As a coach, I am fortunate to work closely with people. Coaching allows you to really get to know what makes a person tick, what their insecurities are and what drives them to achieve. It also allows you to become a bit of a people watcher. In training and races, I am always trying to observe the athletes I coach as well as their competitors. This involves reading body language and facial expressions, and then talking to my athletes before and after the event about how they felt they went. One constant is that the mind of the athlete largely determines a person’s success. Our mind does and will play tricks on us so unless we spend time training it, more often than not it will block us from reaching our potential.
Most weeks at the squad sessions I coach, I see athletes battling that little voice inside their heads. The one that says it’s fine to make excuses and cut short the session, ease up on the effort or waste time mucking around on the pool deck. If the opportunity exists to take the easy option, there will be an athlete who chooses that path. I can read it on people’s faces when they turn up to a session that they have already talked themselves out of giving their best. The excuses start rolling around in the mind. I’m tired, I hate swimming, I’ve got a headache, my legs are heavy and on it goes. As age groupers, we don’t have the luxury of not giving every session our best effort. Best effort isn’t always going hard but it is ensuring the purpose of the session is met. Easy, hard, long, short, strength or rest, we need to maximise our available time to get the best outcome.
I was recently reminded how the best athletes don’t make excuses. They’re not always the fastest but they’re the ones who squeeze every little bit of ability out of their body and don’t allow themselves the luxury of making excuses. Last weekend, I had the privilege of watching the World Paratriathlon event on the Gold Coast. One of the athletes I coach, Gerrard Gosens, was competing along with other paratriathletes from around the world. I was amazed at the abilities and speed of these athletes. Some with one leg, one arm, no sight, brain injuries, wheelchairs. All of them are incredible for different reasons. I’m sure they don’t make excuses when life gets hard.
Having worked with Gerrard, who is completely blind, for some time now I know how hard he works and how he never lets anything stop him. Just recently, Gerrard fell while doing the run leg of a race and broke his wrist. This was in the lead up to the World Cup event. Rather than let it stop him training, he used a plastic cover around his cast so he could continue to swim. Initially, he only used his good arm and so performed a lot of one-arm freestyle until he could swim with both arms again. I think it’s fair to say many of us would have not bothered and given up.
Did the paratriathlete with one leg stop cycling when his leg got tired? Or did the paratriathlete trying to swim and ride with one arm quit? I don’t think these athletes know what an excuse is. Next time you start to make an excuse, have a good think about it and remember how lucky you are.