Throughout this blog’s history, I have emphasized the significance of intangible qualities that come from within. For example, many years ago I stressed the importance of passion in regards to training. In other entries, I have highlighted attributes such as patience, consistency, and desire. All athletes can benefit from these freely available intangibles. Unfortunately, many continue to overlook their relevance. One reason for the neglect is likely the lack of attention that the fitness industry directs towards them. It is much easier to market a supplement than it is to sell someone on the significance of patience. The latter may be less expensive, but it is more difficult to find. Intangibles cannot be purchased at the supplement store. You can’t open them for Christmas. And you can look high and low, but you’ll never find a coupon code. You either develop these attributes within, or you don’t. They can’t be found anywhere else.
Yet, while it is up the individual to become more passionate, patient, and consistent, there is at least one intangible that remains elusive.
You will be hard pressed to find any experienced athlete or coach who dismisses the significance of confidence. Confident athletes tend to be more successful. There is no denying this simple fact. The confusion therefore is not whether or not confidence is important, but rather how does an athlete go about developing it. What steps can an athlete take to become more confident?
Fortunately, part of that question is answered in the video below. Listen to CT Fletcher share his thoughts on the subject (foul language included).
CT’s words are in many ways similar to those shared previously by the legendary Bernard Hopkins. Below is one of my favorite all time quotes which came from Bernard many years ago while preparing for a bout.
I’m always going to come in (to the fight) overconfident and I have a reason to. I always come in overconfident because I train so hard that I leave no room for doubt in my mind. I never go in there to lose. The word is not even in my dictionary. I train confident, and I train to think over-confidently. If I didn’t, I’d be a fool.
Like CT Fletcher, Hopkins emphasizes the significance of outworking everyone. If you refuse to let anyone work as hard as you, there is a good chance that you will gain confidence. And even if someone does out work you, as long as you don’t believe it, you will still be more confident than before.
There is more to confidence than working hard however. First and foremost, confidence takes time to develop. You can’t work hard today and suddenly wake up confident tomorrow. True confidence often requires some of the previously mentioned attributes. For instance, you must be consistent in your efforts to outwork the competition.
Suppose you are a boxer preparing for a bout in six weeks. You are not just competing against your opponent six weeks from now when you enter the ring. There is a competition taking place each day. A few of the daily events include the following:
- Who is going to work harder today?
- Who will make better decisions when they leave the gym?
- Who will eat better?
- Who will sleep better?
- Who will spend more time studying video of his opponent?
I could go on and on with examples. The point is simple. Each day is a competition and confidence slowly develops when you regularly win these daily challenges. It is not enough to work hard on occasion. The mind is not easily fooled. You can’t trick yourself into being confident. Real confidence requires an investment in time where you continually outwork the competition.
Beyond Hard Work
As much as I promote hard work, it will take even more than that to develop lasting confidence. True confidence comes from hard work and experience. For example, Bernard Hopkins was already a world champion when he shared the words above. I’m guessing CT Fletcher also had previous success before he started asking who was coming in second place. That level of confidence is not developed through hard work alone. Hard work is an important piece of the puzzle, but experience is as well.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to acquire experience. It needs to be earned one event at a time. Therefore, it goes without saying that many young athletes have yet to develop true confidence. There is nothing wrong with that. It is to be expected. Speaking as a boxing coach, I couldn’t tell you how many young fighters I have seen who had to rush to the bathroom shortly before entering the ring. I have even seen young professionals who were battling the same anxiety in the dressing room. These are often high level athletes with considerable amateur experience. What they lack is professional experience. As a result, they are battling uncertainty. Uncertainty can literally crush a young athlete’s confidence.
The best advice I can give to such athletes is to control every aspect that you can control. You may not have the experience, but that is no reason to let your opponent outwork you. Enter your event knowing that you did everything in your power to prepare. Don’t leave any room for doubt. Lack of experience is no excuse to be outworked.
And when you truly believe that you outworked your opponent, you will be better at hiding the anxiety and fear that exists within. One concept that I always try to instill upon my athletes is to compete with a poker face. Don’t show your hand before the event. Take comfort in your hard work. Constantly remind yourself that your opponent did not outwork you and you’ll be more likely to forget about any lack of experience or fear.
In summary, there is nothing that you can do today to develop true confidence tomorrow. It takes time. Don’t wait until it is too late. Start taking the necessary steps as soon as possible. Every day counts. It may seem like a long journey, but there is no better feeling than looking into your opponent’s eyes and knowing that you outworked him. Conversely, there is no worse feeling than to be on the other end of that stare down. It is up to the individual to pick a side. Just remember that your choice must be made many weeks in advance.
If you can’t decide, expect someone else to decide for you.
Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning. – Mahatma Gandhi9 comments
I recently read an article from the elitefts.com website that highlighted the lives of several former powerlifters. And while I have no personal interest in powerlifting, I thoroughly enjoyed their journalistic piece. Before I explain my reasoning, you may wish to first read the article at the following link:
As you will see throughout, many of these lifters sacrificed their lives for the sport that they loved. They essentially put aside work, health, and personal relationships in pursuit of their passion. Now, several years later, many of these lifters continue to pay the price. Several suffer from past injuries and are addicted to pain medications. Their quality of life has forever been changed based on the decisions that they made as young lifters.
Was it worth it?
After reading such an article, it is human nature to ponder whether such sacrifices were worthwhile in the end. In fact, after sharing the elitefts story on Facebook, I had several readers ask me that exact question. Many young athletes wanted to know how much they should sacrifice. How much is too much? I heard from football players, boxers, mixed martial artists, lifters, and more.
Unfortunately, I did not have a worthwhile response for any of them. It is not my place to decide how much an athlete should give to his sport. Each individual must be comfortable with the sacrifices that he makes in pursuit of his goals. You need to decide for yourself, and there is no right or wrong answer. The correct answer for you is one that you are comfortable making once you understand the risks that accompany such a decision.
Speaking as a boxing coach, I enjoyed the powerlifting article primarily because the journalists did not hold anything back. There was no sugarcoating of facts. They laid out what the lifters did and the price that they have paid as a result of their actions. The reader is then encouraged to make his own decisions. Once again, you need to decide for yourself, but let’s not pretend that real risks do not exist.
Instead, we need to let more athletes know exactly what they are up against. I am no powerlifter, but I do train fighters for a living. When speaking with fighters, I am as honest as they come when discussing the risks faced in our sport. More fighters need to be aware of the risks. Stepping inside the ring or cage is dangerous. Whether you realize it or not, you put your life on the line each time that you fight.
I tell everyone that it is not healthy to be punched in the face and that every serious fighter will eventually be injured. When you are cutting weight, your life will be miserable. There is nothing fun about it. You will be forced to make sacrifices that close friends and family do not understand. That’s reality. You are going to get hurt. You are going to suffer. You will experience fear and anxiety. It is not all fun and games.
And after all the sacrifices have been made and you have eventually hung up the gloves, there is a good chance that you will have earned little or nothing in the sport that you loved. I do not have specific figures, but there is no doubt that less than 1 percent of fighters make more than 99 percent of the money. I have close friends who were accomplished professional fighters who struggled to put food on the table even during the prime of their career.
Yet despite the struggles faced both during and after their fighting careers, many of these individuals would not have it any other way. I say this not to suggest that the pain and struggles are not real, but once again to remind you that you must decide for yourself. It is not my place (or anyone’s) to tell you what you should do with your life. If you are passionate about something, by all means pursue that passion. I simply encourage you to understand the risks that accompany such passion.
Training to compete and training for general health are essentially polar opposites. It is important that we do not confuse the two. General health and fitness does not require an elite effort. It always amazes me how many modern fitness programs encourage their members to sacrifice their health in pursuit of what is supposed to be a healthier life.
If you are training to compete in a high level sport, there’s a good chance that what you are doing is not healthy. It is not supposed to be. You train to become better at your sport. That is the goal. When I train a fighter, I am there to look out for him, but I am also there to help him knock his opponent unconscious. That is what we are hoping to accomplish. Everything else is secondary.
And while such words may sound harsh to some, I am glad that they do. Experienced athletes and trainers need to be more upfront about the harsh realities of competition. There is nothing wrong with encouraging athletes to work hard towards their dreams, but let’s also have full disclosure in terms of how much you must sacrifice and the price you may pay as a result. Pretending that lifelong injuries do not exist does not benefit anyone. Personally, I would rather scare someone away from the sport than have them blindly participate without understanding the risks.
Not everyone is willing to endure what must be endured to reach the top. That’s okay. I do not think any less of anyone who is not willing to sacrifice everything to become the best that they can. As mentioned previously, there is no right or wrong answer when considering how much you are willing to give up in pursuit of your goals. I simply encourage you to understand the risks and then make an informed decision that you can live with both today and as the years pass.
Whether it is fighting, lifting, or any other intense sport, high level competition isn’t for everyone. Anyone who suggests otherwise either has not been there or is just plain ignorant. Competition is harsh, as is life. Choose wisely.
You are free to make whatever choice you want but you are not free from the consequences of the choice.10 comments
Stuart Jamieson was born with spina bifida, scoliosis, kyphosis, and diastematomyelia. He was not expected to live past his second birthday. Doctors did not even expect him to sit up as a child. The thought of him living an active life as an adult was not even considered.
Over twenty years later, Stuart is now a British Classic Powerlifting champion. Highlights from one of his recent meets can be seen below. You will see him pull 225kg while weighing in at just 59kg. If you aren’t quick with math, that’s a few pounds short of 500 at a bodyweight of approximately 130 pounds.
Stuart provides a powerful example of an individual who was determined to write his own destiny. His early doctors were entitled to an opinion, but Stuart and his family did everything they could to prevent that opinion from becoming a reality. To suggest that they defied the odds is an understatement.
Fortunately, you do not need to have endured Stuart’s early struggles to learn from his example. At some point, I’m sure we have all been told by an authority figure what we could or could not achieve. Whether it was a doctor, teacher, coach, or family member, there is a good chance that someone could not resist sharing their opinion of your future.
Ultimately, it is up to you whether you’ll accept such opinions as fact or instead find out for yourself. Stuart and his family obviously chose the latter.
In fact, Stuart shared the following wisdom in a recent interview:
Despite my conditions, I have had an incredible life. I have experienced the best and worst that life has to offer but I have not allowed my disability to define my quality of life… Life was never destined to be a smooth ride for me, but it has given me the strength of character to live a fulfilling life and chase my passions.
I want to show that regardless of what we may be labeled as – disability, age, race, gender – we all control what life we lead and what we can achieve.
In summary, if there is something you wish to achieve, you owe it to yourself to take a chance and find out. Ironically, hard work and self-belief are both invaluable, yet also freely available. Rather than wasting time worrying about the opinion of others, invest that time in yourself. When you truly do work hard and refuse to give up, you will not only surprise those around you, but also yourself.
Potential will always be an opinion. No one knows exactly what can be achieved until it has happened. Find out for yourself. Regardless of the outcome, the journey will be much more rewarding.
The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them. – Bernard M. Baruch2 comments
Throughout this blog’s history, I have featured athletes from all corners of the world who have thrived despite living and training amidst poverty. I have highlighted athletes from countries such as Myanmar, Russia, Ghana, Brazil, Uganda, Cuba, and Thailand. Many of these athletes know nothing of each other, yet share in their quest to fight for survival and hopes of a better life.
And while not every fighter is fortunate enough to escape the harsh reality that surrounds them, there have been countless world champions who have risen from poverty. They have thrived despite growing up poor and training with little or nothing. These fighters never had access to fancy equipment, seminars, quality foods, or any of the other so-called necessities that are hyped by the industry today. All that they’ve ever had was the desire to someday escape the world around them.
Such harsh environments are not always located on the other side of the world however. It is one thing to read about fighters in distant lands such as Myanmar, but often times there are others struggling in the city or town next door to you. You do not need to live in a poor country to live in a harsh environment. One such example can be seen in the video below. Antoine Douglas has been fighting since day one despite being born in our nation’s capital of Washington D.C.
As for his harsh upbringing, Antoine wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked about his childhood, here is how he responded in a recent interview:
I don’t regret any of it because it made me into the person that I am today. Actually, I appreciate it more than anything. If it wasn’t for all of that,I don’t know where my mind would be at right now. Because of that I am so grateful to be where I am now… That’s why I am pushing so hard to be as successful as I can.
Antoine is not the only Douglas fighting hard for a better life though. His sister Tyrieshia is also an unbeaten professional boxer. She recently improved to 5-0 while Antoine will put his unbeaten record (14-0) on the line on July 25th. His upcoming bout will be broadcast on Showtime’s ShoBox series.
In summary, where you start does not matter as much as where you finish. So the next time you panic because you’ve run out of protein powder, remember that it could be worse. There are other athletes in the world who don’t even know when their next meal will come. They aren’t just hungry for food however. They are also hungry to compete and improve. Once you understand and appreciate these athletes, you tend to have a better understanding of what really matters when considering athletic development. At some point, it always comes back to how bad you want it and how hard you are willing to work.
We acquire the strength we have overcome. – Ralph Waldo Emerson1 comment
In my last entry, I shared a quote from NFL football player J.J. Watts. He spoke of his desire to make the most of his playing career. He has no time for distractions and is 100 percent focused on continuous improvement.
To no surprise, you will hear similar wisdom shared by Bernard Hopkins in the video below.
And while some may label his advice as common sense, I can say that it is everything but common. I have seen countless athletes who only abide by such advice when it is convenient or forced upon them. Many athletes simply do not have the discipline to follow such a lifestyle year after year.
As a result, the longevity displayed by Hopkins is rarely seen in any sport. He began fighting professionally in 1988. That was over 25 years ago. In other words, he has critics today that were not even alive when he was already fighting professionally. Hopkins is currently 49 years old and is the oldest boxer to ever win a world championship.
His most recent titles were not his first however. Previously, Hopkins reigned as the middleweight champion for over a decade. He had 20 consecutive world title defenses during that time. And while his middleweight reign seems like a distant memory, there were critics who had already counted him out in his mid thirties. I vividly recall when Hopkins was preparing to fight Felix Trinidad in 2001. Trinidad entered the bout at 40-0. He was fresh off a brutal knockout over William Joppy and many expected him to do the same to the older Hopkins. Bernard had different plans. I was fortunate to sit ringside as he put on a boxing clinic and dominated Trinidad before stopping him in the final round.
Much of the boxing world was shocked to see such a performance from a 36 year old fighter. I was not surprised at all. It was a few months prior to that fight when I was fortunate to run a 5K race with Hopkins. At that time, he adamantly proclaimed that he was going to be around for a LONG time.
Thirteen years later, we have come to expect nothing less from this ageless warrior. I won’t be surprised if Hopkins wins another title as a 50 year old man. I will not count him out until he is down and out.
In summary, if you are a young and aspiring athlete, you will be hard pressed to find better advice than the wisdom he shares above. Athletes do not last that long by accident. Hopkins takes discipline to a level that most cannot endure. I have heard of many fighters who have literally packed up and left his training camps in the middle of the night. The discipline and work ethic that he demands is more than most can handle. Once again, it all boils down to how much you are willing to sacrifice to become the best that you can be. And while not everyone is up to the challenge, at least recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of his accomplishments.
It takes no effort to be ordinary. Ordinary is not even a challenge. You can do nothing and be ordinary. – Bernard Hopkins7 comments