What is one of the more difficult things for any athlete to do after they reach the top of their sport? It is, quite simply, to stay on top.
Moreover, many athletes have yet to realistically reach a pinnacle before their promise already has outshined their current results. At IMG Academy, we have had a 33-year history sharing the responsibility for development of some of the most celebrated youth athletes. From Maria Sharapova to Andre Agassi to Kobe Bryant to Michelle Wie to Paula Creamer to Michael Beasley to Landon Donovan to Tony Romo to Freddy Adu – all of these athletes have passed through our training grounds and all have found varying degrees of success. As a coach, these types of players can be "game-changers" for your programs. They have a halo effect that can be significant for all players on your team and your overall community. Over the years, I've noticed some consistent themes from the coaching staffs that have produced this talent and the athletes who have been able to sustain success.
Without a doubt, the ability to be exceptional in the skills required in a particular sport is critical. Maria Sharapova learned early what the "right" way was. The right movement. The right forehand. The right backhand. The right patterns and strategy. Coaches who maintain high expectations and take a process-oriented approach in the short-term is critical. Once an athlete learns the fundamentals the right way, and more importantly, can recognize when they are doing things the "wrong" way, then they are on the path to a better opportunity for long term success.
As simple as it sounds, an athlete needs to learn "how" to win. Two good examples in the golf world would be Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie. Both share a lineage through the IMG Academy golf program coaching philosophy, and both, rightfully so, were positioned as tremendous talents.
However, there was one difference as they entered the limelight. Early on, Paula had the experience of fighting through a variety of tough tournaments at a young age. She found ways to win in playoffs, late rounds, through adversity, tough travel conditions and weather. Quite simply, she was battle tested.
Wie had all the tools that a world-class athlete needed to be successful, but hadn't had the late round experience and victories growing up that Creamer had. In essence, she hadn't learned "how" to win. It's difficult to learn while competing against the best athletes at the highest level. You have little to draw from internally and your self-image (which is a very real thing) begins to get challenged as the results begin to distance themselves from the external expectations. In Michelle's case, she was competing both in LPGA and PGA events. Meanwhile, Creamer started fast in the LPGA and has won consistently throughout her career.
What's the best solution? Compete.
Athletes need games. They need to solve the problems that only arise through the process of competitions. Many of us as parents, coaches and athletes are quick to move up multiple age groups. While this many times is a positive, it is necessary that success at the current level is regular before taking the next step. Success in this case would be what we (IMG) define as conscious competence. The athlete knows – and knows that they know – and they understand how to repeat their successes.
Legendary Olympian Michael Johnson told me that most elite athletes are motivated by three key areas:
- Fame – the recognition locally, regionally, nationally and/or internationally of both who you are and what your accomplishments are
- Compensation – the feeling that you are in a position of financial security for yourself and your family
- Success – that you continue to be the best in everything that you do
These three areas are core to the most difficult reason many athletes struggle to maintain their success. We call it the Buzz Aldrin scenario. Aldrin was one of the top Apollo astronauts, who both orbited the moon and was the second man to walk on it. When returning to Earth, he struggled in many areas of his personal life. In later years, when he was asked why his response was simple:
"What are you supposed to do after you've been to the moon?"
This can relate to a variety of questions. "What do you do after you've received a scholarship?" "What do you do after you've scored 4 touchdowns in one game?" "What do you do if you receive a professional contract?" "What do you do if you make the varsity team?"
While these answers seem obvious, the reality is for many athletes accomplishing these difficult tasks was the actual end goal. We refer to this as motive-action or motivation. And that always directly relates to your energy, activation and enthusiasm towards accomplishment.
I remember speaking to the older brother of Clint Mathis, one of America's top soccer players. After a very successful World Cup in 2002, Clint hit a spell where he struggled for a few years. I asked his brother why, and he said, "Clint's whole life he talked about scoring a goal in the World Cup. How many people ever get to do something that amazing? I think once he did that he really didn't know what else was left to do."
I can tell you what Tiger Woods' response in his prime would be. Score two goals. Competitive character is built largely upon goal-oriented athletes. When you have early success notoriety comes and so does compensation. How much is enough? Tiger has 71 PGA victories. Jordan had a career scoring average of more than 30 points a game. Usain Bolt set five consecutive world records in five straight races. The simple fact is that success needs more success (http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=5456572) in order to sustain itself. Success requires the desire to be greedy. An internal affirmation that says, "I WANT MORE." Elite athletes know this. The same athletes who have had tremendous success, but will ultimately be measured by what they do now. If you want to be today's story, then you need to be dominating today. It really is that simple. This is true for coaches and athletes alike. Implementing the right skills, learning how to win, and the right level of competitive character gives you the best opportunity to sustain success and validate the hype going forward.
Moawad has received world-wide recognition for his involvement in the field of mental conditioning and peak performance education. In working with some of the best coaches and the most elite athletes, Moawad has coaxed the ultimate in production from some of the most respected names in the business. Find more info at imgacademies.com.