Elite athletic success is determined by multiple factors including genetics, training and coaching. An individual must also possess the motivation, grit and mental fortitude to undergo the rigours of training and relentlessly pursue their goal.
Mindset and Athletic success
Mindset is everything – the single most important factor that influences and effects athletic performance is the athlete’s mind-set. Many people desire to excel in a particular athletic discipline or sport but they also wish to maintain a relatively normal life balance. If their ambition is to be merely very good at their chosen discipline then they can have both of these. However if their desire is to be the very best – to attain super elite status, then they will be extremely unlikely to achieve this level of athletic success whilst maintaining a balanced life.
Athletic success at the very highest level, and leading a balanced life, are mutually exclusive.
We live in an age where the bar has been raised so high, that regardless of natural ability or genetics, nothing short of absolute obsession with achieving athletic success at any cost, will enable you to get to the very top.
This is the harsh reality and before any reader tells themselves that balance is beneficial for attaining success in any life endeavour, I understand where they are coming from. This is also the belief of the majority who’s misunderstanding stems from their inability to grasp or relate to the mind-set necessary to achieve ultimate athletic success.
A prerequisite of getting to the very top is the cultivation of a “do or die” mentality and acceptance that attaining the pinnacle of athletic success in your chosen endeavour is more important than anything else in your life.
You must live and breathe it, to the exclusion of virtually all else. You must focus 100% and decide that you will allow absolutely nothing to stand in the way of accomplishing your goal.
You must then have the persistence to always keep moving forward, to proceed regardless of setbacks, ignoring the negative and enduring until the end.
You need to honestly answer the question,“ Have I satisfied myself that I have done everything possible to achieve my goal?”
That means everything you are willing to do now. there cannot be the possibility of experiencing any regrets or any “if only” later down the line.
This precludes having balance in your life. Everything needs to be subordinated to your primary goal for you to even have a chance of reaching it, and even then the odds are likely stacked against you, unless you also have very favourable genetics.
In his book The classic guide to the mental side of performance, Timothy Galloway wrote this equation:
Performance = Potential – interference
Potential meaning the culmination of all the factors contributing to an athletes potential ( i.e. genetics, training) minus anything that negates that potential – primarily a less than optimal mind-set.
Common mortal man is usually incapable of relating to the exceptional mind-set required to attain elite athlete status and therefore is generally unaware of its existence.
The fact remains however that elite athletes must have exceptional mindsets in order to be exceptional – it can be no other way.
For the majority of people (and I would include myself) the sacrifices necessary to obtain this level of athletic success are certainly not worth it. To most people, time and energy invested in family, friends, work, and personal development is of high importance. They are not prepared to change their life values to the extent necessary to achieve the highest level of athletic success and that is fine and good.
Even if they do, if you thought that all this – great genetics, fanatical mind-set, adherence to optimal training, nutrition and recuperation, were enough to produce a super elite athlete today, you would be wrong.
Performance enhancing drugs
In addition to all this there is usually a further requirement – the utilisation of performance enhancing drugs (PEDS), plus the knowledge of their administration in order to optimise performance.
Depending on the sport, the athlete or coach will also need to possess or acquire the knowledge and ability to conceal evidence of their use.
In the 1970s, Gabe Mirkin reported that more than half of the top runners whom he polled, would accept the following proposal: “If I could give you a pill that would make you an Olympic champion and also kill you in a year, would you take it?. This surprising result prompted Bob Goldman to ask world-class athletes in combat and power sports a similar question: “If I had a magic drug that was so fantastic that if you took it once you would win every competition you would enter from the Olympic Decathlon to the Mr Universe, for the next five years but it had one minor drawback, it would kill you five years after you took it, would you still take the drug?” He also found that more than half said they would take it. This result was consistent in his findings over a period from 1982 to 1995.
This tells us much about the mind-set of elite athletes and helps explain the endemic use of PEDS in sport.
“People think doping is for lazy people who want to avoid hard work. That might be true in some cases, but in mine, as with many riders I knew, it was precisely the opposite. EPO granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both training and racing.”
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs
Depending on the drugs and the extent of their use, PEDS are also likely to have a dileterious effect on the athletes health at some point in time. In sports where large quantities of anabolic steroids and various other compounds are used (i.e bodybuilding) this is guaranteed.
Some athletes may be in denial of the health risk but unfortunately the truth doesn’t cease to exist because it’s ignored.
It was not always like this. Time was many years ago when an obsessive mind-set and drugs were not a pre requisite of athletic success in any discipline. Unfortunately in recent decades the use of PEDS has become a necessity especially in disciplines that benefit from increased speed or power. Without them, success in any sport that might benefit from their use is virtually impossible.
For the majority, we are destined for relative mediocrity and that is fine, as talent and effort will only get us so far.
It is left to the rare few to reach the pinnacle of athletic success and for these people the price is inevitably high.
If you wish to be one of the chosen few, then aside from favourable genetics you will need to possess the intrinsic motivation to focus 100 % on your goal allowing nothing to stand in the way of accomplishing it. This includes potentially sacrificing future health and well being and will likely require a radical change in your life priorities.
Without doing this you can still be good, but you’ll likely never be super elite or break any world records.
You need to decide for yourself whether the goal is actually worth the sacrifice
1.The Sports Gene: Talent,Practice and the Truth About Success David Epstein (2014)
3. The Bare Essentials: 3 things every athlete needs to succeed John O’ Sullivan