As children, most of our parents try to involve us in sports in some capacity. For many of us, it was 2-3 sports especially during the summer months when we were not in school. As we got older, these sports went from being somewhere to take up time in the day, to more of a social experience. Many of our friends were on the same teams or in the same leagues. However, at some point, we decided to choose one, for some, two sports to take more seriously. In most circumstances, these were the sports where we were the best. Everyone loves being good at something. The recognition, popularity and self-worth it brings can really start to define who you are as a person and athlete. Your sport starts to embody many of the things you love about yourself and it becomes your identity. You start to tell people, “I’m a soccer player,” or “I’m a golfer.” And that begins to define who you are.
At some point during your athletic career, you start to realize that there are a lot of people who also identify themselves as the same things you are. And all of a sudden, within your sport, you are saying, “I’m a U13,” or “I’m a junior team member.” Sometimes there is very little that separates you from the others. For the most part, it could be just who has the better day. So when do you start to realize that your talent in something is replicated by so many others? When do you decide that you have to make yourself different within your own sport? When do you start realizing that you need to do more?
This is really the make it or break it for so many athletes. You have to make a choice of choosing to work harder and become more dedicated or settle and eventually walk away from the sport. When we are young, it is so easy to say you want to be an Olympian or a professional athlete. You think by being better than others at something, it’s a no-brainer that you are going to “make it”. As you get older and more mature in your sport, this thought process begins to change. The decision to go the extra mile to be better is in your hands. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out, but until you ask more of yourself, you might never know how far you can go.
In college athletics, we try to engrain in our athletes that they can be replaced. We want to enforce a hunger in them to continue to get better. There is always going to be someone coming up who might have an edge over you. So what are you going to do about it? I think that the greatest athletes are the ones who never settle. They are always aiming higher (even, for some, when they have reached the top). Asking yourself to do more every season is what can keep that passion and drive flowing. In watching the Olympics recently, you see these older athletes who have been to the Games multiple times. Every year, good or bad, they continue to want more. They change up their training, their focus, and their lifestyle because they know they have more to give.
To me, this is what separates the good from the great. Those stories you see on TV about athletes continuing to push through adversity because they know they can be better. As a ZGiRLS mentor and coach, I want my athletes to understand that accepting the need to always strive for greatness is what can separate you from all the others who are just as talented. It’s never going to be easy and it will definitely suck sometimes but the payoff could be well worth it. It is the best feeling to be able to step up to the gate, or block, or field with the confidence of knowing you have done everything you need to perform above and beyond.