How many of you have sailed through an entire season, strong and healthy, only to have a random injury creep up prior to your goal event? If so, you’re not alone. This happened to an athlete of mine this year. She nailed every goal during her season from January through August, staying healthy and strong. Then as we made the final push to her goal Ironman, a foot issue cropped up without clear cause, resulting in almost no running the final 2 months into her race. While she still managed to compete, the result was of course disappointing. Yet the day after she returned home, she was at her physical therapist, trying to diagnose underlying causes and how to best get stronger to avoid this from recurring in the future. She wasn’t feeling sorry for herself, despite her understandable frustration. It struck me that this was precisely what made her such a successful athlete. The consistency of pay attention to the small details; the things most of us don’t ‘want’ to do, but attend to because we know they are necessary for long term success. Which brings me to my first Habit of Successful Athletes.

  1. ATTEND TO THE SMALL DETAILS. This includes things such as going to PT when needed (and doing the exercises on your own), paying attention to your nutrition and hydration, getting enough sleep, going easy on the easy days, and ultimately making wise decisions regularly that will most benefit you as an athlete.
  2. WILLINGNESS TO TAKE RISK. The only way to ever make a breakthrough as an athlete is by taking risk, at times getting out of your comfort zone and taking a chance. By doing this in your training, you’ll better learn what your limits when race day comes. One common thing I see with athletes who seek out a coach for the first time is, they are often training most all days in the ‘grey zone’; never too hard, never easy enough, always about the same effort (that ‘feel good’ effort). To truly make gains as an athlete and realize your fullest potential, you need some days to be hard; others to be easy; and at times push yourself beyond what you feel your limit ‘may’ be. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”. (T.S. Eliot). The beauty of this? Much like anything, if you aren’t a risk taker, you can work on it.
  3. BRUTAL HONESTY. One of my favorite mantras is ‘Be True to Oneself’, for I believe if we can do this as individuals in every sense of the phrase, we can never go wrong. But it is easier than it sounds. A person has to constantly be sure they’re on the right track ‘with themselves’ mentally, emotionally, physically, and personally, to assure success as an athlete. Are you communicating with your coach when you may be struggling? Are you willing to take a step back when needed to allow for forward momentum in the long term? Can you admit to yourself when you know a poor decision led to a lackluster result? It is easy to let ego and at times greed cloud good judgement. To find success as an athlete, be sure you’re checking in with yourself regularly, assuring that you are happy, healthy and thriving. And if you aren’t, have the maturity to address what needs fixing.
  4. ABILITY TO TRUST THE BODY, LET GO OF THE NUMBERS. Technology has a very worth-while place in the sport of triathlon. Power on the bike allows us to train quality specifically and effectively in a limited amount of time; similarly knowing our run paces can help us push ourselves wisely. To a point. All too often, I see technology ruining an athlete’s workout (or worse, their race). Ultimately, you need to understand what is hard, what is easy, what is steady; and be able to trust yourself in your training. It’s amazing. Years ago before we had these tools, people were still fast! What a crazy concept. Consider tossing the data in your training on occasion so you can learn to trust your body. And when the power meter or GPS goes awry in a session, let it go, and continue with your session; because whether or not it is recorded does not affect whether or not it was completed.
  5. STAYING IN THE MIDDLE. “Don’t let a win get to your head or a loss to your heart (‘word).” (Public Enemy, He Got Game). I’m a quote person and this one illustrates the message perfectly. Sport, much like life, is full of highs and lows. And while you put a lot of your time and heart into training and racing, it is fair to be disappointed with less than stellar results. However, be careful of letting yourself get too high or too low (due to either an amazing result, or a lackluster one). While you should celebrate the good, realize that to be successful in the long term, you will have both good and bad days; be careful of letting either one define you. Let the highs serve as confidence boosters, and motivation to keep at the process; and let the lows be learning opportunities. Welcome both of them equally. But ultimately, realize you are not defined by any one result; rather by how you respond to experiences.

This list is by no means comprehensive; patience is another one I could dive into. Sport, much like life, is a process whereby we can all be continually improving upon ourselves. So, I’ll leave you with this. What habits do you feel you can incorporate to allow you to be the most successful athlete possible?