So there I was recently on the basketball court resembling nothing, I mean nothing like my namesake Dr. J, the basketball legend Julius Erving. The scene was rather comical considering I once played point guard in high school and nearly walked on at the University of Oregon. Despite my natural athleticism, though, basketball is one of those sports I must constantly train for, otherwise I royally suck at it, really.
And that’s not easy for me to admit…
Natural talent is almost always seen as the driving factor behind athletic excellence. It’s not. Behind every great champion is a dedicated, hard-working athlete. The thing that sets them apart from other athletes is their willingness to try, their “can do” attitude, their commitment to improving themselves – not only physically, but mentally. An athlete I truly admire is Michael Jordan, blessed with both natural athletic ability and an exemplary work ethic, he views failure as a personal challenge to better oneself. I couldn’t agree more.
It’s important for people to understand that with any venture brings uncertainty and the fear of failure. No one is born perfect, but we all have the capability of being good (or even great) at something, whether it be in sports or in life. Don’t limit yourself with self-imposed obstacles – dare greatly.
My point is this – if you want something bad enough, you will work hard to get it. Those lucky folks born with natural talent oftentimes rely too heavily on their abilities, but fail to develop the right mental attitude and, therefore, ultimately fall short of their true potential. Those with focused determination and a willingness to keep at it, regardless of failures and setbacks, usually putting in more practice and training than their peers, are the ones with true grit – the real champions, the ones who succeed.
Here are some of my personal tips for upping your game –
- It’s all on you. Don’t wait for someone else to join you or expect another person to motivate you…use your own initiative. When I first began distance running, I didn’t know anyone who ran half marathons, let alone marathons. I started out running around my neighborhood just to see how far I could go. Later, as I connected with other runners online, I began tracking my mileage and times, incorporating advice and tips from seasoned athletes. That was over three years ago and several half marathons since, including a distance PR of 18 miles (one day 26.2) – not bad for someone who, in my younger years, found running even a couple of miles extremely difficult.
- Set high expectations for yourself in terms of dedication and goals, but be realistic in terms of your performance. In other words, forget the smack talk and get real. Just because you were a varsity letterman in high school, doesn’t mean you don’t need to practice. Most sports are highly skilled; therefore, repetitive training is required to improve, as well as excel – not just talent. Put in the long hours, schedule the training sessions, go for the long runs…just get on with it. Setting goals is also a great way to gauge your progress, all the while checking and adjusting your training in line with your performance.
- Find a mentor. Initially this may be difficult if you’re just getting started; however, the more involved you become, the more like-minded people you will meet. I met my friend Jes, a longtime, well-seasoned marathoner, while running a 10K. Create opportunities for yourself, don’t just sit idly on the sidelines – get out there. Also, use the Internet to connect with people involved in the same sports and/or training you’re interested in. Likewise with running, none of my friends weight train, so I network with my online peers for support and advice.
- Don’t give up. View setbacks and failures as personal challenges. Oftentimes it’s easier to just quit something than accept you may not be the best. Personally, I love competing and playing sports with people that are better than me, I always have. It makes me a better athlete, both mentally and physically. Also, there’s something to be said about finding your passion, why it is you train or compete. Use this to motivate yourself. And, if you’re feeling a bit deflated, look to others to inspire you and not just professional athletes, every day people. Being an athlete is a daily grind, but it’s worth it. Keep your eye on the prize.
Dedication, hard work and perseverance, more so than my natural physical talent, made me the athlete I am today. As Michael Jordan once said, “Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.”
So, are you with me?
Then let’s do this…