens to everyone, and use it as a learning opportunity that will help you perform at a much higher level than previously considered. Lastly, take note of the skills and work ethic that high-level college and professional athletes in your sport(s) use. They are the skills that promote athletic excellence.

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