I am currently coach seven amazingly talented athletes (1 slot available for coaching) who live around in the US, each with their own personal and athletic goals. Should I consider myself more successful than they are just because I am training for a World Championship? Absolutely not.
Yesterday, a friend of mine from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (Tim Ziegenfuss) posted a link to a fantastic article that I could not wait to share. I invite you to read the entire article but I wanted to post a little of it on this blog post:
The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes
Jack J. Lesyk, Ph.D.
You don’t have to be a professional athlete or an Olympic champion to be a successful athlete. Nor do you have to have a room full of trophies, win a state championship, or make the front page of the sports section. Successful athletes that I’ve worked with include an eleven year-old figure skater who has not yet won a competition, a high school golfer with a zero handicap, a middle-aged runner whose goal is to complete her first marathon, a weight lifter who holds several world records, and an Olympic medalist.
What these athletes have in common is that their sport is important to them and they’re committed to being the best that they can be within the scope of their limitations – other life commitments, finances, time, and their natural ability. They set high, realistic goals for themselves and train and play hard. They are successful because they are pursuing their goals and enjoying their sport. Their sport participation enriches their lives and they believe that what they get back is worth what they put into their sport.
There are nine, specific mental skills that contribute to success in sports. They are all learned and can be improved with instruction and practice. At the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology we work with serious athletes of all ages and ability levels to help them learn and sharpen these important skills.
We believe that our work is worthwhile because the same mental skills that athletes use in achieving success in sports can be used to achieve success in other areas of their lives.
A Brief List of the Nine Mental Skills
1. Choose and maintain a positive attitude.
2. Maintain a high level of self-motivation.
3. Set high, realistic goals.
4. Deal effectively with people.
5. Use positive self-talk.
6. Use positive mental imagery.
7. Manage anxiety effectively.
8. Manage their emotions effectively.
9. Maintain concentration.
As an athlete, dietitian, exercise physiologist, coach and educator, I have a lot of responsibility to the public. I try to keep up with current research and keep an open mind. But above all, I believe in leading by example. While I don't believe that what works for one person may work for another, I do believe in respecting the human body in order to find success in your sport of choice.
Coach Matt Dixon has been an integral part in my coaching philosophy. I remember reading an article in Triathlete regarding training and his philosophy of training athletes to receive physiological training adaptations with the least amount of training stress. Although some may question his "less is more" approach as he often works with many professional athletes who may have had a huge base but struggled with overtraining but he also works with age groupers who also strive for "success", regardless of finishing time.
I recognize that there are many other qualified coaches out there that also believe in a less-is-more approach and I commend those coaches for not making their athletes do more than is necessary. Although we all love our sport, too much unnecessary volume may lead to overtraining, burnout, injury and a lack of enjoyment for the sport that you once pursued because you saw an avenue which allowed you to set goals and become the person you knew you could be in life. Therefore, I believe in his philosophy not only as an exercise physiologist and coach but also as an athlete.
My athletes have had great success in this quality-approach where we focus on the many small components that create a successful athlete. For I do not believe that success has to do with finishing times, mph on the bike, how fast you run or swim or how much body fat you have on race day or how fancy your bike looks in comparison to others.
For me, it all comes down to consistency. I believe that we will all be most successful in reaching personal goals (in sport and life) if we can focus on our own life as we are all special in our own way.
As a side note, I am not sure where the idea came from that it was necessary to ride 130 miles in order to train for the Ironman? For a few years ago it was 100 miles, then 110, then 120 miles...I know the desire is there for more, more, more, but sometimes we need to focus on the little things that will make training much more productive. Assessing where we want to be, looking at where we are now and then finding realistic, practical and healthy ways of working our way to those goals.
I took a minute to look back at my last few weeks of training. I see nothing but consistency, thanks to a fun, realistic and quality-focused training plan which is continually updated by Karel and myself. Sure, I have great workouts and a few "off" workouts but I'd like to think that if I am feeling slow one day, at least I can strive to be "consistently" slow for that workout. Thus I strive to always get something out of my workout and with that, I have lots of "successful" workouts and a few enjoyable "exercising" sessions.
After not running for 10 weeks, followed by a month of stressful studying in preparation for my RD exam, I resumed "run" training around the end of June. It was a LONG journey to get to June but I knew where I wanted to be and I was determined to focus on what I CAN do and not what I CAN NOT.
Looking at my garmin running splits, power files and swim times, I would like to think that the less-is-more approach is allowing me to feel "successful" in my own pursuit towards my individual goals as I am filled with lots of energy and a total sense of balance as I train for my 5th Ironman event.