Being the big fish in the pond is amazing! You are the big tuna (tuna works better than kahuna in a pond), everyone knows you are and you are treated as the big tuna. It is good… to be king/queen! But there is a potential problem being treated constantly as the big tuna… you can come to believe that you are #1, not just in the pond but everywhere.
In sport, there are plenty of ponds: local or city ponds, regional ponds, provincial, national and then the biggest pond… international level competition. The onus is on the coach to ensure that an athlete progresses properly: physically, mentally and emotionally, and at an appropriate rate. How, when, and why a coach has athletes compete is critical to the development of those athletes. Too much exposure too soon, and you can blow an athlete entirely out of the sport: competing against competitors who have had significant more training time can overwhelm an athlete, turning their drive into doubt and disbelief. Too little exposure and the athlete can become a big tuna with a big ego… so full of themselves that they feel training is not needed, relying on an inflated ego to fuel performance. When these athletes encounter another tuna, their image of being the one & only breaks, their ego deflates leaving them depressed.
Canadian MMA fighter and World Champ GSP (Georges St Pierre) writes in his autobiography that he checked out of training after winning the World Title. GSP made the mental leap from undefeated to undefeatable and decided he no longer had to train (with effort or intensity). Stepping back into the octagon or whatever is your venue for competition can be a rude awakening with such a narrative. An ego can take such a thumping that the athlete is taken out of sport, sometimes even out of life.
Which turns me to my own kids…
In prior years, Serena & Mark had few podium positions; this year they have both enjoyed the podium consistently. So, it was time for a reality check. Time had come for coach to provide a check that I believed both were prepared for, mentally and emotionally. That check came in the form of Triathlon Ontario Provincials. Serena & Mark had reviewed results from prior Provincials and knew that the competition they encountered at regional races was nothing compared to what they would find in Welland.
How did Provincials turn out? They had a reality check.
In all great endeavours there is risk. The greatest risk however, is not to take any risks.
As coach, the risk was to expose my athletes – my kids – to a level of competition that if they weren’t prepared properly would undoubtedly come with considerable consequences (i.e. doubt, disbelief, depression). At the same time, there is equal risk failing to appropriately challenge athletes. As coach, properly preparing athletes is my duty. Exposing them to appropriate risks with sufficient support is how I ensure athletes progress. Now, it is up to them. I cannot reset their goals for them, resume their training, I cannot renew their mindset, or reignite their spirit, that they must decide to do themselves.
Point is… this is life. These experience all directly translate to life: do you stay the big fish in a small pond, or do you risk a reality check by exploring a larger pond and realizing that you may not be #1, king/queen, the big tuna… everywhere? As adults we fail to thrive, to live to our potential when we refuse to take regular reality checks. Comfort as king/queen, can become complacency and after years, complacency becomes rigidity, inflexibility, stagnation. As parents we ask our children to perform at their potential, to live up to their potential. What happens when we as parents expect our kids to do as we say, but we do not walk our own talk? We risk living hypocritically, with our credibility as role models, as leaders, as parents devolving into a joke no one laughs at, because no one listens to us any longer.
“You cannot lead a child where you will not go yourself”
Quote on a lamppost in Burlington
If you were watching the IAAF Worlds from London, you likely watched Usain Bolt run his last 100m race, and saw Bolt take 3rd place, and Gatlin take 1st. The outcome of the race was not amazing, what was amazing was the response from the stadium: Gatlin was boo’d before and after the race. Meanwhile, Bolt was cheered as he entered the stadium, when he was introduced awaiting the race from behind the starting blocks, and again after the race when he took his lap around the track. It didn’t matter that he came third, the stadium was cheering a champion: an athlete who had earned their respect. Gatlin may have been the winner, in fact Gatlin was the winner, he defeated Bolt, was crowned World Champ, yet he was not the champion all had come to watch and admire.
How we train, how we compete, how we progress as athletes, how we are progressed by our coaches… matters, it all matters.
As an athlete… are you training and racing to be a winner, or are you training and competing to be a champion?
As a parent, as a coach… are you developing medal and ribbon generators (i.e. winners) or are you developing kids/athletes to be champions, in sport & in life?
Why? Because it matters.