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Triathlete Blog

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.