Anyone training for anything should know how to be a good athlete. Although this seems basic, it is vitally important. The following principals optimize physical and psychological performance, speed up recovery, and reduce the risk of injury.
I’m writing this article for complete beginners to sports or don’t have access to an involved coach. If you had a good coach or played a competitive sport, you may be able to find some value here too.
Ever heard of the phrase “Just do it?” Well, Nike has built its entire brand off of this one principal. And for good reasons, since this is the most important thing you need to know.
In short, you must listen, learn, and perform without deviation. This starts from the athlete’s faith in their coach. Consider the coach to be the conduit through which years (decades) of experience passes to you. If you do not listen to your coach, you will lose out on lessons and information that will take years to figure out for yourself.
Eventually, you will have enough experience to learn from yourself. You may also start to learn how to tailor your coach’s program to your needs or to communicate with your coach about your training in an intelligent way. However, this happens only after you lay the necessary foundation.
How do you know if you’re coachable? Here are some factors:
- You only need to hear it once.
- You don’t challenge your coach, even internally.
- You do exactly what you’re told as you’re shown.
- You continually learn, from your mistakes and from others.
How do you know if you’re NOT being coachable? The biggest indicator is that you keep THINKING. You think you know better. You think you might fail. You think you’re too weak to lift the weight. You think you might injure yourself. You think you deserve to take it easy. You think you can take shortcuts. The list goes on.
If you think you know better, you wouldn’t need a coach and you would already be good at the sport you’re training for. Probably not the case. Thus, a coachable attitude is absolutely necessary to reach the highest levels of performance.
Training is hard. However, unlike many other facets in life, your effort always pays off. Thus, part of athleticism requires diligence and faith in what you’re doing.
Consistency requires (1) high quality effort and (2) regular sessions. High quality effort does not mean maximum effort wherever possible but rather appropriate effort wherever possible. Thus, some sessions only call for light effort, in which case you should put in light effort. However, if a session requires 100% power (e.g., sprints) or push ups until failure, you should give it your all.
You must have a regular schedule as well. If you only train every now and then, you will never make progress. Even if you train once a week, often but randomly, or without any goals, you will peak at mediocrity.
Regulate Activity in Peaks and Balances
Although a good athlete has a plan and sticks with it, they also must understand peak performance, recovery, and involuntary fluctuations. You cannot expect to perform at peak levels for an extended period of time. Nor can you expect to reach new peaks every time, or every other time, you train. This expectation may lead to burnout or injury. In reality, you need to make time to recover before you can reach another peak. Further, you can expect to underperform at times, due to various factors inside and outside of your control.
Create a Support System
Most, if not all, successful athletes had a system to keep them accountable. For example, many proud fathers are their son’s second, hyping them up like Angel Garcia, inspiring them like Chris Eubanks Sr., or leading them to victory like Anatoliy Lomachenko. Many brothers, from the Klitchkos to the Charlos, reached new heights only to cheer their own brother to greater ones.
Since athletics can be rigid and unforgiving, you need people who have your back and who will pump you up. If you are alone when you are on the brink, you are liable to jump off because nobody is watching you.
Take Care of Your Body
Here are the absolute basics: drink plenty of water (before and after training); get 7 – 9 hours of sleep, and eat cleanly.
Staying hydrated keeps your fluids moving, your joints limber, and mind clear. It also prevents dizziness and overheating (symptoms of dehydration). Sleep aids mental (and physical) recovery, weight loss, and memory retention, among other things. Maintaining an appropriate and balanced nutrition ensures muscle retention, fat loss, optimal energy levels, and physical recovery.
Sometimes, people can’t take care of their body because of food or housing insecurity. Unfortunately, athletics favors those who can afford the lessons, training, and lifestyle, regardless of a person’s circumstances or background. However, you can still prioritize what’s important. For example, food could include rice and beans as a cost effective and nutritious base for quick carbs and easy protein, and multivitamins can help compensate for micronutrient deficiencies. As for sleep and water quality, using sounds to drown out internal or external noise and investing in a good water bottle may help.
This is not an exhaustive list. Some may emphasize aesthetics (e.g., look good, play good) or courtesy (e.g., numbers should face inside; put everything as you found it). However, these principals are the most fundamental and important, regardless of your sport or values.