The complete elite athlete

I spent 15 years of my life as a high performance athlete and the last decade as a high performance coach. In that time I’ve come to know and observe many of my sports finest athletes as well as the rest. Out of all the high performance competitors I’ve come to know, I’d say only 10% are complete elite athletes, willing to do what it takes to achieve at the sports highest levels (dream kids) About 20% are lesser talented however insanely hard working (coaches love them) and the remaining 70% are talented athletes who think showing up and having certain skills qualifies them as top athletes (my least favorite).

The complete elite athletes are elite minded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. From meal selection, to minimal social calendars, to training on holidays and of course committed rest/recovery cycles, these people arrange their life around their athletic goals. 

There is a large sense of entitlement these days in our society. Many people think that just because they show up, they deserve equal compensation to others regardless of their performance, commitment and professionalism. I see this in too many elite athletes. Just because we commit to spending 10-20 hours in a gym doesn’t mean you are training like those Olympians and World finalists.

Being a top elite athlete requires many sacrifices, life choices and an accountable mentality. If you can’t do that or as a coach can’t get your athletes to, chances are as a team, you will always fall short of the top.

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1- Your fitness needs to match your level of talent. Sport is about maximizing the body and minds potential. In order to do so, you need to have the right fitness for your sport. In gymnastics sports, being flexible, having power and speed and also being light are huge factors to success. The more fit you are the more training you can handle and the more control you have over your muscles. Talented unfit athletes can do skills, but they can’t do them as high or as clean as a more fit equal, they are at a disadvantage. When athletes are failing, I don’t think enough of them ask themselves “am I strong enough for this skill?”. I think if they did a lot of them would realize the answer is no.

As an athlete, I knew that I was only capable of certain skills at peak fitness so if my skills were inconsistent or lacking technical precision I increased the time spent on fitness not just my time spent attempting drills and skills. 

2- Food and Weight matter. The most controversial topic in judged sport that I believe too many coaches ignore.

Who doesn’t love pizza right? Well your ankles don’t like it when you land on your face and you’re carrying the extra weight from that poor food choice. Gymnastics is a high impact sport. Your joints take a pounding even when you don’t feel a jar or a jolt. Controlling your weight and your diet helps you keep your body healthy and your training more consistent. If you have a fluctuating diet and weight, you spend each day trying to sort out which body you’re working with. You spend more time trying to adapt than actually growing in sport.

I knew my ideal weight for off season and competition season. Since you can’t maintain peak shape year round and avoid burnout, I spent the training months at about 157lbs and around 6-8 weeks from competition season I’d lean myself out to 153lbs. I was the quickest, sharpest and cleanest version of myself at that weight. Did I make technical errors at that weight? Of course, I’m not perfect but I certainly looked the part of the top level athlete and had the energy/stamina for week long competitions and physically intense training. 

I’m not saying you can’t treat yourself from time to time, however if you think your daily Starbucks fraps and lattes are enhancing your performance you are dead wrong. You want that drink and success? Add 20 minutes of running to burn that off.

3- Being in the gym doesn’t mean you’re training. “I train blah blah hours a day” yeah but are you sitting on your butt taking turns every 5 minutes because you’re too busy socializing? SHUT UP! Hours spent in the gym mean absolutely nothing if you have a poor training rhythm and super low intensity. 

I trained less gymnastics hours than most of the people I fought against to make the national team but my training was anything but slow. A turn every 90 seconds with no sitting allowed between them and only quality turns that counted towards daily plan completion. Do 3 of each pass didn’t mean face plant or ass drop 3, it meant do 3 properly. Poor quality isn’t an acceptable standard to the athletes who are leading in any sport.

I also spent 50-75% of my training time doing fitness. The percentage got higher as I got older and my body could handle limited impact. Again, a strong body is capable of more and is an asset. Whether I was sick, sore, tired or just off, Goodlife Fitness was still part of my daily routine, even on days where gym wasn’t part of my schedule. 

4- The selection procedure isn’t the reason you didn’t make it. You failed. It’s not because someone is biased or because the procedure was against you. Sometimes we just aren’t good enough and there is nothing wrong with that. Stop blaming every other factor and person involved in the process. Look at yourself and figure out what you need to change.

Also related to this is your attitude. No one wants to cheer for the kid throwing the pity party so change your face and your attitude if you want support from your sport community.

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We all have different goals and reasons for participating in competitive sport and that’s important because not every athlete wants to be or is meant to be an elite level athlete. All I ask from my gymnast (and used to from myself) is that their goals and commitment level match. 

You want to be elite? Then don’t half ass it. Give yourself reasons to be successful rather than trying to place blame as to why you aren’t. Get your butt in the gym and work harder that you did the day prior and raise your expectations of yourself for your day to day life choices. 

Earning national and international medals isn’t easy. That’s why only three people get to and if you aren’t 100% into your training, chances are you aren’t one of them.

Den XO

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