Something I get asked a lot lately particularly by people not familiar with swimming is “What makes a champion in your sport?“. What I’m about to tell you could apply to almost any sport but, of course, comes from what I believe makes for a great swimmer.
First, let’s try to clear up why it is so hard for newcomers to break into the top. It seems that you see many of the same athletes dominate a sport for a long time as newcomers slowly work their way up to take the baton once the champions leave. Rarely do we see someone breaking into the top right away. This gradual process is most likely due to the fact that the best often keep getting better.
But what is it that separates the best from the rest? And what do you need to even have a chance to make it to the top yourself? What follows are five important ingredients or requirements to become a Champion.
The single most important thing in any sport! If you want something, you are really going to have to commit to it with your heart and soul. You won’t succeed by swimming for your mom or dad. You have to do it for yourself. You will need to work for quite a long time to to reach the goal you committed to in the beginning. If you don’t understand why you’re making this commitment day in and day out, you probably won’t reach your goal.
This one goes almost without saying. Once you are committed to be one of the best in your sport, you know that you’ll have to sacrifice a lot of the fun things that all your non-athlete friends do. Going to bed early to be ready for early morning practice and skipping weekend trips in favor of meets are just two examples. As we all know there are many more. Of course, there will be people helping you reach your goals and reminding you about some of those sacrifices, but most of the time you’ll be on your own. Self-discipline will be the only way for you to make the right decisions in the long run.
Perseverance (a.k.a. hard work)
Some people give up too easily! There are so many factors that come into play on your journey to your goals. For example, taper isn’t an exact science and might just not work the way you thought it would. There might even be times where you’ll reach a point of stagnation for a full season. Swimming is a sport of (hard) work and showing little or no improvement can be frustrating. But those who persevere will eventually find success and discover many other things along the way that make our sport gratifying.
There are going to be many things you won’t be able to control on your quest. Putting in the hard work every day is only one thing that will help you build self-confidence by race day. But you’ll also rely on a coach to lay out a plan for you and make sure that you’ll be able to reach your goal. You not only need to trust your coach and the program, but you also need to be confident that it will all click on race day, as only the smallest doubt could separate you from the top.
Talent is irrelevant if a swimmer is not motivated to use it. I have seen too many great athletes who rely solely on their talent and eventually lose interest when talent alone isn’t enough to win. Some gifted athletes achieve too much too early and don’t have the ability to persevere in order to get to a higher level. Talent is important, but in the long run, it’s really just a bonus!
The order I have chosen for these qualities is important. Also let me explain why I like to use the term ingredient. A champion won’t always be the one with the gold medal around his or her neck. There are many athletes who never win the gold medal yet prove to be true champions.
There is one more important ingredient missing from my list … fun! It was my intention to not put this on the list. One could almost assume that anyone wanting to become a champion in any sport would need to have fun doing it. But because I think it’s such an important quality for all the athletes competing at all levels, I decided to add it as a bonus.
Most people would say this ingredient is the single most important one in any sport. I agree but let’s be honest … if you’re in sport to be one of the best you probably won’t have fun every day. This is completely normal, but as long as the overall passion for what you do outweighs the tough days, you’ll be fine. We can all see in their faces t that the top competitors love to race. If you’re the parent of a young talented swimmer, the best thing you can do to help your child is to make sure he or she has fun ,no matter what sport he or she decides to pursue, and that he or she lives a healthy lifestyle.
It’s a great idea to study other athletes and look up to the best in your sport. But don’t forget to take a closer look around you and give some credit to other true champions who might be swimming in the lane next to you.
This is a piece I wrote for the Race Club where you’ll find the original Aqua Note “Champion Ingredients” as well as many others.