The story of my early life was team sports. I was lucky to have a neighborhood full of kids who wanted to play football, basketball, baseball, whiffle ball, and even backyard hockey. We made it happen, and after school or weekends weren’t complete unless we spent countless hours on some kind of imaginary field or court. I think this background may be one of the reasons I’m so energized for triathlons.
There had been a long void in my life after I hung up the baseball glove, hockey skates, and lacrosse stick. I did play competitive softball for several summers after college, but that ended 10 years ago. Now, it’s multi-sport endurance, and I’m trying to figure out how thinking like a team-sport-athlete can help.
Exposure to competition is the first thing that comes to mind. I have ranted many times about how running and/or triathlons are, for most athletes, personal competitions. Quests for better time, performance, or post-race feeling. But there is a deep-seeded competitor inside me who wants to win and I’m doing my best to channel that energy in a constructive way. Learning to win is best done by winning, and winning in this case can be however we define it. Celebrate and remember what it took to get that time or that feeling. Then repeat.
Finishing the game is another advantage a competitive history brings. Not all games start well, and it’s surely the same for athletes that tackle Ironman. I heard John Calapari say something to his thoroughbreds at practice one day, and I think this sums up what I’m talking about.
He said something like, “You have to play defense here. And I don’t even care if you get beat, but don’t give up on the play.” He was referring to a play in the national championship when one of his players got beat on a backdoor play, but the kid (I think it was Michael Kidd Gilchrist) turned and hustled to block the shot, which kept them close enough to eventually win the game.
That play was about digging for something deeper. Realizing the situation didn’t look good, but finding the will to win, or set a new PR, or simply finish the race.
Pre-game preparation is also a major factor (although I constantly forget or ignore this lesson). A couple weeks ago, I ran about 4 miles with Jim and he was 3.5 miles in before we met. His pace
was stellar when I saw him and I didn’t want to slow him down. Mistake. We went right to a trail at
sub-9 minute pace (which seemed faster) and hit the road a mile later at sub 8. I never felt quite
loose and I really have to remember that I am a second half player. Negative splits win the race.
I’ve been forcing myself to warm up slow, find a groove, and be fast to the finish. I know this, but have to remind myself every time until it is habit.
Learning how to win is about setting attainable goals and hitting them. Digging deep when things aren’t going well by trusting that you have more inside. And preparing with purpose. Winning is a state of mind and perpetuates more victories in training, life, and your next race.