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Taking the lumps along the way to success

by Shaun Fuentes

A big talking point and one which continues in light of the current Olympic Games is how success is defined and measured by different countries on the international stage. While it is not so clear how this is achieved, what is certain is that defining success depends on the purpose wherefore it is used and on the priorities of individual success.

Surely we as a nation must be asking ourselves this. Exactly what are our priorities when it comes to success whether it be in track and field, football, cricket, swimming or other sports. The FIFA World Cup and the Olympics are the most high profile sporting events on the international sporting calendar. And it is reasonable to conclude the the latter has become increasingly competitive and medals are now relatively harder to win, this currently being a consoling factor for us.

The demand for success is increasing with more countries participating and winning more medals while many are investing more to not only maintain their success but to give themselves a better chance vying for a medal or to perhaps qualify for a World Cup and then advance to the knockout phase.

Of course one must take into consideration a number of socio-economic and political variables that play an important part in determining each country’s success. While it can be argued that the Olympic Games are still dominated by a small number of capitalist core and (formerly) socialist countries, it is hardly surprising that larger and wealthier countries tend to win the lion's share of medals. Yet there are exceptions where smaller countries or those less expected to win are beginning to take their places on the podiums.

More research continues to take place as to exactly how these smaller nations are beginning to exceed on the world stage against the odds some may say. It turns out that for many athletes attempting to maximize their athletic abilities, learning sport skills is the easier task compared to developing the focus, motivation and resiliency needed to succeed. In other words, developing daily motivation or implementing stress coping skills to help deal with adversity, frustration or lack of proper preparation is perhaps harder than learning how to throw a javelin. More than ever before, mental toughness is perhaps the most important set of skills an athlete can develop in order to maximize potential.

Let’s look at the lead up to the Olympics for Indian Javelin gold medallist Neeraj Chopra. His coach Uwe Hohn said the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Athletics Federation of India (AFI) — “did not do enough” to prepare the athlete and his countrymen for the games. He said Chopra’s preparations were unplanned and his diet was not fit for the competition with him even struggling to get dietary supplements

Hohn said: “When I came here I thought I could change something but it’s probably too difficult with these people at SAI or AFI. I don’t know if it’s lack of knowledge or ignorance. Beside camps or competitions even when we ask via our nutritionist for supplements for our athletes we don’t get the right stuff. Not even for TOPS athletes. If we get something we are very happy.”

Surely that would throw any athlete off but in this case it seemed to have forced Chopra to prove his doubters or non-believers wrong.

Successful athletes often have a passion and purpose for what they do — they are focused and determined to get better every day, and have specific goals they actively pursue. It is passion and purpose (intrinsic motivation) that helps us overcome life obstacles, focus on our goals, and outwork the competition. When you love what you do, what looks like work to others is simply an enjoyable activity to you. This is why passionate athletes are often the first ones to practice, and the last ones to leave. But guess what. With all the personal drive and ambitions, it’s that extra push that gets them there ahead of the pack. And that push comes from those responsible for providing that additional support. That in turn makes the mental challenges easier to overcome.

To be clear – having passion and purpose does not imply that athletes will love every moment of training, but instead suggests that they have the heart and motivation to push through the tough times. And that comes along with also knowing they are supported no matter what. And backed not just vocally or via social media content but by tangible ways as well.

Without great motivation which includes support, the typical response is to give in to the pressure and stress, and/or begin to point fingers away from oneself and onto just about anything else.When athletes have passion, purpose and yes, right backing, they quickly move through tough times and stay hungry for the next day. Their resiliency is seemingly hard-wired into their DNA and they understand and accept that they will take their lumps along their way to greatness. Just ask Andre De Grasse.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ― Maya Angelou



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