There Is No Formula or Timetable for Athletic Success


Wouldn't it be great if sports had a formula that you could follow to be successful? Imagine if you had a list of things you simply needed to do (for example, get into shape, hone your technical and tactical skills, get your equipment dialed in, etc.) and -- voilà! -- you would have a 100-percent chance of performing your best and getting the results you want.

Don't you wish that sports were like, say, taking a test in school? There is a formula for that, at least to some degree. You pay attention in class, do your homework, and study diligently for the test. Assuming the test is fair, you have a near 100-percent chance that you will perform up to your capabilities on the test. As a general rule for most students, what you put into school is what you get out of school.

Frustratingly, sports just don't work that way. There aren't the same certainties in sports. You can do everything right and you still may not get the results you want. But one thing is clear. If you don't do everything you can, you will have zero chance of achieving your athletic goals.

Which brings us to another supremely frustrating aspect of sports. Not only is there no formula for success, but there is also no timetable for success. Sports just don't unfold the way you want it to when you want it to.

The good news is that you may get great results when you least expect them. That is always a big bonus for your efforts, but it's definitely not something to count on. The bad news is that the results you want often take much longer than you had hoped for or expected. And the really bad news is that those results that you devote so much time and effort to achieving may never materialize -- that is the inherent risk of giving your heart and soul to sports.

The reason that sports have no formula and no timetable is that it is they are incredibly unpredictable and largely uncontrollable. There is no way to tell how long it will take to reach your goals, or if, in fact, you ever will.

Think of all of those things that create this massive uncertainty and uncontrollability, both within and outside you. Though you can work out in the gym maniacally, you can't really control your physical development; you will grow when your body is ready to grow. There is also fatigue, burnout, illness, and injury. Technical and tactical progress definitely comes in fits and starts and doesn't always immediately translate into results. And don't even get me started on how unpredictable the mental side of sports is, a fact I know firsthand from my own athletic life as a former world-ranked alpine ski racer, second-degree black belt in karate, marathon runner, and Ironman triathlete, not to mention my current work with athletes.

As far as the external factors that add to the maelstrom that we call sports, the list is long. Weather, conditions, other competitors, equipment failure, and just plain bad luck can all conspire to ruin a competition or a season in which you are supremely prepared to perform your best and get the results you want.

It's actually quite remarkable that, with all the uncertainty that sports entail, anyone is able to put together a successful performance. Yet we see amazing performances every day in every sport on ESPN. This realization should give you hope, because it shows that it actually is possible to overcome all those factors that are outside your control and find success in sports (however you define it).

So in the absence of a clear formula or a defined timetable, and in the face of all this uncertainty and unpredictability, what can you do to keep yourself committed to your goals? Here are a few ideas.

Let your passion drive you. Your love for the experience of sports (e.g., training, travel, teammates, competing) must override your love of results.

Have goals, not expectations. It's great to set goals for yourself, because they can motivate you. But expectations can create anxiety and pressure that prevent you from ever achieving your goals.

Be patient. Sports success can't be rushed. Instead, give yourself the time to achieve your sports goals. (It usually takes longer than you think it will.)

Have trust. Believe in every aspect of your sport, including your natural ability, effort, coach, equipment, and program.

Have hope. As I've discussed, there is no guarantee that your best efforts will be rewarded with high performance, good results, and accomplishing all your sports goals. But hope -- namely the basic belief that if you give your best effort, good things will happen -- will take you as far as you can go.

Have perspective. If your sports don't work out the way you want them to, take the long and broad view of everything you got out of sports, including amazing experiences, meeting great people, and powerful life lessons that will serve you well throughout your life.