Five Traits of Successful Athletes

June 1, 2009

By Jack VanDyk, MKIN, CEP, NCCP 1
Jack is the ETS Coordinator at Talisman Centre

Part I

It is amazing that Endurance Training Systems (ETS) celebrated its 5 year anniversary date this past January 2009! As the ETS Coordinator and a training advisor/coach I wanted to share some thoughts regarding what traits or qualities those who have achieved their goals have demonstrated and embodied from my years of coaching and training. Over course there are more than the five I muse about in this short writing, but these five traits or qualities stand out for me and I have found them to be intertwined with one another.

1. Passion

"Passion is an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. Passion often applies to lively or eager interest in or admiration for a proposal, cause, or activity or love." -Wikipedia

It is not enough to simply "want" something. There needs to be some "spark" or desire, purpose perhaps to pursue a goal either in life or sport. I have worked with 100+ individual athletes over the past 10 years and what differentiates those who succeed from those who don't is their passion. To get up at 5am and run when it is cold and dark outside or to sit on the indoor trainer for several hours is not for everyone. Those who have passion see beyond the wish to sleep in and the boredom of being indoors and continue to focus on "why" they are doing the training. Every workout has a purpose including rest and they embrace that train of thought which yields mental strength that is often counted upon when the chips are down on race day. Once they have achieved their goal(s) the passionate ones look back and see how those training sessions contributed to their achievement making the experience more rewarding and meaningful to them. For those who simply go through the motions, cut workouts short, miss workouts on a regular basis, make excuses for why they can't do this or that are often the ones who don’t understand why they failed to achieve their goal(s) and often finger point to external reasons. Always understand clearly why you are training or working towards something and make sure they are for strong personal reasons rather than just to do something because others are doing it.

2. Commitment

"Personal commitment, interaction dominated by obligations. These obligations may be mutual, or self-imposed, or explicitly stated, or may not. ...Personal commitment, which is often a pledge or promise to ones' self for personal growth. Being bound emotionally/intellectually to a course of action." - Wikipedia

I firmly believe that both commitment and passion are heavily intertwined and could be argued that without one you can not truly have the other. The successful athletes I have worked with show high levels of personal commitment towards the achievement of their goals which is fueled by their passion to fulfill their goals. For those who sign up one year in advance for an Ironman triathlon that is a huge first step towards a commitment to completing that event. However beyond registering for it the tough part lies in the physical and mental preparation required to fulfill it and many participants haven't explored their reasons for doing the Ironman and how that decision can affect those around them. One must become committed to being in the pool by 6am for the coached swim session, one must commit to eating the right foods at the right time to support their daily training and general energy needs and one must be committed to getting to sleep earlier to rest the body and mind etc. With the commitment to doing the things required to successfully prepare for the event, the likelihood of having a "great" day is increased.

For many with a family or a meaningful relationship the commitment to preparing for the event extends beyond the personal realm as the loved ones who are supporting you are often the ones who sacrifice the most. One must realize that doing 4-6 hour rides on weekends for a period of time is required preparation which means that loved ones will be often left behind to do other things. Add to this the recovery time required after such arduous training which may limit what activities can be done with loved ones. There is also a large financial commitment to consider with travel, accommodation, equipment, nutrition perhaps coaching etc. If they are supportive of your goal(s) in doing an event always remember that you are not just committed to yourself, but you are also making a commitment to your loved one’s to ensure your time spent away from them and the financial outlay is productive and will increase the likelihood of success on the big day.

3. Consistency

"Steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc." –

Training is a cumulative process that takes time. In some cases a lot of time and the successful athletes show a level of consistency day to day, week to week, month to month that leads to the accumulation of high levels of fitness. The process of training hard for a short period of time and then not training for a period of time which so many people fall into just does not yield the same results and these athletes often feel they are "behind" everyone else and often are heard saying "if I had only trained more". Over the years I have learned that even getting out for 30 minutes when pressed for time contributes to the development of my overall fitness if the intensity of the training is maximized for short periods of time and I quickly get back on my regular training program. If I take too many days or weeks of reduced to no training, my overall fitness begins to erode and I am in need of more consistent training to build back up. There are some great software packages on the market that allow us to track our accumulated fitness and measure it against our performance(s) which helps to quantify our training doses and the response it has on our body. However, when training drops off for a period of illness, injury or "life" getting in the way, it is quite easy to see the impact in the graphs. Those who are successful show a steady rise and gain in their fitness curve and their performances and when they can keep training consistently from year to year, continue to show improvements. "You Only Get Out What You Put In".

...Continued in Part II

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