Everything is Cool When You're Part of a Team; Advice for Athletes, Coaches, Parents and Supporters
We talk a lot about daring to dream and goal setting and all that great stuff around here. I, for one, am always encouraging everyone I meet to keep improving, keep raising their game and keep aspiring towards their goals in sport and life. Awesome. But one of the major elements of the quest to be your best, and one that that doesn’t get as much focus or enough attention, are the people that will help you turn your dreams into reality. I like to call these people the Dream-Makers, and they come in the form of parents, coaches, spouses, teammates, governing bodies, and sponsors. However, you don’t need every single one of the aforementioned on your side -- even one dream-maker can make all the difference in your quest to reach your best.
No kid grows up, figures out how to train their talents entirely alone, and then shows up at the Olympics one day. Olympians and champions are made, not born. And even if the Olympics isn’t on your radar, I’m sure your own goals need others to help make them into reality. And as my good friend Olympian and elite athlete Amy Hastings recently tweeted, “It takes a village to raise a marathoner.”
Let’s meet a few examples of the dream-makers that athletes need on their side:
- Parents or guardians that take kids to sports, week in week out, year after year. Parents to understand and support during good and bad times (of which there will be many).
- Coaches who are organizing running clubs and teams week in week out, all year long, year after year.
- The governing bodies and volunteers that run the sport and organize competitions, all year long, year after year. (eg. NCAA, USATF, IAAF, AAI)
- Committed and experienced coaches prescribing thought-out personal training plans. Make no bones about it, coaching someone is a big commitment.
- The sponsors and race directors who fund the events (and ideally the athletes) and legitimize the whole sport. (Olympic Council, NYRR, IAAF et al)
- Teammates to share the workload, provide unending support, and make it all more fun. (#sisters-in-sport, brothers-in-sport)
- Spouses/partners who live with a focused athlete- eating, sleeping, encouraging. This diligent lifestyle isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
- Role Models #HerosInSport; The people living the dream who are directly or indirectly responsible for igniting the possibilities within us and inspiring us to believe in ourselves eg. mentors, sports stars, fellow athletes.
- Others : The special people who in some way lift us up when we doubt ourselves eg. trainers, psychologists, mentors, teachers, friends, relatives.
Nature + Nurture
Realistically, without being born into an environment full of dream-makers (eg. parents, clubs, schools), a potential athlete might never discover their passion or skills for a sport. That doesn’t mean they can’t and won’t find the right environment to discover this later in life, but regardless of when or how someone finds their passion, their internal drive is essential to becoming “successful” in the long run.
One popular theory is that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of intentional, purposeful practise to become a master at something. That’s a long time, regardless of how you slice it. Even if you are eventually going to be an Olympic champion and a world record holder, there are years and years of “amateur” training and racing that you must commit to before you make a cent (if you ever do). Not only does the amateur not make money, the gear, supplies, and races will likely cost money. Someone had to pay for Picasso’s painting supplies while he honed his craft for years. So who’s going to fund the potential world champion as they rack up the 10,000 hours? Sponsors line up for people who are already achieving, but it is the sponsor of the up and coming athlete without the assurance of return in investment who are the dream-makers.
Becoming “excellent” isn’t always a glamorous pursuit. It consists of sweat and toil of daily tasks repeated over years and years and years. It’s the mundane, repetitive, consistent habits and tasks that lead to excellence. Who’s going to help you endure? It is the prize-worthy dream-makers that support you in good times and bad. They are there on the boring days when you have to go to bed early and stay in (again), and the exciting days when the big event arrives and everyone wants a piece of you (typically in the background feeling more nervous than you). They are there to encourage you when you’re doubtful and rein you in when you’re getting too excited or acting foolishly. The dream makers are right beside you supporting you when you feel weak and tired; frustrated and overwhelmed. They keep you grounded during the storms of life.
Help with Failure & Success
It’s great to be self-aware, resilient and emotionally stable at all times like a Pro. Yet as dreamers we are often emotional risk takers, which comes with potential undesirable consequences like failures and heartbreaks. As social animals we are programed to seek help with disappointments and hard times (that is what crying was invented for, after all!). On the flip side, success is way more fun when you have people to celebrate it with!
Attitude of Gratitude
Of course it’s great to be a self starter and on fire for your dreams,but there’s no shame in getting energy from other peoples’ fires when your own fire is dim. In addition, synergy can produce some amazing results. Finding your sisters & brothers-in-sport, your steady and committed coach, your supportive and encouraging spouse/partner/parent, and letting them know you appreciate them from time to time, is the least you can do (unless you are making bank, then you can pay your support network for their time and energy). We need a dream-maker appreciation day! #ThankTheDreamMakers
The funny thing about being a dreamer or a dream-maker is that one day, maybe even simultaneously, you will be both. If you’re the dreamer and your big event is nigh, then I grant you permission to be more self absorbed and “focused” than “normal.” But, beyond a few hours or days of everyone tolerating “your zone”, then it probably time to do something for your dream-makers. Can you be the support system for someone else? Can you encourage and facilitate someone else’s dreams on occasion? I’m not saying that helping someone else mean you sabotage your own dreams, but I am saying putting some else first now and again, and even helping others when you can, can be good for you. I love the symbolism of japanese pearl-divers; the divers need someone to “hold the rope” as they dive for pearls. Without the security of someone supporting them, the divers could never reach as far and get the pearls. Know when you are diving and when you are supporting, and realize that one cannot succeed without the other.
Assuming all dream-makers want what's best for their aspiring athletes here are some tips on how to help your athletes along their athletics journey:
- Let the dreamer discover their passion for themselves. Make sure you’re not trying to push your own agenda or dreams onto your child/athlete/friend. It’s easy to get caught up in your athlete’s sporting achievements- but watch out for your own ego- and it’s need for “success”. Failing is a huge part of any sport- so be a good role model for your athlete by learning to lose well. And remember, when they are competing, it’s not about you!
- Make your athlete feel loved whether they win, lose or draw. Their well-being should be your primary concern. Remember to value them outside of their identity as “the athlete.” This will help them in good times and bad.
- Celebrate their effort, not the outcome. Hardly bothering yet still winning is not as commendable as trying hard and losing. Effort is something they can control, outcome is not.
- Be informed or not. Either know everything about your athlete’s sport and be down in the trenches with them, or stay away and leave it up to the coaches while you become the best cheerleader around. Know the nitty-gritty of what it really takes, or just stand back and bring healthy snacks. Both types of people are hugely valuable, just know your role.
- Make your own fun. If you go to support your child- it’s on you to make your trip enjoyable for yourself. Its not supportive or helpful for the athlete to have to add your entertainment or making sure you are having a good experience to their stress and preparation. That part is your responsibility, focusing on the event is theirs.
- Don’t take things personally. Being a “Dreamer” isn’t a walk in the park. It’s the dreamer that puts themselves out there, makes themselves vulnerable, takes the risks of winning or losing, does the work, goes into battle, wears their heart on their sleeve. When competition time finally comes along- there’s a whole host of biological and psychological changes in hormonal production due to the performance- but these hormones might make the pre-competition athlete moody and irritable. They might want you around, or they might not. Give the athlete the space they want, and whatever you do, don’t add to the stress by making them feel guilty about being nervous. This most likely will take work on your part- but “holding the space” by bringing the good energy and staying calm is what they really need from you.
- It will not always be easy to be the dream-maker. Buckle up as it will be a long journey. It takes years of persistence to get good at anything. The athlete might need to lean on you to support them for longer than you might ever want to. There will be years of buying running shoes, clothing, travel, race entries, physical therapy, coaching, and emotional rollercoaster-riding. It takes this investment no matter if they ever “turn-pro”, or reach their goals or not! Be warned! It’s advisable to value the journey and look for the lessons learned from aspiring for excellence. But rest assured it will be worth every second.
- Know your passions and go for your goals. This in itself takes courage. But recognize that you will need help along the way. Look for the team you need to support you and build it! Communicate clearly what you are trying to do and achieve. You might need to educate parents or spouses or friends on what that might mean for them (eg. we can’t go to every family event, or every Friday night disco, or you can’t eat pizza and chips every night etc.). If they “get it” they will be more likely to support you as necessary. If they don’t, you might need to stop looking to them for that support, and find it elsewhere.
- Know what you need to succeed. If you like having family around before you compete, great. If you don’t like seeing family until after you race, great. If you like to have teammates around, great. If you like to be alone, great. When you can identify what you need and like before competing it empowers you to create that ideal environment for yourself. It’s good to be flexible and go with the flow, but before important competitions, be mindful of what you need and politely communicate this with coaches and parents. Ask them to respect “your way to get in your zone” and thank them for understanding your competition-personality (it can be very different that your day-to-day personality). Beyonce becomes Sasha Fierce. We all tap into a special part of ourselves when we compete.
- No athlete is an island. Your “Dream-makers” are called that for a reason. They are the people that willfully invest many years’ time, money, and energy into turning YOUR dream into a reality. Without this fertile, warm, and nourishing environment your dream would likely shrivel up and disintegrate. Show appreciation, it can mean a lot. You might not realize it now, but all of those people in your life that are showing up for you are taking time out of their life and their agendas and goals and dreams to support yours. Are you doing that for them? When was the last time you thanked them?
DREAM-MAKERS: Take a bow, and thank you for all you do.
DREAMERS: Pick up the phone and thank YOUR Dream-makers today! Or give them a shout-out in the comments below and share this article with them. #ThankTheDreamMakers
“Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of the team. Everything is awesome when we're living our dream. - Lego Movie :)
Roisin McGettigan-Dumas, is an Olympian, sports psychology consultant and co-author of Believe Training Journal (VeloPress), available for order now.