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Seven Habits of Highly Effective Athletes

Notice that the title of this article is Seven Habits of Highly Effective Athletes without the word “the” in front of it? Why? Because it’s not the be all and end all, there are other habits. These are simply seven habits of highly effective athletes, not THE seven habits.

The Impact of Habits

Habits are an important part of anyone’s life. Habits are the make or break of all people. Athletes, business people, poets, everyone. What you do every once in a while does still have an impact, but it’s habits that shape your life. It’s the things you do every day or nearly every day that determines your experience in life. Results are made and broken from habits.

Quite often athletes get into bad habits perpetuated by the media, fancy methods, know it all "experts" etc. This promotes poor training habits and stalled progress.

If you smoke, although it’s an addiction, it’s still a habit and it impacts your health in a big way. What about the habit of watching TV? When you watch TV you’re not getting anything else done. Someone who has a habit of meditating every morning or evening generally develops clarity and a sense of calm. No matter what the habit is, because it’s something you do consistently and without giving it a second thought, it is something that will determine your outcomes in one or more areas.

These seven habits of highly effective athletes were compiled because it was certain habits that I noticed while working with elite athletes.

Athletes Are Not Average People

As an athlete you are not an average person. I mean you were born an average person but you don’t remain one, at least you don’t endeavour to. Becoming an athlete is about developing skills that are beyond normal human capacity and continuing to do so for the duration of your life as an athlete.

Real athletes are athletes for life. I have met people in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s that still consider themselves athletes. I know a 90 year old that is a member of his local cycling club and can still keep pace with younger athletes. It’s a lifestyle choice just like any other.

So if being an athlete means being outstanding and being above average then it stands to reason that as an athlete there are certain habits that must be developed in order to remain at the top of your game.

Where These Habits Came From

As an avid seminar attendee and a master practitioner of NLP I learned a lot about the principle of modelling. Modelling is simply a process of gathering information about a person’s particular skills, categorising then replicating the exact results produced by that person in that context.

I have used the principle of modelling to observe and provide systems for replicating their specific abilities. During this process I noticed there were certain habits that were consistent throughout almost all the athletes I modelled. I then began looking for reasons for this. The ones I came up with led to an explanation as to why these athletes were outstanding. It was certain habits they performed consistently, almost obsessively, that brought them out of average and obscurity and into the realm of almost superhuman.

Would you agree that Roger Federer has some very different habits to your lazy uncle who can’t even swing a tennis racket? Do you think maybe Chuck Liddell from the Ultimate Fighting Championship might have a few habits that are not consistent with the normal day to day life of the overweight cab driver you see on Friday nights? Of course they do. It is these habits and not some magic genes, ability or training method that led to their outstanding performance as an athlete.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Athletes

1. Revolve all other habits around your intended goals: Athletes that are highly effective revolve everything else they do around being a better athlete. An athlete’s diet is focused on what foods will be beneficial to their training and performance, they sleep the amount of hours required to recover properly, an elite athlete is always mindful of things such as alcohol consumption etc. Everything you do should be thought about from a perspective that takes into account the consequences of all actions. Before staying up late think about the effect it will have on training the next day, before eating a hamburger just consider if it is nourishing you or hindering performance.

Just think of all your daily activities from a consequences point of view.

2. Pour every ounce of effort into training: An athlete doesn’t just work out, they don’t just go through the motions. Watching an athlete work out is something that can make you shudder at the sight of. An athlete puts everything he/she has into the task at hand.

3. Educate yourself: Athletes that make it place a lot of faith in their coach. Great athletes have coaches that take them to enormous levels of success. However, highly efficient athletes don‘t just rely on their coach, if they did they could fail if the coaching relationship falls through. I have noticed that one of the seven habits of highly effective athletes is that of self education. Michael Johnson is a perfect example. He had a superior scientific understanding of the principles of his own programme even though he had a coach.

4. Keep records: All highly effective athletes keep records of relevant information this includes training performances, competitive performances, minute fluctuations in weight and strength, good days, bad days etc. By making this a habit you can notice positive and negative turning points and can make minute adjustments along the way.

5. Focus on details: People who exercise just for fitness or just because their friend goes to the gym don’t care much for details. A 2 kg difference in their maximum bench press doesn’t mean anything. An effective athlete pays attention to these things. Without scrutinising details an athlete cannot make the tiny increments of improvement with extreme regularity.

6. Restraint and discipline yourself beyond the average person’s capabilities: Most people make excuses and exceptions for breaking their own rules. An effective athlete sets boundaries that are absolutely non-negotiable. A little piece of chocolate cake when you are preparing for competition can mean a couple of hundredths of a second added to your 100 metre time or 20 grams of bodyweight too high to make your wrestling weight class.

7. Notice the little things: Most people don’t notice the little things. This was important to include as one of the seven habits of highly effective athlete things that make people believe it’s always the big things that make the difference. However the difference that makes the difference is often an accumulation of tiny factors that lead to massive changes. Not noticing the little things is detrimental. We simply cannot pay attention to everything all at once. So what happens is often an athlete slides a little with a few seemingly insignificant things and their performance suffers. They then always look for the big thing that caused it. When they can’t find one they either give up or accept a slump in performance. Quite often this is the end of an athlete’s career. It isn’t for an effective athlete though. An effective athlete tends to notice the little things and their consequences.

Apply these seven habits of highly effective athletes. They may not sound like much at first glance but I assure you they are some of the things I have observed while working with athletes and they are consistent throughout almost all the elite ones.

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