No matter what level you are on currently, reaching your next level or goal comes from introspection and learning how and where you can make improvements. However, as you start exploring where you can make changes as an athlete, it is important to not fall into the trap of what you expect the end results to be, or how you should look getting there. Here are my top 5 training myths for reaching a higher level.
Hard work will always result in the better athlete
When it comes to winning or doing well in a competition, we are convinced that as long as we work hard, we will be guaranteeing ourselves a win. Especially at a higher level of competition, many factors that we cannot control will come into play. These factors create an environment where resiliency and mental strength will serve you well. Hard work does not not lead to immediate success, and it is so easy to fall into the trap that our hard work will prevent any of the outliers. No coach or sport performance specialist can guarantee that the hardest worker in the room is the one guaranteed success. It is important to focus on the things you can control, and then enjoy the journey. High level competition is a game a patience, consistency and dedication in your training, mental strength, goal setting, growing your confidence, asking for advice, and being a great teammate.
Athletes are made up of multiple characteristics, often stronger in some areas than others. This means that at any given time we can have areas to improve upon, and blindly working hard will not help complete the whole athlete. The importance of finding and working on weaknesses help bridge the gap where you may be lacking, and others succeeding. Our hard work must come in the form of playful curiosity. It is not about beating ourselves up because we are not strong in an area, but becoming inquisitive about how we can improve in our own way.
The perfect eater always looks like a body builder
As we start honing in where we can make gains and improvements as an athlete eager to reach a higher level, nutrition starts becoming more and more important. You start to learn about how our bodies are awesome machines that react when we fuel it, and you start to learn what are the best ways achieve that. You implement those nutritional changes, and then start thinking, "am I doing this right? I feel different, but I don't look like a lean, mean, fighting machine like I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to look like. What I am I doing wrong?" Absolutely nothing. We all have this thing called genes, and for the most part, our genes control our body type. So that means that just because you adjust your nutrition, you are not guaranteed to lean out and look like a body builder. Many factors come into play, like the amount of estrogen and testosterone you have, which will contribute to the ease and ability to quickly create large, lean muscles. This is NOT saying that you cannot have the goal of looking more lean. It means that approaching that goal will look different for every person.
That is also not to say that because you don't look like a body builder, that you should just forget your nutritional changes. No way! If it is giving you more energy for your workouts and for your day to day life, then it shouldn't matter the way you look. Also, if you notice athlete body types on a high level, they typically don't look huge like body builders. Unless repetition in their sport causes big shoulders or legs, most high level athletes must work on quick reactions, speed, agility, strength, power, and stamina. This multitude of necessary characteristics makes it so the biggest athlete in the room isn't always the most successful.
One of the best portrayals of this is the image below, featuring the body types of Olympic athletes by photographer Howard Schatz.
A muscular and athletic looking body means a great athlete
Similar to the last topic, once again, the look and physique of an athlete guarantees nothing. For athletes at all levels, there are many key factors that go into creating a well rounded athlete. It would be false to think that if one of these key ingredients is most pronounced, that it guarantees success. I'm talking about all those awesomely muscular athletes out there! Having a naturally muscle-building physique doesn't always mean that they have been able to hone in the other key ingredients. We all have areas to continually work on, and so do that muscle-prone athletes. I have been witness to many athletes who look less "athletic" by body-type, but have strategy, mental toughness, and agility unlike the others. How many times have we been intimidated by the strong looking athlete we may have to compete against? Setting up our mentality with fear because they look stronger than us? I have seen so many amazing young athletes intimidated by the strong looking athlete, only to realize that they too bring advantages to the table. They just can't be seen by the naked eye.
Monkey see, monkey do: Do exactly as I did and you will become a champion
Quite a few years ago, I attended a talking engagement done by many Olympians across many different sports. One of the Olympians responded to a question about his process on his road to success. He said he was confused that more athletes didn't ask him EXACTLY what he did to create success, and then copy that word for word. He said, "Ask the best in your sport, and do exactly what they did."
Of course I have taken advantage of every chance I have had to speak with experts in my field about what they did, how they felt, how they approached road blocks. Now, here's my problem with this advice: The problem is that no two people are alike. There have been hundreds of books written on the Olympic process, and what it takes to become great. If it was as simple as following some else's recipe, we would be creating clone athletes left and right. Sports are above and beyond some sort of written formula. Your personality, ability to adjust and learn, and your resilience will play so many roles in forming your progression. What he should have really spoken about, was to ask, ask, ask. This is a lesson of asking and gaining knowledge, not copying a formula. By thinking that someone else's plan will guarantee you success, is truly a set up for failure. Nothing guarantees you 100% success. It is through gaining knowledge for others, creating a plan, and learning to adjust where you will give yourself the best chance to be successful.
Today is your day and you deserve to win
I understand completely the desire a coach has to instill great faith and determination in an athlete. They create an environment of trust and confidence that cannot be matched. However, I believe that as a coach, it is important to be well versed in sports psychology, as well as careful about your word choice.
I had a coach who desperately wanted to see the greatness in myself that day. I understood that, but I also didn't have the close relationship it needed to blossom under tense circumstances. They wanted to give me something inspirational that they knew I would know to be true, and that advice was "You deserve to win today."
There is absolutely nothing wrong with encouragement for an athlete to believe in yourself. However, rooting yourself to the belief that you will win because you deserve it, does not help you root yourself to your actual values of why you compete in the first place. Believing you deserve something does not guarantee that you will receive it. This is why it is so important for an athlete to create a system of values that give way to a need of being accepted, deserving, or loved only after they win or are successful.
This took me many years to learn, and it is still an every day practice. I used to root myself in this deep, harbored need to prove to everyone that because I worked the hardest in the room, they would all see that I deserved to win, and then I would! If I'm going to be honest here, it was such a bitter feeling to have, and it never allowed be to compete freely. If I won, it was like proving to others about my hard work. If I lost, I was bitter and upset because I knew I deserved it. It was like being on a hamster wheel, and I couldn't get off because I clung so hard to pushing that wheel faster so no one could deny that I didn't deserve it.
Once I learned that my values for competing where actually rooted in my family, independence, and my love for challenge, it didn't matter who was most deserving. It became about the embracing moment of competition, and being the best possible version of myself in that match.