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Learning Personal Development from Elite Athletes

Learning Personal Development from Elite Athletes

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    Working With Athletes

    Over the last twenty five years I have (amongst other things) worked with many athletes at all levels of development and competition; boxers, aerial skiers, runners, throwers, swimmers, footballers (Australian Rules Football, Soccer and Gridiron), basketballers, netballers, bodybuilders, power-lifters, martial artists and lots more. From complete novices through to experienced Olympians, I have worked with them all. I have been employed by four professional sporting teams as a conditioning coach and this year I am working with the Melbourne Vixens; a professional netball team playing in the Trans-Tasman, Australia-New Zealand competition. I am involved in both the physical stuff (conditioning work) and also the head stuff (personal and professional development sessions). The girls are great to work with and I love that part of my professional life. Although looking up (literally) to twelve girls when you’re coaching them is somewhat strange when you’re a 5’10” bloke. Most of the girls are six foot plus but fortunately for insecure me, I have bigger guns. Just.

    * You can see two of the girls in action: 1. Natasha Chokljat just below.

    choklat

      Years of working with elite athletes has taught me much about the mechanics, process and psychology of creating desirable outcomes (improvement, success, winning) and much of what we learn with athletes can be transferred to the ‘non-sporting’ world. Desirable outcomes for an athlete (depending on their sport) would be things like: improved skill, fitness, strength, speed, power, flexibility, muscular endurance, recovery time, reaction time, more game time, improved performance in their sport and of course, winning gold medals and finals. Having this background and experience has helped me enormously with the personal and professional development work I now do with individuals and organisations. We all want ‘better’, we just need to know what that means and how to create it.

      Training and Competition

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      In sport we have two distinct components – training and competition – and naturally it makes sense to say that, as a rule, the better we train and prepare for our sport, the better we will perform on game day. We coaches find that athletes who train poorly, typically perform poorly (or not up to their potential) when it counts; in competition.

      Training Intensity.

      Being able to deal with physical, emotional and psychological pressure is a non-negotiable for the would-be champion. Some very talented people never succeed simply because they won’t do what needs to be done to maximise their potential. That is, get uncomfortable when they train and do it consistently. As a rule, competition is uncomfortable, even painful, but at the same time, it can be incredibly rewarding, exhilarating and enjoyable. We know that sport can be very demanding on not only the bodies, but also the minds of the athletes. We also know that athletes who spend the majority of their training time in their ‘comfort zone’ will invariably fail or under-perform at their chosen sport, because they are not prepared (physically or emotionally) for the reality and the demands of elite competition. Playing regular tennis with a ten year-old (even a lot of it) won’t prepare you for competitive tennis against highly-tuned adults of comparable ability to you. Comparable ability plus much better preparation equals much better performance.

      Train as You Intend to Play

      boxer

        We coaches regularly put athletes under enormous pressure in training because that’s where high level sport is played; in the ‘discomfort zone’.

        “If you wanna play like a freak, train like a freak.”

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        If athletes don’t hurt in training, they won’t develop the necessary skills, qualities and attributes to do what needs to be done when it matters; game time. As much as possible, coaches will simulate the type of intensity and pressure that game day brings because only that will truly condition an athlete for what he/she needs to do when it matters. I don’t care how well you can kick, throw, catch, pass, or side-step when you’re under no pressure and you’re physically fresh, I care how well you can perform those skills when it’s the last quarter, you’re down by two points, you’re physically exhausted, you’ve got people screaming at you, you’re stressed and you’ve got five opposition players doing their best to kill you. That’s when it matters.

        An Analogy

        Now, let’s take that thinking, understanding (it makes sense right?) and training approach, and apply it to the world of Personal Development; becoming a better version of us. Are we really developing (that is, changing in a real, practical and measurable way) or are we merely down-loading more and more self-help information that we don’t actually use? For this discussion, let’s say that coming here and reading articles such as this one is part (not the entirety) of your ‘training’ for your sport; your sport being… life.

        The Application

        Now, if we were going to take the above training approach and apply it to our personal growth journey, we would listen to the coach (in this instance, me), take the information and strategically, practically and consistently apply what we learn here over the course of our journey. That is, consciously put ourselves into situations where we are forced to step out of our predictable, safe, familiar, comfortable little box (oh yes, you know the one) and put ourselves into a simulated game situation; the place where we are forced to grow, learn, adapt and develop – like we say we want to. Let’s train like we wanna play. The truth is that when many ‘self-helpers’ are thrown into the game (that is, they are confronted with a real challenge in their world) they fall apart because they haven’t trained for it. Sure, they’ve read about it… if only reading was doing.

        Food For thought

        Q. How can the United States and Australia be two of the most educated countries in the world (in terms of health, diet, exercise, lifestyle etc.), while also being amongst the fattest (and still growing)?

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        A. Because we know what to do, but we don’t do what we know. Too manyof us are great at the theoretical and complete crap at the practical.

        We continue to destroy ourselves despite our knowledge. We want the results without the work. We want the pill, the powder, the potion, the shortcut. When will we stop looking for answers in the wrong places? When will we be honest? When will we stop wasting our time and potential?

        Soon I hope.

        Not a Theory

        Personal growth and genuine transformation isn’t about the theoretical, it’s about the practical – and the practical is all about YOU. If you read, understand and remember every single word I ever write, but never apply any of it, you will see absolutely zero benefit or positive change in your world. So apply it. Do it. Consistently. And get uncomfortable. Consistently. There are far too many personal development junkies who are great at talking the talk – they even use all the self-help jargon (I know, I talk to them) – but in reality they are full of crap because they don’t actually live any of it. They tell others what to do, while not actually doing it themselves. The Pseudo Gurus, I call them. Reading does not equal transformation. Reading equals reading. Even knowing doesn’t equal transformation. There is an abundance of educated and knowledgable failures.

        A Little Tough Love

        I’m not trying to be offensive here, just honest. The time for being precious and politically correct is not now; now is the time to be realistic and practical about our behaviours, our habits, our mindset and the type of results we produce in our world. Sure I could dance around the real issues and do my best to protect some people’s fragile emotional states, but the truth is that we all need a big fat reality check from time to time and to be honest, I don’t care if I offend people when I’m speaking the truth. Some people will get offended no matter what I say or how I say it, because they are victims. While others choose to get real, they choose to get hurt. That’s their miserable prerogative. I won’t waste my time or energy on people who are not prepared to help themselves or be honest. When we take the emotion out of it and be completely practical and realistic (about creating better results), we discover that many (many, many) people – even the self-help types – have been going around in circles for years. Lots of hot air, talk and hype but no results. Harsh? Perhaps. Honest? Yep.

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        When the S**t Hits the Fan

        When the s**t hits the fan – (this would be game time for an athlete) – and it always does, many people capitulate because they haven’t prepared for competition. They have the potential, the knowledge and the resources, but they didn’t have the courage, the focus or the work ethic to do what needed to be done; they didn’t ‘train’ the way they wanted to ‘play’. Some didn’t train at all.

        Decision Time?

        For some of you, it’s decision time. You know it and you’ve known for a long time. Of course you can find more reasons not to change and more ways to rationalise what you’re not doing, being and creating… or you can simply stop with the excuses and explanations… and change. Once and for all. You can train like you wanna play. You can be the change in your world. Today can be ‘just another day’ and this post can simply be ‘just another one of my articles’ that you don’t act on – or it can be the start of the most incredible journey you’ve ever had.

        I made my choice long ago.

        More by this author

        Craig Harper

        Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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        Last Updated on January 21, 2020

        The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

        The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

        Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

        your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

          Why You Need a Vision

          Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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          How to Create Your Life Vision

          Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

          What Do You Want?

          The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

          It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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          Some tips to guide you:

          • Remember to ask why you want certain things
          • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
          • Give yourself permission to dream.
          • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
          • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

          Some questions to start your exploration:

          • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
          • What would you like to have more of in your life?
          • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
          • What are your secret passions and dreams?
          • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
          • What do you want your relationships to be like?
          • What qualities would you like to develop?
          • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
          • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
          • What would you most like to accomplish?
          • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

          It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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          What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

          Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

          A few prompts to get you started:

          • What will you have accomplished already?
          • How will you feel about yourself?
          • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
          • What does your ideal day look like?
          • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
          • What would you be doing?
          • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
          • How are you dressed?
          • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
          • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
          • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

          It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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          Plan Backwards

          It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

          • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
          • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
          • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
          • What important actions would you have had to take?
          • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
          • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
          • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
          • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
          • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

          Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

          It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

          Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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