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Author Archives: Elizabeth Waterstraat

E is for Excellence

A few years ago, I wrote this in a tweet:

Good athletes are obsessed with training. Great athletes are obsessed with excellence.

My own obsession with excellence began over 35 years ago.

Before I was an endurance athlete, I was a pianist. While some started swimming at age 5, I started playing the piano. Practicing daily, playing in recitals, performing in competitions. Years later, I would go on to college as a music major. I vividly recall my audition piece. A piece that was my peak race, a particularly intricate and rhythmic song – Malaguena. Preparing to perform this piece took countless hours of focused, patient practice – every single day for over a year.

Like an athlete in training, my practice had structure and purpose. After a warm up, I would slow down the tempo and practice to a metronome, repeating difficult passages until ingrained in my fingers. Steadily, I would up the tempo until able to play it at what could be called race pace. I did this once every few practice sessions. At times, I would hit race pace with perfection – an effortless feeling of fingers dancing over the keys almost as if on autopilot, moving faster than my mind could keep up with so I wouldn’t even think at all. But many times more, I would stay behind at a slower tempo, practicing small sections of the piece over and over again. It was tedious work that only paid off every once in a great while where it all came together in what would feel like a flawless outpouring of emotional and musical perfection. Essentially, race day.

I’ll never forget one day, practicing, when my stepdad approached the piano.

There he stood to my right, first saying nothing at all. Just watching. He was never a musician. Instead, he was a great athlete. A football player who then moved on to professional skeet shooting. To this day we have cabinets full of his shooting medals and awards. He watched me playing, as if to take it all in, as if to understand the language of deliberate practice where you pour your heart into something for a brief, even fleeting outcome that promises a small chance of perfection. Where it all comes together. Where you hit the mark.

He watched for a few minutes and naturally I came to a pause in the music.

Elizabeth, he said. I remember just listening. Our eyes did not connect. It was not necessary. He spoke to me as to impart to me the wisdom that made himself a great athlete, a precise marksman and an even better salesman.

Elizabeth, always be excellent.

Since that day, I have always strived for excellence. In everything I do. At times it has been my downfall – when I’ve gotten it confused with perfection. At other times, it has kept me focused on what matters to be consistently successful. When I find myself feeling the strain of sacrifice or the burden of setting big goals – a burden that takes hard work, early mornings and suffering – I remind myself to always be excellent.

Excellence is a commitment that where you want to go is worth it and what it takes to get there is something different, extra or special. Excellence is not found in ordinary effort. By definition, to be excellent means to be outstanding or exceptionally good – requiring a special effort.

Not surprisingly, the extra effort and path to excellence is not always easy. Which is why few stay the path. Excellence is about doing your best day after day. Despite obstacles, setbacks or distractions. Whether it’s fun or boring – you do the work if you’re going to be excellent. The reward of what is far off keeps you focused on today.

Excellence isn’t a single act but the sum of a series of small acts with the intent of being better today than you were yesterday or pursuing your big picture goal. Excellent athletes are masters of the small acts – of recovery, of the details, of the process. The path of mastery means every little thing matters. Everything ties into their big picture. Their choices support their goals. When the rest of campus is at the bars on a Friday night, they’re in the basement of the music hall replaying the same notes over and over again. It’s not sexy, it’s not exciting. It’s mostly tedium – and most will give up before they reach their next big breakthrough. That’s why so few are truly excellent.

These days, I am no longer an excellent musician. Occasionally I sit down at the piano and go through the motions. I miss notes, I am rusty. My ability to process the visual language of notes into music through my fingers has slowed down significantly. I assume this is what it feels like when professional runners retire – what used to be 6 minutes at an easy pace has now becomes 10 minute miles. It’s running but not quite the same….

At times, I long for the feeling of musical excellence. But I remember sitting at a piano for hours every day, playing scales, reading music, the monotonous tick tock of the metronome. For as rewarding as it felt to glide across the keys, the daily effort to get there a complete commitment. I know that unless I have the time, passion and focus to commit to that process, there will be no musical excellence.  But I know what I gained for walking that path to excellence is more than I learned in any book or class.  It was immensely valuable.  Real life, character building experience – of success and failure, awards and criticism, setbacks and accomplishments.  An experience that eventually spilled over into making me understand what it takes to be a  successful student, coach, athlete.

Worth it.

Though most of us will never be expert musicians of professional athletes, each one of us can strive for excellence in our journey. Perhaps it means giving attention to the details of our recovery, executing our training with precision, committing to ourselves with self-confidence. Only you know what stands in your way of going from good to great, from ordinary to excellent. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. You have to commit, and then you have to do it day after day. You have to stay the path.

This year, get obsessed with your journey to excellence – not just ticking off boxes with your training but committing to excellence. For you, excellence might be finishing an Ironman, placing in the top 30 percent of your age group or winning a national championship title. Whatever it is, commit to it – daily – with extraordinary effort. And at the end of the year or season, no matter the outcome, know that pursuing excellence meant that you gave it an outstanding effort – one that built your heart, character and confidence.

D is for Data

D is for data. The number, the graphs, the downloads. You can gather information and numbers on just about everything – your heart rate, cadence, power, oxygen saturation, vertical oscillation. There are websites, apps and tools not just capture but analyze all of this data. Training Peaks and Best Bike Split just announced The Pacing Project – a useful tool for predicting your race day, course-specific run paces.  The amount of data available to gather and interpret is amazing – if not overwhelming!  What is important to track?  What does it all mean?

Some coaches coach entirely by data, others completely disregard it. Which approach is right? The more important question is which works best for you. Having been coached with data, by data and without data, I assure you that each has benefits.

Coaching by data means that decisions are made, day to day, based on what the numbers are saying. Specific paces and watts are prescribed. Patterns over time are observed and predictions about races are made. The benefit of this approach? It’s highly personal, timely, honest and very clear. There is no guesswork – you know what to do and when to do it. It is simple, measurable and reinforcing. You see the progress. You know exactly what you’re capable of. The drawback of this approach is that athletes are human and always subject to change. What might be our easy pace or wattage one day can feel difficult another day due to life stress, dehydration or cumulative fatigue. Athletes can also get too obsessed with the execution or the chase – burying your head in a power meter or incessantly checking your Garmin can become an additional stressor or pressure that leads to distraction and overthinking.  Overachievers are prone to adding work just to simply see their “blue line” rising on a performance chart. Data can also become a burden of measuring yourself day to day.

Coaching without data means training by how you feel. Feeling good? Consider a harder training day. Feeling not so good? Take it easy. The benefit of this approach is that it’s very responsive. It tends to work well with highly self-aware and advanced athletes. Athletes who have an intuitive sense of their pacing and abilities. Surprisingly, this is often developed through years of first following a data-driven approach! This approach also works well with athletes who, for lack of a better way to put it, get all up in their head. The athlete who’s analyzing the session within the session – creating even more stress. Stripping away the technology and encouraging them to go by feel can be very freeing and rewarding. Tremendous confidence can be built from the feel of nailing a session without analyzing the exact paces you hit. Yet at times, this approach can be too wishy washy. This is where athletes risk going too hard on their easy days and too easy on their hard days. Some need data to stay honest – slowing them down or giving them that nudge to show there’s more in there. Moreover, how do we know our training plan is doing what it’s supposed to be doing? How do we know that we’re on track?

Coaching with data uses the data to supplement an athlete’s subjective feedback. Understanding that numbers aren’t everything but are definitely part of something. This is the approach that I embrace. It is very fluid, using data to assess patterns over time and supplement how an athlete feels day to day. Data gives me proof – to tell them they need to eat more, drink more or slow down. Data also helps me to develop an athlete’s perception. At times, what feels easy may not actually be easy based on our current fitness. And other times, what feels hard actually indicates that we have more in the tank.  This approach develops the whole athlete – the one who can look up from their device and make real-time decisions based on how they’re feeling, how the race is unfolding or what they want to accomplish. Using data support what we’re doing but ultimately teaching the athlete to learn to trust themselves and their abilities.

As for myself, over the years I’ve performed many self-experiments. I’ve had some of my best races being coached by data and others going completely by feel. To me, what matters most, is following the plan you trust the most. This might even change year to year based on what you’re looking to achieve or how you’ve changed as an athlete.

My experience? My first ten years in triathlon, I raced without data and achieved many incredible performances. Some of my best. Part due to age but bigger part likely due to the fact that I was totally plugged into what was going on in the moment, with my body and in the race. Same went for training. I had built up the mental toughness, awareness and grit to know what it looked like to really go hard and respected what my body gave me for sessions where I went easy. I didn’t push the pace at a time when I felt heavy and slow – I let myself be slow. I learned how to mentally dig myself out of energy and confidence crises. I learned pacing in odd ways – I used to do “mile repeats” on a loop that started and ended at a hickory tree. I learned how much I had to push into and out of the turns, the turnover in the last stretch, the sound of my breathing to hit 6:xx pace and to hit sub 6s. No track involved. No GPS. Just a tree. It wasn’t until years later that I finally measured the loop only to realize that my mile was short a tenth of a mile! To think, I wasn’t as fast as I thought I was – but at the time, you could have fooled me!  I had built an amazing confidence in my running ability. I went into every race thinking catch me! At the same time, I’ve ridden thousands of miles with my eyes checking in on the power meter to be sure I’m going hard enough or easy enough, to be sure all of that is lining up with cadence and heart rate – adjusting my pacing, fueling, hydrating based on what I’m seeing. Both approaches were valuable. Both approaches delivered me to overall wins and personal bests.

But if I had to pick one, well, that’s tricky. For the less experienced athlete or those who struggle with pacing, technology serves as a leash to hold them back when their tendency is to go too fast or a guide of what to do when. But after a few races under your race belt – don’t be afraid to trust your stuff and go dataless (or cover it up for review afterwards). You see, when it comes to peak performance, there is so much more than data and numbers. If it was that easy, we’d all go to a website, enter our training data and not even bother showing up for the races. We’d collect our medals from behind our laptops and then go back to training. Instead, the good stuff, the reason I keep racing is to find out. To answer my questions: if my body is this fit, this ready – what can happen? If the conditions are this challenging, how far will I rise above? What will my mind allow my body to do when it is fighting the other way? When everything is on the line and someone runs up on my shoulder – what action will I take? Some call that mental toughness, grit or drive. I call it the immeasurables.

You can quantify everything except what might be argued as the most important thing: the immeasurables. Show me any successful athlete and I will show you someone with commitment, heart, self-awareness and drive. These things can take an athlete who lacks in “talent” and place them in a position to go further than they’re physiologically designed to go or what the formula predicts they’ll do in racing. There needs to be a place for these things in training and racing. The risk of the data-driven athlete is that they become a robot. Robots do not win races. Athletes do; intuitive, dialed in, driven and hungry athletes who want the win. Who know what is realistic based on data in training but on race day are not just prepared to execute based on their current fitness but to always be open to the possibilities.

C is for Coach(es)

C is for coach(es).

I’ve been excited to sit down and write this post because it talks about something that has forever changed the trajectory of my life: coaching.

Yes, I’m a coach with a full-time coaching business. But over the years, I’ve worked with four coaches who have changed my life as a person and athlete. I want to tell you about my experiences with them. In doing so, you’ll discover what makes a good coach and a successful coaching relationship.

Jennifer Harrison

JHC Triathlon Coaching

In 2003, I had been in the sport for four years with some promising results locally. The next logical step was to seek out a coach to see how far I could take it. After a quick search on the USA Triathlon website, I found one local name that I recognized: Jennifer Harrison. We chatted for a bit on the phone and I remember telling her two things; 1) my husband and I are a package deal – you coach the both of us and 2) I want a day off every week. I’ll never forget her reply: Elizabeth, do you really think the girls winning your age group are taking a day off every week?

Hired.

Over the next seven years, we worked together to achieve amazing progress. Jennifer took me from winning my age group at the local sprint to winning national championship races overall. What we accomplished together performance-wise still to this day inspires me. Remember, this was long before the gadgets, the data, the Training Peaks uploads. What mattered more – and still, what I believe matters significantly – was that someone who cared, who truly deeply cared about me and my outcome was behind me. She didn’t just know her stuff – she knew people. She cultivated an unshakable confidence that I still carry around this day. Simply put, she believed in me.

Over time, that coaching relationship grew into a deep friendship. Then, it grew into mentorship as I started my own coaching business. Everything I learned about how to be a professional coach is from Jennifer. She is the ultimate business woman who places loyalty, integrity, quality and gratitude at the heart of everything she does in business.

And now for the past few years, I have coached Jennifer. To me, that demonstrates tremendous trust between two professional and well-connected individuals who only want the best for and out of each other. We continually evolve our relationship – this year, we set out to team coach an athlete, we accepted a group coaching project for a charity and we have more exciting projects on the horizon.

Kurt Perham

PBM Coaching

Kurt is one of the most knowledgeable, straightforward and effective coaches I know. Simplicity is what he does best and he encourages his athletes, simply, with this phrase: do work. There is no fluff about him. You do safe, repeatable work day after day. His program is built upon your ability to master day in, day out consistency. And that’s why it works for so many. The simplicity of his program was welcome at a time when my life begged for it – I had just had my son and had set out with the big goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championship. At the time, the goal itself felt complicated let alone how to balance the training. He took it down to the basics – a repeatable week with predictable training sessions. This predictability was exactly what I needed as a new mother. Kurt also mastered something that very few male coaches can do well – the connection. If I had a question, he was there. He had a knack for saying the right thing at the right time – doing so very matter-of-factly. Still to this day, we randomly pop into each others lives to connect about kids or coaching.

Adam Zucco

Training Bible Coaching

Everyone in Chicago knows him by name and two decades of race results speak for themselves. I presented Adam with no small task when I approached him in the summer of 2013: you have 8 weeks to get me on to the podium at the 70.3 World Championship. In exchange, I committed those 8 weeks of my life to doing whatever he told me. His high volume approach was something far beyond what I had ever done before. I remember the week where I spent 12 hours on my bike (how could I forget?). Hundreds of miles in the saddle, consistently running upwards of 40 miles a week – it was a lot of work at a dangerous ramp rate. But I made my goals very clear and this was the first time ever as an athlete that I was truly ALL IN. Not that I didn’t work hard, sacrifice or suffer before but doing it for 20+ hours a week was a completely different level. Adam threw some of the most creatively challenging workouts at me that made me redefine how hard is hard, how much faster can you go on tired legs. Though we only worked together for a short period of time, he displayed utmost confidence in his ability as a coach and my ability achieve the end goal. His caring and responsive approach instilled a confidence not just from the work I was doing but in myself. Not surprisingly, we achieved what we set out to do. I got on the podium.

Matthew Rose

Dynamo Multisport

The first time I spoke with Matthew on the phone, it was like connecting with an old friend. What drew me to him as a coach was not just our similarities – both age groupers who turned to coaching, both with families – but his impressive record of success with female athletes. We had six months to go from zero (after baby #2) to being less than 2 minutes off of winning the amateur race at Ironman Texas. What continues to intrigue me, as a coach and athlete, is how although we all know the basics of what makes for strong endurance performance – we all go about it slightly differently. Having said that, Matthew’s approach was quite different. There were intervals at watts I had never seen before. Interesting ways of doing long runs. Different tests. Like any good coach, he was open to answering any of my questions about the why and the how. He was clearly operating from a long term vision of me racing at Kona even before I got there. Always honest, encouraging and open to discussion, a true professional with incredible passion for what he does and care for his athletes.

Hopefully what you’ve gained is a picture of what makes for a good coach. In an ever-growing market full of those who call themselves coach without any idea of what coaching actually means – I have a very, very short list of coaches I would ever consider or recommend. The list above is a good place to start.

What makes them good coaches? If you read between the lines, you’ll see that good coaches are not just masters of the knowledge but of the connection. They do so by being responsive, honest, and open to discussion. They commit to caring as much about you and your goal as you do. You walk away from them not just a better athlete but a better person.

The good coaches know they don’t need a lot of fluff, marketing or gimmicks. Their way of representing themselves and their work speaks for itself. They behave like a true professional. They continually look for ways to add more value to what they can provide for athletes: through more education, more communication and simply committing to aspiring to be one of the best.

Do I think every athlete should work with a coach? No. Only those who are interested in cooperating, communicating and learning more about what they can do to improve versus what they’re doing well. Don’t hire a coach to give you a bunch of gold stars. Hire a coach to take you someplace else – the next level, the discomfort zone. Be open to their way of doing things and when you don’t understand – ask questions.

Often, I get asked how you become a coach or how you grow a business. You learn coaching by coaching. By getting out there in front of people. At times, this means giving away your time for free. At other times, this means working with groups you didn’t think you’d ever want to work with. You must embrace the opportunity to get your hands dirty and learn real world coaching. You don’t learn it in a book, on a website or by attending a certification. Get in front of people. Learn how to effectively communicate and build connections.

Every good coach and well-coached athlete know the science of coaching is important but what makes the magic is the art of coaching – how you apply the science and do so in a way that creates a genuine connection – to the athlete, their goals and to you. Nearly 20 years in the sport, and I’ve still found ways to make magic in my racing – all of the races aren’t home-runs but to still be setting PR’s at age 40 and to find myself still craving more, still learning? I have those above to thank for that, those who have taught me how to be a better coach, mom, business owner and athlete.

Thank you.      

B is for Basics

B is for the basics.

If I could give one piece of advice to endurance athletes, regardless of age, ability or goals, it would be this:

Do the basics consistently well.

Having participated in multisport for almost 20 years, I have seen much change. The amount of technology, information and gadgetry available is impressive. Almost overwhelming. Yet something hasn’t changed – what allows us to be good endurance athletes in the first place: the basics.

What are the basics?

Consistency. Your most potent factor in training is not volume or intensity. It’s consistency. Your ability to do work day after day is at the heart of building robust fitness and durability.  Stringing together week after week of consistent training is what the best athletes are doing better than you. Not to say they don’t experience obstacles along the way. But they manage their details really, really well to protect their consistency. They know that consistency is everything. To allow for this – they plan out their week and season in a way that’s realistic and repeatable.  A general rule to follow when navigating your daily training plan: don’t do anything today that you can’t repeat tomorrow. This isn’t to say that you never work hard or stretch beyond yourself. But in training, we never empty the tank or do something to compromise our consistency.

The biggest threats to consistency? Illness and injury. Manage stress (training stress, life stress, poor eating stress, work stress) the best you can so you do not suppress immune function. Err on the conservative side when it comes to training so you do not create an injury. If you can be more consistent with you training but it means going easier – go easier. Over time, easier adds up to more.  More consistency, more work, more fitness.

Recoverability. I have no idea if it’s an actual word but it’s a concept the best athletes work to improve, constantly. Your recoverability determines how much fitness you gain. Work + rest = fitness. Good athletes focus on doing work. Great athletes focus more on learning how to recover appropriately to gain fitness from it. Very few athletes understand the work/rest ratio that yields to their best fitness. Often these athletes are chasing numbers or chasing the wrong things. The best athletes chase performance.  To achieve your best performance, you need to be the master of recovery. How do you improve your recoverability? By far, the two most powerful variables are nutrition and sleep.

Sleep is a no brainer. We all know our threshold of how little sleep we can get and still function. Parents, you know this well! But most adults, especially those trying to be “high performing” athletes, tend to aim for 7 to 8 hours, nightly. Look for patterns over time and you will find what works for you. Avoid situations where you find yourself cutting sleep short to get up early for a workout. You’re better off sleeping in and cutting the workout short or making the workout easier. Limited sleep has been shown to put you at higher risk of injury and illness. Again, both threaten consistency.

And nutrition? If I could just feed every endurance athlete a piece of bread, give them a hug and tell them it’s going to be ok…The point is that nutrition doesn’t need to be complicated. The biggest gains most age groupers can make it from improvements in their understanding of and implementation of —- HOW TO EAT.  Now, I’m not a dietician – just a real person, in the real world with real life demands.  My suggestion is to keep it simple because simple is sustainable.  Three simple rules: eat well, eat often, eat 3 food groups at every meal with one being a source of carbohydrate and the other being protein. Endurance athletes are notorious for long stretches of time where they haven’t eaten, not eating before workouts, not having a fuel/hydration plan they execute during workouts, not eating enough (time wise or quantity wise) after workouts. Learning to fuel yourself before, during and after workouts is imperative for consistency.

Simplicity.  Having coached athletes for the past 10 years, one of the biggest mistakes I see is that too many are overcomplicating, over-analyzing and overdoing the sport before they’ve even mastered the basics of training. They’re getting the latest greatest gadgets, obsessing about equipment and downloading tons of data without putting in the foundation required for all of that stuff to matter.

Whether you’re beginner or advanced, pro or amateur, here’s what matters: swim, bike and run as much as you can without breaking down and, may I add, while still enjoying yourself. Do this for long periods of time, uninterrupted. How you do that – put yourself in a position to succeed day after day. Eat well, sleep well, stay healthy and motivated. When you find yourself starting to stumble, thinking too far ahead, getting off track – go back to the basics.

It’s really quite simple, isn’t it?  But as most wise coaches and athletes know – simple is never easy. Our natural tendency is to gravitate towards the complexity. Why? We doubt that something could be so easy. We thrive on the challenge, the difficulty. The things that make for good, sexy stories. We want to feel like we’re really doing something – something hard, something special. No one wants to read the interview where the champion says:

I swam, biked and ran every day, consistently, for 7 years.

We wait for the real recipe.  Surely it HAS to be more complicated than that. A secret workout? A special set they did? A magic number of miles? Come on, a certain supplement?

Here’s the secret: sometimes simple is hard. Because it’s boring!  The easy rides. The form work. In cold weather, in rain, in heat.  When you want to and, more importantly, when you don’t want to.  The grind, day after day.  We want to go out and smash ourselves to feel like we’ve accomplished something. The wise athlete knows that on the easy days, the boring days you are accomplishing quite a bit. Essentially, the easy, boring days are the glue that holds your fitness together. Those days are critical for maintaining your consistency.

This month, Multisport Mastery athletes have been challenged to commit to “no zeroes” in their training. It’s an idea I borrowed from my own coach, Matthew Rose. The purpose is to demonstrate how powerful something as basic as consistency can impact their fitness, attitude and motivation. And wouldn’t you know – it’s working. They’re chasing green boxes on their calendar like crazy. Athletes I’ve coached for years are finally going green. They’re reminding themselves, daily, to do the basics consistently well.

I challenge you to do the same.  Stop worrying or thinking about the stuff that will give you marginal gains and start focusing on what will help you make significant, long-lasting improvements.  Execute your daily training, eating, sleeping – these are the things that create the most powerful impact on your fitness.  Go back to the basics.

A is for Athlete

I follow a lot of really interesting coaches, minds, researchers and psychologists on Twitter. One of those is Ben Ehrlich, a mental skills/sports psych specialist. A few weeks ago, Ben set out to write a blog for every letter of the alphabet. While he did it the astonishing pace of writing every day, I won’t be as ambitious. I’m going to borrow his idea but take it one or two weeks at a time.

Without further ado, let’s begin at the beginning of the alphabet.

A is for athlete.

I work with athletes. Every single individual on my roster is an athlete, not a client. Clients use professional services but I hope that my athletes gain something more than that. I hope they gain insight into their character and potential. I hope, together, that we open up doors to possibilities. I hope I encourage them to get interested in the process of bringing out their best.

Whether someone is trying to break 30 minutes in a 5K or transition from age group to pro, they are, to me, an athlete.

What is an athlete? By definition, an athlete is someone who is proficient in a sport or physical exercise. To me, an athlete is someone who has made a commitment. When an athlete starts with me, I assume – first and foremost – that they are committed. They are not just setting a goal (anyone can do that), they are committing to the good and bad that goes along with it. The good is the reward – the gains in fitness, the feeling of accomplishment. The bad is the cost – the sacrifice, the suffering, the patience. This commitment to their big picture or goal is what drives them day to day. They have a question – how far can I go, how good can I get – and they are determined to find the answer.

Not surprisingly, an athlete is interested in the process. They may not always enjoy it but they know that attention to the details and extra little effort is what leads to goal accomplishment. They want to eat better, recover smarter and give that extra .1 percent. They pay attention to the little things that add up to notable progress.

Make no mistake, being an athlete is not easy. Some are 5 day a week athletes, blowing things off on the weekends. Others are fair weather athletes, skipping things when it’s cold or rains. Rare is the 24-hour athlete because it’s tough. It takes a lot of time, dedication and simply staying the path when others want to stray. But the 24-hour athlete knows, as the quote says, success is sometimes largely a matter of just hanging on when everyone else has let go.

Often I will hear athletes say I’m just average. Aren’t we all, to some extent? Think of a professional athlete – they are just average compared to the Olympian and world champion. The age group winner is just average compared to the professional. The beginner is above average compared to the sedentary. To me, there is no such thing as an average athlete. If you are committed and making the effort you are already above average.

How far you go above your average is entirely within your hands.

What about being a good or bad athlete? We all know examples of good and bad athletes. The good athletes are not always the fast ones! Give me a “slow” good athlete over a fast bad athlete any day. Good athletes are always learning. They are engaged in the process. They raise their own bar and ask how they can get to the next level. They are patient, knowing that sustainable progress comes at a slow but worthwhile rate. They look at failure as a valuable lesson, an opportunity for growth. They are resilient. They are open-minded to challenge, to feedback and change. They trust in their coach, the plan and themselves.

Bad athletes – we all know athletes with great potential who are just not good athletes. These are the ones that frustrate the coach, leave us shaking our head, if only they would ________. The blank is often filled with things like sleep more, eat better, believe in themselves, not give up, see the bigger picture, slow down, follow the plan. Are you sensing a pattern? A bad athlete has nothing to do with how fast or slow you go. It has everything to do with choices you make. The good news? Those things are entirely within your control. Being a bad athlete is very much temporary. You can become a good athlete by making good choices, consistently.

Years ago, I attended one of the best things I’ve done as an athlete. It was a run form clinic with local legend, Dave Walters. Dave is now in his 50s and still running 2:40something marathons. Late in the clinic, Dave said something which that day changed me. He told us to take our goal and ask ourselves a simple question everyday: what would a ______ do? That year I wanted to be a national champion. On a post-it note, I scribbled what would a national champion do? I stuck it on my desk and read it every day. That simple question became the filter through which I made all of my choices as an athlete. And wouldn’t you know – later that year, it happened. I became a national champion.

No matter what level of athlete you are – how slow or fast – I challenge you to see yourself as an athlete. To expect the things an athlete would expect – they expect to win their goals, to set personal bests, to dream big and wholeheartedly go after it. 2016 has just begun so I challenge each of you to think about what kind of athlete do you want to be.  What would that athlete do, think or say? Don’t hold back – commit to being THAT athlete and let’s make this year great.

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