Listen and Learn From Successful Athletes

Haile Gebrselassie

In a recent entry, I highlighted an amazing yoga practitioner (see here) despite having no interest in yoga. Today, I will do something similar by discussing one of the greatest distance runners of all time. I may not have any interest in distance running, but that doesn’t mean I can’t benefit by studying the habits of an all time great. Haile Gebrselassie is a legendary runner who won multiple world championships as well as two Olympic gold medals. His success did not come by accident though. Throughout his career, Haile was known for a tremendous work ethic. He also understood the significance of confidence and mental preparation. Many of his beliefs are actually quite similar to those that I instill upon the athletes I train in an entirely different sport.

Learning To Succeed

One of the biggest mistakes that an athlete can make is to disregard the methods and beliefs that athletes from different sports have used to succeed. In other words, you don’t need to be a runner to benefit and learn from Haile Gebrselassie. Regardless of your event, I’m guessing that many of his beliefs will be pertinent to your sport as well. Successful athletes and coaches typically share plenty in common.

A perfect example can be seen through the words below. When asked what it takes to win, Haile Gebrselassie offered the following:

“You need three things to win: discipline, hard work and, before everything maybe, commitment. No one will make it without those three. Sport teaches you that.”

If I didn’t already know that Gebrselassie made these comments, I would have guessed that they came from someone involved in my sport of boxing. I often find myself saying almost the exact same words to my athletes.

Another example can be seen below when Haile discusses mental preparation.

“First, do enough training. Then believe in yourself and say: I can do it. Tomorrow is my day. And then say: the person in front of me, he is just a human being as well; he has two legs, I have two legs, that is all. That is mentally how you prepare.”

If I were to replace Haile’s comment about two legs with two hands, I could use that quote for boxing. Everything else is the same. Regardless of the sport, you’ve got to work hard, learn to believe in yourself, and recognize that any opponent is just another human being.

It all starts with hard work however. It is difficult to be confident if you don’t truly believe that you’ve outworked your competitors. An athlete who can look in the mirror and honestly believe that he outworked everyone will always be difficult to defeat.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Haile’s confidence started with the hard work that he repeatedly performed. Pushing himself to the limit became a way of life. He essentially became a product of his daily habits.

In his words,

“For me a day without training is like a day without eating.”

You certainly don’t need to be a runner to understand and appreciate the significance of these words. You’ll be hard pressed to find any athlete who wouldn’t benefit by mirroring Haile Gebrselassie’s work ethic.

Mental Significance

Working hard like Haile Gebrselassie won’t just get you in shape, it will also prepare your mind for competition.

In his words,

“Always, if you win mentally, you can win physically as well.”

This simple philosophy holds true for almost any event. If you truly believe in your training, you will be more confident and naturally perform better. In the first minute of the brief video below, Haile summarizes this idea perfectly.

Haile’s discussion of walking to the starting line of a race is shockingly similar to what goes through a fighter’s mind when he walks towards the ring or cage. As mentioned within the clip, the hard work is already done. Competition simply provides an opportunity to display that work. It is your time to go out and show what you’ve done. And when you truly believe in what you have done, there is no reason to be frightened or nervous.

When you’ve regularly given 100 percent day in and day out, all that’s left is to showcase that hard work to the spectators around you. There’s nothing to fear when you truly believe in the work you’ve performed. All dominant athletes share these beliefs. It doesn’t matter if they run distance or lace up the gloves to fight. The mental aspects will always be similar.

Final Thoughts

In summary, it is always useful to listen and learn from those who have truly excelled. There’s no better way to learn about success than by going directly to the source. Whether you are an athlete or coach, you should make it a point to study other successful athletes and coaches. They don’t need to participate in the same sport to provide valuable lessons that you’ll benefit from throughout your career.

And while some might consider Haile’s words to be that of common sense, learning isn’t always about uncovering new ideas. Often times, it is just as useful to confirm some of the beliefs that you already had. In other words, it can be useful to simply hear that another successful athlete thinks or acts similarly to yourself. That alone can give a young competitor more trust and confidence in the work that he performs.

Never underestimate the significance of the mind as it pertains to success in the sporting world. Anything that helps an athlete believe in himself is worth its weight in gold. Listen and learn from Haile Gebrselassie.

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  1. Very inspiring guy. Totally agree about the advice of these top athletes transferring to other sports, and I feel you can get the same inspiration from anyone that’s successful in any field. The advice always seems to come back to the same basic principles – know what you want, figure out how to do it, then commit to doing it every day.

  2. Ross, again so true. I am a distance runner but I come to your site and others to find inspiration, new ideas and motivation. As I’ve studied other sports I’ve found the basic principals outlined in this article, namely – hard work, discipline and belief in yourself. Oh and did I mention hard work? Those that achieve be it on an individual basis or at the world champion level have all of these things in common.

  3. Just saw TJ Dillashaw beat Ronan Barao tonite. Talk about showcasing your hard work! Man oh man. Nice hands TJ. Good job. Hard work pays off! Came to Ross’s site to get jazzed about boxing again. Saw this about Haile. Thanx Ross. Thanx for helping me with my boxing skills. And thanx for these stories you put on here. Go Rowdy go! Right? Are you all with me?

  4. Haile Gebrselassie is a legendary runner with a series of accolades and international awards to back up his credentials. Despite his career being plagued by several injuries from time to time, he is most celebrated for overcoming such hurdles and finishing on top of them each time. His approach to running as a mental rather than physical activity is what sets him apart from the competition. Disciple, hard work and commitment go hand in hand to his mental approach to running.

  5. Hey Ross,

    Great article. I bookmarked it a few days ago and just now had the chance to read it.

    First off, the first quote is very inspirational. I’ve been working hard in and out of the gym for a few years now and am starting to see results for my hard work in the dark. It’s always great to be reminded that we’re on the right track and I feel like this quote is the perfect example.

    Secondly, believing in ourselves is a huge challenge for most people and we often underestimate ourselves and our abilities. All it takes is the belief that we can achieve something.

    Thanks for this great article and the powerful lessons,

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