There are many instances of athletes winning medals. Michael Phelps, managed to win 23 Olympic gold medals, Usain Bolt, accumulated 9 Olympic gold as well as 11 gold and 2 silver medals at the IAAF World Championships. In the 5000m and 10000m, Sir Mohamed Farah collected 4 Olympic gold medals, as well as 5 gold and 1 silver medal in World Championships. Even at local NZ level there are many athletes that manage to win year after year. Watching each of these athletes and their accomplishments can make it seem that winning medals is easy. But don’t be fooled. In the world of elite sport, managing to achieve the joy and satisfaction of 1 medal is not an easy task. It requires a lifestyle to help achieve the golden goal, years of training, failing, frustration, pain, sacrifice and hard work.
What do you need to be a gold medal winning sports person? There have been many studies on what is required. The key qualities of those athletes who consistently win medals are the ability to: focus and persist, avoid pressure and to use failure as a learning experience. An important key attribute is having the talent, best body structure and range of biomechanical skills for the event. But having the best engine is worthless without the love of the event, the training, confidence, commitment, concentration and dedication. These athletes are intrinsically focused and determined to be excellent. They are not afraid of hurting and suffering in training and have a high degree of mental toughness and resilience. They persevere, ignore distractions and are very often selfish in their pursuit of winning. The key is not the will to win as everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.
Coaches are also a big part of the equation when an athlete achieves a medal. Quite often elite athletes spend more time with their coach than with their families or friends (and vice versa). There are some coaches who continually manage to have their athletes succeed. Each year they seem to produce another champion. Other coaches seem to have the knowledge, the passion and the commitment but they seldom have winning athletes. What then does it take to be a winning medal coach?
Again, there have been many studies on this. Successful coaches have the ability to: balance and control emotions, see the overall picture, talk and communicate with each of their athletes and set up training according to each of their separate needs. They have the experience to realise that some weeks do not go to plan but are flexible and if needed have an alternate schedule so that their athletes arrive at the start line in the best possible shape. General attributes such as honesty, experience, communication, commitment, competence, and consistency are generally expected along with being inspirational, continually educating themselves, and being able to put together an agreeable plan. Quite often the top coaches do not accept that their athletes have limits, but their experience, patience and positive passion will help their athletes visualise and achieve success. Through the coaches' vision and the athlete's determination the winning attitude is formed.
One of the first questions I will ask when you contact me about coaching is "what is your goal in running?". If your goal is to finish a half marathon or marathon then you are probably not the type of athlete that will enjoy my type of training. All my athletes finish the race. The main difference is that they finish at the front. The team includes NZ Champions in athletics, cross country, road racing, orienteering and triathlon. They win medals and have all the traits that I described above. For some that will be daunting. For others it is exciting. Running faster does not get easier by having me as the coach.
Today’s society is all about Instagram likes and comments where even a morning trip to a café is amazing. Winning medals shows that you have trained hard, put your body under stress and spent most to the preceding months tired and uncomfortable. Being able to run faster than you have done before means continually being in a state of discomfort but still persevering. Be prepared to challenge yourself and to set high goals. Don’t just settle for a finish. Believe in yourself, don’t worry about who is watching, set a time and then commit to doing whatever it takes to get there.