Thursday, October 18, 2007

What it takes part I

“What it takes” is an expression everyone likes. The question “Do I have what it takes?” is in the mind of every athlete many times during their athletic career. The question “Do you have what it takes?” is in the mind of any coach whenever he or she starts coaching a new athlete. Yet, the answer to that question is not easy. “What it takes” is very hard to quantify and even hard to show to others. Not a lot of people know what it takes and learning about it is a difficult task, as there are different paths to it.

We all recognize the importance of setting clear, realistic, achievable goals. Most athletes are capable of setting those goals for themselves and with the help of a good, experienced coach, they can have feedback about how realistic and achievable are those goals. But an entirely different question is: Do they have what it takes to achieve those goals? This question is one that is important to athletes of every level.

At both the age-group and elite level, what it takes means commitment and sacrifice. Commitment to put in the right kind of work. Sacrifice of a lot of things that are dear to us in order to put in the right kind of work. Commitment and sacrifice are nice words, words that you can find in any self-help book. Words that maybe get us out the door for the next run. But few of us realize what they really mean because few of us have an idea of what commitment and sacrifice really means. In a society where everything is served to us in a platter, everyone has an increasing difficulty in understanding the real meaning for commitment and sacrifice. And that means that few of us have what it takes.

For those that have what it takes, achieving their goals is the ultimate goal and for that they sacrifice everything else. Among the things they sacrifice is the ego-driven necessity that some athletes have of being in control of every aspect of their lives, which obviously includes their training process. Throughout my years as a coach I have encountered many self-coached athletes that, although with lofty goals and a seemingly unshakeable drive to be the best they can, simply did not have what it takes because of their inability to trust others with their training.

So the question is, do you have what it takes? Well, maybe you don’t. Most sports psychology books talk about accessing your inner potential, about achieving excellence, like it is something that is within reach of every single one of us. In reality, it is something that is accessible to very few of us. Very few of us have the necessary combination of genetic talent, mental skills and social environment in order to achieve personal excellence in triathlon. And there is really nothing wrong with that, since not being able to be a successful athlete is not a character flaw. I have met plenty of very successful people that made for very lousy triathletes.

But maybe, just maybe you have what it takes. How do you know if you have it? It is quite simple: You go through the process. You put the work in. You commit and you sacrifice. And the product of that commitment and that sacrifice will answer the question.

Do you have what it takes?

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