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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 March 13, 2019

        How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

        How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

        Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

        You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

        Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

        1. Work on the small tasks.

        When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

        Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

        2. Take a break from your work desk.

        Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

        Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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        3. Upgrade yourself

        Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

        The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

        4. Talk to a friend.

        Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

        Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

        5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

        If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

        Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

        Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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        6. Paint a vision to work towards.

        If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

        Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

        Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

        7. Read a book (or blog).

        The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

        Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

        Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

        8. Have a quick nap.

        If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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        9. Remember why you are doing this.

        Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

        What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

        10. Find some competition.

        Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

        Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

        11. Go exercise.

        Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

        Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

        As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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        Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

        12. Take a good break.

        Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

        Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

        Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

        Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

        More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

        Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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