Mastery comes from deeper knowledge of your vision and how to achieve it
One often reminisces about the good old days. I know I do, especially about my days on the sports field. Running shuttles with the cricketers or watching my tennis pros fine-tune their cross-court backhand. I’ve spent almost two decades on the sports field, pushing my athletes physiologically and psychologically beyond their imaginations. I can remember each practice session like it was yesterday.
A number of athletes I’ve worked with were supremely talented but failed to harness their talent. There were also athletes who compensated for their lack of talent with hard work—these were the ones who made it all the way to the top, etching their names in halls of fame.
A life in sport is a life in search of mastery, and mastery is the knowledge of what you want, the vision to understand how to achieve it, the courage to walk the road less travelled and the belief to push on when no one else is there. That’s also the guiding philosophy of Herbalife Nutrition, with whom I’ve been associ-ated as a nutrition and fitness coach and whose products are used by winners across the globe.
In Iten, Kenya, I witnessed great athletes mould the next generation without any support. It is sheer grit that’s driving human performance to the next level. In India, some villages are socio-economically similar to Iten, but we fail to produce athletes. In England, the Lawn Tennis Association poured millions of pounds into tennis development models, but were without a champion for decades. This disparity has made me question what makes the fabric of a champion.
Honestly, I’m still searching for the answer to that, but over 20 years, I’ve noticed a few traits that are common among those who stand above the rest. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt.
PREPARATION: THE NOT-SO-SECRET, SECRET
Bruce Fordyce is a South African ultra-marathon runner who is best known for his eight consecutive Comrades Marathon titles—a 90km ultra race (with five daunting hills) that is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I was fascinated by how someone could dominate an event for eight consecutive years during an era when sports science and exercise physiology were nascent. It was only when I interviewed Bruce that it all seemed to make sense.
In a little under 30 minutes, Bruce explained how he studied every past winner’s training schedule, knew their diet and supplement regimes, understood every square inch of the route, tested the best shoes and apparel, monitored hydration and sleep, trained in similar conditions, paid attention to recovery and analysed his competitors. In a nutshell, Bruce left no stone unturned in his preparation. For him and every other athlete who has enjoyed a decade of success, preparation is meticulous and precise. So much so that winning is an expectation and not a hope.
SUCCESS IS A LONELY ROAD
Becoming a champion is like running a marathon. You may think you have a lot of people around you but 90 percent of the time, you are alone. Here’s an extract from my book Lessons from the Wild to illustrate this point: ‘Solitude is a chosen state of being. It is an all-empowering state that reaffirms one’s self-competence through reflection and contemplation. It is a form of personal nourishment that comes from oneself, which is integral for mental growth and stability, personal assessment and the opportunity to allow your creative juices to flow. But, most importantly, solitude leaves you with nothing but yourself and it is in that state that one’s true self is exposed. It is where you become conscious of your own thoughts and experiences, and it is from here true personal growth is born.’ Most people are not comfortable being alone. From someone who has endured the long lonely roads of ultra-marathon running, know and trust this: embrace solitude. If you practise being comfortable with yourself, you will learn the art of rejuvenating your soul when times are tough. The athletes who go on to become champions are the ones who master solitude and actually use that time to redefine themselves. Bannister broke the mile into four quarters and had a strategy for each quarter separately, while Moses decoded the art of lane discipline and stride length. It was this clinical precision that laid the foundation for their successes.
In sport, the athletes I train measure their success with how well they execute the things others take for granted. Undoubtedly, this is what gives them the competitive edge.
GOOD PEOPLE MAKE PEOPLE GREAT
Iten, Kenya—‘Home of the Champions’—is home to more than 44 percent of the world’s best marathoners. It is a high-performance ecosystem in itself, except that it has no fancy buildings or tartan tracks, no stadia or state-of-the-art gyms, no world-renowned sports scientists or coaches and no university laboratories to test them. Yet, more than 90 of the top 100 fastest times have come from runners residing there. In the Rift Valley, they have one saying: “Good people make people great!”
The runners who’ve enjoyed global success support the upcoming talent, often for many years. Creating an environment that attracts the best talent helps them push each other to tap into the upper limits of human potential. It is the quality of the people around you that sets the tone. Champions select those they want around them with the most stringent of measures.
DISRUPTION FOLLOWS SUCCESS
I have witnessed millions of training rituals that seek to boost motivation or give athletes a psychological advantage. Yet, only a handful of these athletes have the ability to ‘raise the bar’ on performance year after year. The one trait consistent among them is their ‘quest for perfection’ after they have won. While the rest enjoy the victory and the resting, legendary athletes look to disrupt their game when they are on a psychological high. They experiment the most when their confidence is soaring. This is the biggest differentiator between good and great. The greats push on to extend their advantage while the rest savour the moment, often for longer than they should.
Can I have a protein drink as I train?
It’s very difficult to consume protein during training. Protein requires a little more digestion time, is generally thicker and could make you a little thirsty. But, most importantly, it does not have the fuel that is needed immediately. I’d either stick to an electrolyte drink or water. A great option for this is Herbalife Nutrition’s Afresh energy drink mix. If you feel you want to drink a protein drink during training, make sure it’s very watered-down. In any case, one of the best protein solutions is Herbalife Nutrition’s Formula 1 nutritional shake mix or Personalized Protein Powder.