Growing up every kid has that vision of throwing the winning touchdown, making the buzzer beating shot, or standing on the Olympic podium singing the national anthem for all to see. The question always remains are the elite athletes simply just God given talent or is it something that can be attained? I do not consider myself to be one blessed by God to be particularly athletic but I was blessed in my life to attend Brigham Young University as a student athlete. At 6’5” you would naturally assume that I played basketball for BYU, but that assumption would be incorrect. I choose to participate in one of the only sport where being tall is a major disadvantage, I was a varsity member of the diving team. As the tallest diver in division 1 NCAA I naturally drew comments from other coaches, many would come to me after a meet shake my hand and say, “I have no idea how a man like you can do any of this, but keep going”. From my experience I came to realize that athletes are not always born with the perfect physical frame, the true elite athletes have something more tangible and attainable. With that being said here are the top ten things you can do now to become an elite athlete.
In my diving career I learned that diving was about 90% mental and 10% physical. I have found this to be generally true among all sports. How many high profile athletes can you name that made it to the next step either in college or the pros only to flop and flop hard? I can name quite a few, did they lack physical ability? No. Most of these athletes where dominant before; but when placed in a situation where they have to fight for every minute, they inevitably fail. Elite athletes have a solid mindset; they have a goal and are never afraid to play in the mud or fight tooth and nail to win. Indeed when things get hard is when elite athletes become the very best.
You did it as a kid and you should do it now. Visualize your self in that moment when you are down by 4 with 5 seconds to go on the opponent’s 30-yard line. You take the snap, everything is happening in slow motion, when you see your receiver break free and catch the winning touchdown. When this opportunity comes in real life you won’t be nervous or choke, you will be calm and confident because you have been there before. In diving visualization was very important, in similar sports such as gymnastics, snowboarding, or ski aerials the difference between landing a perfect 10 or serious body injury is the matter of the smallest movements. Visualization helps prime your brain and muscles and triggers muscle memory tracks that you have developed during practice so that the small corrections become unconscious and automatic.
There is a saying that is passed around that practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect; I don’t quite agree. The saying I like about practice is from the BYU sports psychologists Craig Manning who says, “practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent”. Practice is your time to succeed and to fail, to try something new and to refine your skills. Practice is a time to repeat your skill over and over again until it is permanent and automatic. No matter what you do make sure to practice hard, milk every second out of practice that you can. Stephen Curry one of the NBAs best has reported that he makes 500 baskets a practice, not attempts, makes. If Stephen is playing around the world he sets the goal of making 10 out of 13 shots until he moves on and unless he hits that goal he will stand in one place all day. Stephens dedication to practice makes him almost automatic at any shot.
This is a question of the heart. How much are you willing to give up and sacrifice to achieve your goal? Are you the first to come and the last to leave? Do you push yourself further then the coach asks? Becoming an elite athlete often means long nights in the gym instead of spending time with friends. Elite athletes set a goal and are dedicated to achieving that goal no matter what. Sometimes you might fall short and fail but an elite athlete is dedicated to there goal and they move forward. I like to think of the rhino principle. I am sure you can all visualize a rhino as the strong formidable creature they are. When a rhino charges at a target they do not always hit that target, but when they do they win. Don’t let the miss’s cause you to waiver in your dedication and when you hit your target… win with dedication and strength.
5. No fear
Fear will cripple you. Just like ancient warriors of the past modern athletes use face paint, the Haka, chants, and gestures to inspire fear in there opponents. Elite athletes are able see through the façade to what is really underneath, just another person that is as vulnerable as they are. Elite athletes must also deal with personal fears such as the fear of injury. If you allow your mind to wonder and fear what could be you will find that you are not able to take the next step in your sport. Elite athletes accept the potential of injury and move past it knowing that the cost of not performing there very best far out ways the price of potential injury. (Important note: do not mistake a lack of fear as reckless abandon they are two completely separate things, see #10 for more information)
No matter what sport you perform elite athletes rely on the team around them to be better. As a diver I was on my own in every meet, there was nothing but me the board and 3 seconds of air time to perform my best, yet I still relied on my team to get me there. Your team is there to build you up and push you; they are there to give advice and support you. Your team is going through the same experiences and trials as you are and they want the best for you so rely on their help and give the same in return.
Or as others call it swagger. Elite athletes ooze confidence, they know what they are capable of and never crumble under pressure when there number is called. Elite athletes have put in the work necessary to know that when it is there turn they will deliver. Confidence also means that no matter who your opponent is you never waiver. You could be going up against the undefeated giants of the state or going to bat against the pitcher that throws a mean 95 mph fastball. No matter how big, how strong and how athletic your opponent is, you have practiced, you know your fundamentals, and when it comes time you know you are going to deliver and win.
Or as many call it “in the zone”. Whether it be in the swamp of the Florida Gators or in the hostile Utah State specrtrum you are going to be placed in some hostile environments. Haters will hate but elite athletes have the uncanny ability to block out the noise and the hype and simply play the game they know. Right before your tennis serves or that final penalty kick the rower of the crowd turns to silence and all you see is the ball and your goal, in that moment nothing else matters.
That lucky (smelly) pair of socks, the traditional pregame meal, or the cheer you do every game. Some might call this superstition but it plays a key role in the lives of elite athletes. One of the most well known instances of this is Michael Jordan, one of the best basketball players of all time, who wore his lucky UNC shorts underneath his Bulls shorts in every NBA game. Studies actually show that athletes with routines before every free throw, pitch, tennis serve or race have a higher percentage of completion and better performance. Routines help your mind focus and helps elite athletes deal with stress, anxiety, and potential danger.
10. Attention to detail
Every elite athlete is obsessive about every detail no matter how small because they know that the little things are the difference between winning and losing. Elite athletes also understand that the details provide them safety in a seemingly dangerous sport. I am a big fan of extreme sports particularly white water kayaking. To the outside world running a 50-foot waterfall seems reckless because they don’t see the attention to detail behind the scenes. They don’t see the meticulous planning, scouting, and preparation that go into every rapid. We spend hours looking at every inch of water, every wave and ripple; every single detail to mitigate the risk and capture that one moment of sheer exhilaration when you make it through unscathed. On the courts and field attention to detail such as proper tackling technique can save you from concussion and other potentially career ending injuries. No matter what sport you find yourself in attention to detail will protect you and give you that winning edge over your opponent.