Globe and Mail Careers Section, C2, Wednesday April 16, 2008
My career is a bit different – I’ve been a national level athlete for 10 years and devoted all my “working” time to my sport. I am on the cusp of turning pro, but I don’t know how to get to the next level. What can I do that will put me over the top?
Living in Vancouver, you can’t go a day without feeling the buzz and excitement around the approaching 2010 Olympics. For most of us, we will just be spectators, but for a chosen few, they will be the ones we are watching. So this question is well timed.
To catapult yourself onto the world stage, there are a few things you must first master.
The mental game: As you excel in your sport, as you rise in the ranks, most top athletes will tell you the significance of the mental aspect of the game increases exponentially to the point where it is the only thing that separates the winners from the rest of the pack. Self-confidence and the ability to re-focus are two critical aspects of the mental game.
Self Confidence is a precious commodity, and when it goes, you can see someone dissolve in front of your eyes. If you want to be a great athlete, you also need to be a great actor, so that you can pretend to be immensely confident even when you’re not.
You also need to be able to re-focus when you lose your confidence. Have a word or gesture that returns you to your confident state; “Push harder”, “get forward”, or a gesture like slapping your thigh. This must be something that you invent, that inspires and refocuses you in an instant.
A coach will help you develop your mental game. It could be a sports psychologist, or a personal coach, or your sport leader providing he or she is trained in the mental aspects of the game.
Work Ethic: There is a wonderful story about Jungle Jim Hunter, one of the original Crazy Canucks, (the downhill ski sensations of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s), who was invited to a training camp in Revelstoke, B.C. Trouble was he lived in Saskatchewan, he didn’t have the money to pay for the bus, and his father said he couldn’t take the truck. So, he rode his bike. If you want to win, train harder than everyone else. Jim Hunter did it. Lance Armstrong did it. Steve Nash does it. Make the choice to train harder than anyone else.
Deliberate Practice: Whatever you have done to get to this level, you now have to do something different to get to the next level. If you continue to do the same thing, it will get easier and easier, your intensity will drop and then your performance will drop. To continue to improve, you must constantly move the bar, challenge yourself, and get out of your comfort zone.
Take control: When you are approaching a competition, take control of everything in the pre-competition phase that you can: rest, proper nutrition, your equipment, external pressures such as school or a job, transportation to the event, jet lag, etc. Control whatever you can, so you are more equipped to handle the unexpected, and there is always something unexpected that shows up.
Finally, focus on the process, not the outcome. In many sports, the actual time spent in competition is a fraction of a percent of the time spent training. You must focus on maximizing the process of being an athlete and you will excel.
Katie Bennett is head coach of Double Black Diamond Coaching based in Vancouver.