By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS
You know what makes Olympic Champions, World Champions, and National Champions different from local hotshots? Yes, fortunate genetics plays a role, but when it comes down to training and competing, most of what amateurs and elites do is almost identical. Elites can handle higher workloads so their workouts are longer and/or more intense, but the structure and principles are very similar. What separates the champions is often what they don’t do.
Before going any further, I want to recognize some CTS Athletes and Coaches who have recently won or finished on the podium at championships. I know several of these athletes personally and can attest that they don’t let the five things discussed later in this article impede their performances.
- Coach Jane Marshall – XC MTB National Champion W35-39
- Coach John Croom – 5 Elite Track National Championships: Individual Pursuit, Team Pursuit, International Omnium, Elimination, Points Race
- Coach Renee Eastman – Silver medal at Gran Fondo National Championship, W45-54
- Mary Dannelly – XC MTB National Champion, W50-54
- Frederic Schmid – XC MTB National Champion, M85+
- Dakotah Norton– Downhill National Champion, Elite Men (view highlight video)
- Neko Mulally- 5th, Downhill National Championship, Elite Men
- Alexa Stierwalt – Criterium National Champion, W15-16
- Dan English – 3rd , Short Track Cross Country MTB, M15-16
From my 40 years spent competing with and coaching some of the world’s best athletes, here are just some of the things champions don’t do, and you shouldn’t either.
Get discouraged by the weather
Champions don’t complain about the weather, no matter how windy or cold or rainy it might be. That doesn’t mean they prefer crappy weather or that they aren’t affected by it. It means they accept it for what it is. They can’t change it, and unless the powers that be cancel the competition, someone is going to win. In a champion’s mind, if someone is going to win in horrendous conditions, it’s going to be them. Champions see opportunities in bad weather, while everyone else sees misery.
Obsess over perfect foods
The Tokyo Olympics are starting this week, and Team USA Sport Dietitians are no doubt working day and night to get athletes the nutrients they need and to protect them from food-borne illnesses. Depending on the athletes and the locations, this means sourcing ingredients, making sure they’re washed, stored safely, etc. Even with all the resources available to Team USA, an athlete might not be able to get their very favorite food when competing in Japan, Russia, Brazil, or Korea. Or you might end up eating the same thing, over and over, for three weeks. Champions have favorite foods just like everyone else, but they know how to adapt and perform at their best on the food available. Whether they have their favorite, lucky carbohydrate source or just plain rice, they’re going to eat it and then go win.
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Buy into the hype
Champions are human and have feelings, but they don’t let comments from rivals or the media rattle them. Instead of letting negative comments sow self-doubt, champions acknowledge the thoughts and redirect them into motivating thoughts. When it comes time to compete it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or has to say about you. You got to the level where your competitors or the media knows who you are because you’re one of the best at what you do. You didn’t get to be the best because of anything they had to say about you, so why care about what they say now?
Get intimidated by the odds
Champions don’t get intimidated when the odds are stacked against them. A small chance is still a chance, and as far as they’re concerned, they can turn that into a victory. Thinking about the odds is the first step toward making an excuse for losing. Champions play to win no matter the odds. They may get beaten because they are outnumbered or the odds are legitimately against them, but they’re going to make whoever beats them work hard for that victory. In the end, that’s why champions respect each other as much as they do. No one backs down or gives in. The winner knows he or she had to give everything to win, and the loser knows there was nothing more he or she could have done.
Look to the next competition
One of the lessons I try to teach athletes is to never take your next competition for granted. Never go into a competition thinking, “I’ll be back next year.” You might not be. Today might be your only chance at this event. I learned this lesson the hard way in the mid 80s when I was young and racing for 7-Eleven. We rode the Giro d’Italia in 1985, then the Tour de France in 1986, and in my mind I was going to race the Tour again in 1987 and beyond. Then I broke my femur back-country skiing, and although I made it back to pro cycling I missed most of the 1987 season and never regained the form I had prior to the accident.
You don’t know whether you’re ever going to get another crack at competing in or winning an event. Team USA has plenty of young athletes on the Cycling Team for Tokyo, but 2x, 3x, 4x Olympians are the exception and not the rule. You don’t go to the Olympics to gain experience, and I don’t think athletes should go to regional or national competitions just for experience, either.
When it’s time to compete you have to give everything, because once competition starts anything can happen. You could have the best day of your life and win when no one expects you to. Your competitors could falter or fall and put you in a position to win. Either way, you have to be fully engaged and competing to win in order to seize that opportunity. Champions are always planning for the future and using competitions as steppingstones to even greater performances later on, but on the day, the only competition that matters is the one they’re in.
In the big picture, to compete like a champion don’t overthink things. The greatest champions I’ve ever known were very thoughtful and focused, but they reserved their mental horsepower for what was important for performance and didn’t dwell on what they couldn’t change, which allowed them to see opportunities clearly and act on them quickly.
CEO/Head Coach of CTS
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