Johnny O’Connor: Seven great habits of professional athletes
This week, Johnny relays the advice of respected trainer of rugby and surfing athletes, Emmerson Smith from New Zealand, who has observed seven habits common in successful professional athletes.
A lot of the time, it’s hard to figure out how to make things in sport and life run smoothly and whenever it does, it’s hard to put your finger on it. When sport is your job sometimes you tend to let the balance shift too far.
You become short sighted in your desire to succeed and only allow yourself to be engrossed in one thing. With an approach like that, you are ultimately going to fall short in what you want to achieve.
I was trying to come up with an explanation of the things that I think make a successful athlete. So I figured I would ask someone who has spent a great amount of time in professional sport and who has trained professional rugby, rugby league and surfing athletes, to name but a few disciplines.
I was introduced to the respected trainer Emmerson Smith through a friend of mine and I have found his approach to develop athletes unique, different to some of the other stuff you will find out there and extremely helpful.
He came up with what he has observed to be the seven habits of successful professional athletes he has worked with and they’re certainly a good guide to achieving your personal goals.
1. Set goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, how will know when you get there? Goals should be set for training and performance and when setting them, be specific. Make them measurable and difficult but achievable.
It can be helpful to sit down with a trusted advisor and begin with an honest and accurate assessment of where your current performance and training levels are. Be as honest and as aspirational as possible. Set daily, monthly and yearly goals.
Try to make your goals performance and not outcome specific i.e. to complete 87% of manoeuvres in competition. This will allow you to focus on your own performance and gain benefit from every session rather than just winning ones.
2. Treat yourself well
As an athlete, your body is your weapon. Treat your body with all due care and respect. Getting enough sleep during heavy performance and training regimes is imperative. As a general rule, aim for eight to nine hours of quality sleep as often as possible.
Sleep is the time for your mind and body to grow and recover and unfortunately there is no substitute. Listen to your body and know when to give yourself that early night you have been promising.
Consider a visit to an accredited nutritionist in order to gain full benefit from your diet. Diet is probably the area in which most athletes can gain an immediate benefit by learning a dedicated and disciplined approach to nutrition.
Look to incorporate nature’s true super foods into your diet and limit overly processed or calorie-rich food and drink.
3. Letting go
It is imperative that athletes at all levels know when to let go of the peripheral and its pressure. At a basic level, all forms of sport and exercise should be a pleasurable experience.
Often, during a long season or form slump an athlete can lose sight with the joy of the competitive experience.Learn to strip back your sporting pursuit to its true level and experience it at its base level.
Learn to see the divide and you will soon learn to see the peripheral and the performance pitfalls in the peripheral. Pressure, expectation, fear of failure and the ‘grind’ all exist in the peripheral.
4. Clocking off
Give yourself time away from training and performance. The best human beings in any field over time are well rounded, balanced and grounded.
Find time away from your sporting peers and find resolve and relief in family or friends who know you as a person and not just an athlete. Have goals and aspirations away from your sporting or exercise endeavours that will aid you in finding a balance in life.
No athlete can stay in the ‘war room’ full time. Learn to see time away as a rewarding, refocussing and growth experience.
5. Give back
The best way to lighten your struggle is to see the same struggle in others. This can give meaning or perspective to your own journey, while also providing a relief or distraction.
Find a younger team or individual to mentor or coach and try to give a full time and energy commitment to them while at the same time considering your own programme.
This can be an immensely rewarding and educational experience, especially if an athlete can connect with the sport or exercise at a pure level as discussed in goal number three, letting go.
6. The mental edge
Always consider the long term perspective. The true benefits of sporting and exercise endeavours are the cognitive mental skills of patience, perseverance and dedication that can be applied to a life well lived.
Always aim for a sustained macro-benefit over short term, extrinsic rewards. You only truly lose when you give up. The longer you stay in the fight, the better your chance of eventual and complete victory.
7. Engage Lieutenants
Surround yourself with knowledgeable, genuine and powerful lieutenants in both your sporting and everyday life.
Learn to trust their opinions and relish the opportunity to put your eventual success in their ultimately capable hands. Find inspiration and perspective throughout a balanced spectrum and step away from the peripheral.
Expect and reward loyalty but never suffer fools or disrespect. It is the human condition to struggle and overcome. Embrace the journey and enjoy the experience.
Johnny O’Connor plays professional rugby with Connacht. He has previously played for London Wasps and has made 12 appearances for Ireland. He is also a certified strength and conditioning coach. Johnny regularly posts articles from top strength and conditioning coaches around the world on his Twitter page. Click here to follow Johnny on Twitter.