What is it that separates the truly World Class athlete from those who are just very good? Can you as a recreational athlete learn from this and try to improve your own athletic performance? Here are my 5 key factors that you have to take into consideration. The first is well evidenced and researched, the other 4 come from my experience in competition and coaching.
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Whilst everyone can improve their individual performance, only a select few individuals will ever reach the top. Perhaps the most important genetic advantage is sex. Simply being born male gives you a higher potential for athletic performance than if you were female (that is why events are separated by sex).
“Nature vs nurture”, is often used to explain things in black or white terms, but it is less simple. Height is a genetic trait for example; our potential to achieve a certain height is in our genes. However, diet influences the child’s ability to reach this potential. Poor nutrition will hamper growth rates.
There is a phrase “Sprinters are born, marathoners are made” which is only half true. The top runners at the recent London Marathon were running 5km in 15 minutes, which is pretty fast (try doing that at your local fun run): that is largely genetic.
The marathon consists of 8 sets of 5km in a row: only training will allow those fast individuals to sustain that pace. The adaptations that need to take place in the cardiovascular system, along with muscular and tendon strength, take years to develop.
Anecdotally, you may have come across individuals who are “naturally fit” or “naturally strong”. However, this may indicate responsiveness to training (genetic). They still need to train to reach their potential.
One of the most annoying things about getting fit, is that as soon as you stop regular training, you start going backwards: this is known as reversibility.
Sometimes known as blind luck! Tom Daley is a very successful diver and his coach told me that is down 100% to genetics. I disagreed with him: if Daley was born in a different part of Devon, with no diving boards, then he may never have entered a diving competition. You will also see that they had access to facilities locally: including outdoor areas such as parks.
Talent identification programmes often stumble because they fail to recognise that the financial and time costs of developing an athlete are very prohibitive. Parents have to work to pay for the training costs of their child, and also the travel costs.
Opportunity also presents itself when a team mate is injured or ill, and the athlete can step in to take over. Just look at Colin Kapernick of the San Francisco 49ers. Alex Smith was the starting quarterback and playing well. He suffered a concussion and Kapernick stepped in, and has taken over the starting job, whilst Smith was later traded.
Facilities are one thing, but good coaching is another. If you check the background of most top performers, you will see a committed p.e. teacher or local sports coach who set good foundations.
Athletes are lauded for their ability, but it is the coach behind the scenes who is enabling the athlete to reach that potential. The structure of the training plan, the knowledge of how that athlete reacts to training and competition and the careful scheduling of competitions to help the athlete progress are all key components of coaching.
As the athlete develops, the relationship with the coach also changes. Evolving from an instructional style, to a supporting style and then to becoming more of a mentor.
I see quite a few athletes who are willing to invest money into the latest gadget or gimmick in the gym, but never want to pay for coaching! No one piece of equipment will get you fit or help you develop, but a good coach can do that.
The final factor is one that has to come from within the athlete themselves. The road to the top is hard and full of difficulties. Each athlete will have to overcome selection issues, tough opponents, injuries and life itself.
Getting out of bed in the morning to go for that session on the track when it is dark, cold and raining requires determination.
When the race is nearing its final stages, and everyone is of the same level, then it is the person who is determined to train and to win that will do so.
(image credit: wikipedia)