Important Decisions for Athletes
Okay, so you love Weightlifting and one day you really want to be a part of the national team! If you have any chance of achieving such a goal, you will need to make some tough decisions.
Decision 1: Can you devote 30 hours a week to this goal?
Before everyone throws up their hands and says “What!”, consider the following. If you want high performance then training must become your job.
As a more serious athlete, your training will consist of:
- 8-10 sessions per week (you will train twice a day some days)
- A thorough warm up at the start of each session
- 40 – 60 sets per session (all set counted)
- Extra time spent on flexibility and body maintenance.
Therefore, an average of 2 hours per training session is not unreasonable and this means you will spend 16 – 20 hours per week at the gym. In addition, you will incur a significant amount of travelling in order to attend training. If you live close to the gym, you might be lucky to keep travelling down to 3-4 hours per week in total.
The remaining time commitment to your sport will inevitably include:
- Planning training and discussions with your coach,
- Visits to the physiotherapist and other allied health professionals
- Time spent at competitions, some of which will require significant travel.
- Injury management, planning training, monitoring training, discussions with your coach, and travel to and waiting around at competitions. This does not even take into consideration that you may need extra sleep.
The potential 30 hours per week does not include the extra sleep and rest you will need.
Decision 2: Can you take responsibility for your own learning?
Achieving high performance in sport is not a matter of luck or an accident. It occurs as a result of a meticulous well-organised process in which the athlete changes from being a raw beginner to a highly knowledgeable individual. There is a lot of learning to do and it is very important that you take responsibility for this process. You must develop in-depth knowledge of:
- Weightlifting technique
- Principles of training methodology
- Injury and health management
- Nutrition and bodyweight control
- Making weight for competition
- Mental preparation
- Time management
- Personal organisation
- Performance planning
- Competition rules
It is almost like doing a university degree and no matter how physically talented, many athletes will not pass the course. Success in high performance sport imposes a never ending series of problems, and even if you have a knowledgeable coach, it is up to you to take a large measure of responsibility to find and implement solutions.
Decision 3: What will you give up?
In view of the time commitment that is required, there is an obvious need to diminish time usage on other aspects of life that are not essential to the pursuit of high performance sport. Ask any champion and they will talk about the sacrifices made in regard to social life, home life, holidays, careers, education and other sports and hobbies. The question “what will you give up?” goes to the very heart of whether you have the right psychology for high performance.
Juggling work, study and training commitments is perhaps the most important problem to solve. Yes, you will be able to work or attend an education institution but you will struggle for time even if you can negotiate part-time work or study. Furthermore, part-time work will leave you impoverished and needing financial support to keep a car on the road and cover the cost of living for just yourself. If you have others to support, the problem is significantly harder. Perhaps this is a key reason why late teens and early twenties is a key time to make the grade in sport, before significant responsibilities emerge.
It’s not just about letting go of favourite pursuits to save time and money, its also about saving energy. Many athletes will have a second sport that they very much enjoy and are reluctant to let go. However, that second sport represents a significant risk. Even minor injuries can set your training back weeks and in the worst case scenario, terminate your primary sport career. Furthermore, even if you are not injured, you ability to recover from training sessions could be compromised,
Athletes are often highly talented in many ways. They may also have academic ability, be accomplished musicians, and possess work skills that are in much demand. The decision of what talents to put on hold is agonizing and, for this reason, the decision is never made. Thus, the athlete fails to reach their potential in any field of endeavour and this situation explains the overwhelming majority. Only a few will be tough enough to make the hard decisions. The only solace in this situation is that education, work careers and other opportunities can be resumed in later life.
Decision 4: Can you lead a very disciplined life?
The life of the high performance athlete is tough and character building. As a result, you will develop knowledge and skills that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. In particular, you will appreciate the importance of hard work and discipline, and how to focus your efforts to achieve extraordinary results.
In the meantime, while you make the grade as a high performance athlete, your life must be highly organised and disciplined. You will need to forgo the distractions of the digital age, and avoid the incessant call of social events. Questions such as “do you attend that wedding, or do you your normal Saturday training?” will define you. Similarly, you will be tested on many occasions with a voice in your head saying “hey, you can miss training today!” but, of course, you cannot. Elite athletes will go to quite extraordinary measures to ensure they do not miss training, and will happily give examples.
For a few short years, you must be monastic in your devotion to your training and competition preparation. To those who have not experienced sport at the elite level, it is hard to explain how life becomes a routine of training, sleeping, diet and active recovery. For those who might think this is “over the top”, well, I guess you will never know the conviction, the strength of mind and the will to win that discipline brings!
Decision 5: Stay Clean
History tells us that “doping” has been a part of sport for well more than half a century. Amphetamines became available in the 1930′s and replaced Strychnine as the drug of choice to boost endurance performance (1). In 1952, there was widespread suspicion of doping using synthetic testosterone at the Summer Olympic Games (2).
In 1968, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) conducted the first official drug testing of athletes competing in the Olympic Games. Today, half a century later, ”Anti-Doping” tests are commonplace in sport and every serious athlete is likely to be tested several times a year, either at competitions or in training prior to competitions.
There will always be some athletes who will endeavour to gain an advantage by doping. But for those athletes who would consider doping, the risks are far too great. Quite apart from the lengthy ban an athlete will suffer for a first offence, the shame and humiliation can be crushing. Athletes have been known to descend into disabling depression as a result of being publically named as a cheat. No matter what the history of doping has been, the only decision an athlete can take going forward is to avoid doping at all costs and stay clean.
(1) Kremenik M., Onodera S., Nagao M., Yuzuki, O., Yonetani S., A historical timeline of doping in the Olympics 1896-1968.
(2) Kremenik M., Onodera S., Nagao M., Yuzuki, O., Yonetani S., A historical timeline of doping in the Olympics 1896-1968.