Motivating the Athlete

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Photo Copyright Colin M. Lenton Photography

In my previous post, I discussed the important concepts I learned with the passing of my grandmother and the epiphany I had when I stayed to coach my students at the Junior Olympics, and how this affected my overall coaching philosophy.

As we head into the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games tonight, I figured I would share with you the email I wrote Suzanne upon her departure for London.

A little background to this email: While Suzanne is a very physically gifted athlete, her biggest shortcoming is what we call her “dark side.” Like the best of us, Suzanne often has trouble resetting and moving on to the next touch if things don’t go 100% according to plan.

The second issue at hand was a sentiment that emerged saying she was “lucky” for being a fringe qualifier. I wished to address that as well in order to boost her confidence and remind her that she was going to London for a damn good reason. I wrote to her the following:

My friend,

As you leave, I wanted to impart a few words.

First and foremost, I believe you are capable of winning the Olympic Games. Yes, winning. Any doubts you have must go out the door now. Those who mistakenly believe that you qualified because of “luck” or because someone else didn’t make the team are painfully mistaken. Luck did not take a broken neck and broken collarbone teetering on a career ending injury and cause you to rebound to fantastic results. Luck did not cause you to rise before the sun caught you in bed to work with relentless determination to achieve your goal of making an Olympic team. Luck didn’t take hold of your hand when you took your Silver in Guatemala, to name one of many great results. Luck doesn’t do much of anything at all, because luck doesn’t exist. You’re going to the London Olympic Games because your work ethic, resilience, and desire to be great got you there. None of your 35 opponents have that kind of grit. You do. And that is what separates you from the pack. That is what makes you capable of being on the medal stand when the games come.

You have always set high expectations for yourself, and you do so for good reason. But your high expectations must not take the best of your emotions. Remember, that although you are competing at the highest stage there are things to put in perspective. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Modern Olympic Games envisioned the Olympics as

“…a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. The goal of Olympism is to place everywhere sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity. To this effect, the Olympic movement engages, alone or in cooperation with other organizations and within the limits of its means, and actions to promote peace.”

As I told you many times: So long as your family and friends are in good health, these are the things that matter most at the end of the day. Train hard, compete with your trademark passion, but remember, at the end of the day Pentathlon is just a game. Do not let the “dark side” come out. It doesn’t need to. Compete in the spirit of Olympism, because you are one of about 650 athletes in a country of 310,000,000 that have the opportunity to do so. By my count, as an Olympian you fall into the 0.00021% of the United States population. So remember, luck didn’t get you to London, grit did. And the “dark side” will not win you a gold, but your passion and love of Pentathlon will. You are a true Olympian in every sense of de Coubertin’s definition.

I have truly enjoyed working with you in the last couple of months. It has been a learning experience for me as well. I believe in you, and I know that you are capable of getting a gold medal. I will see you in London, and until then, if you need anything from me, do not hesitate to reach out.

The key to motivating your students and your club mates is unwavering positivity. In practice, one must push his/her students to correct their form as best as possible. Come the time of the event, the tone must change from one of correction to one of motivation. The athlete’s preparation is the precedent to his/her game time performance; thus, if the coach has done a successful job in teaching their desired tactics and the athlete has put in the time and effort to work with determination, then the remaining time leading to the event is to be used in boosting the athlete’s confidence. Confidence is contagious, and conversely, negativity spreads to the mind of the athlete if exuded by the coach.

I am excited to see Suzanne in London in a few weeks, and if you see me, I may feel nervous inside watching my student compete on the largest competitive circuit, but you will see me smiling, high-fiving, and going rip-roariously wild for her victories, yet remaining strong-willed even in her defeats. Her preparation for this event was unparalleled, and as her coach, I have nothing but confidence to convey to her as a result. Wish us luck.

-Damien

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