To Be an Elite Athlete


Posted by Coach Mark Sortino

The voyage that ultimately lead to the Men’s and Women’s Paralympic races in Rio on September 10 and 11 respectively was an amazing 6-year journey. While I have many lessons learned as a Coach that I will undoubtably review, assess, and pass on to others, I feel compelled to write about what I’ve learned from the Elite Athletes during this process. Here are some observations:


Talent - I used to think that this played a much lesser role, but honestly, talent is a necessity at the Elite level of athletics. Regardless of everything else (motivation, passion, means, etc) if you don’t have talent, you’ll only go so far. Now what an athlete does with that talent is a whole other article!


Commitment - This is much more than just passion - it’s changing one's lifestyle. From nutrition restrictions to freedom of travel, an Elite athlete gives up much of a carefree and social life to commit to athletic perfection. Without a doubt, this separates many of those athletes who have talent, but lack the commitment to reach the top level.


Laser Sharp Focus - Every day counts. Elite athletes focus on the tiniest of things - whether it be their individual technique, their equipment or their sleep - it all becomes an obsession of focus. And interestingly the very best athletes understand that everything is in constant change, and they continually adapt to this change.


Fearless - To reach the highest levels, Elite athletes continually work on their fear: fear of success and fear of failure. They are bold in their efforts and aren’t afraid to fail. They are defined by who they are, not by what they do. Fear is recognized by the Elite athlete and continually molded into a sense of perspective and effort.

Honest Self Awareness - Great talent will never achieve greatness without honest self awareness. Elite athletes understand who they are, what their abilities are with respect to their competition and what their potential is. Without honest self awareness, an athlete can never reach their full potential.


Belief in the Process - It’s never about the results, but rather the process. Elite athletes believe in the process they’re in and know that results will come. They know that there are too many other factors that are out of their control that often determine results. They believe in the process.


Team Behind the Athlete - From their coach or coaches, to their sports psychologist, to their chiropractor to their family - every successful Elite has a team that supports them that is filled with positive and honest people. They cannot do it alone.


Character vs Results - In the end, to become an Elite athlete and compete at the highest levels over and over, one has to have high Character. The successful Elite athlete posses all the above and defines themselves separately from results. For example, Timothy O’Donnell IS a great person who happens to DO triathlon. Both from a legacy viewpoint and a practical competitive one, Elite athletes have look beyond any one race and feel good about the person they’ve become.


Addendum from "SW": "The same things mentioned to be a top professional athlete are simply the qualities to be a great person as well. And if we all produced efforts to strive for the best in all we do, then this world would be a brighter place. It's good to recognize what makes top professional athletes excel, as it's really the same that makes each of us excel, should we recognize the path and wander forth with others to help along the way."


Elite athletes have much to teach us about the ways to get the most our of ourselves athletically and in terms of character! 

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