In her highly acclaimed book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth asked, “Who are the people at the very top of [their] field? And What do you think makes them special?”
Thus, the question for the high achiever falls upon those who attempt to aspire to be the best in their sport: Is it worth it? If it is worth it, how does one succeed? Perhaps to even better understand the question is to identify what “it” is? What is its core value to that particular athlete? And finally, what will it cost to attain success?
What is “it”?
Let me be clear at the outset: talent is not success. Tim Grover noted, “The world is full of incredibly talented people who never succeed at anything.” Athletes must possess an inner drive, the “it”. “The most naturally talented individuals will fail to make it to the top” if they are not intrinsically motivated, noted Stewart Cotterill. “Intrinsic motivation is driven by an inherent interest, satisfaction, or enjoyment of the task being performed and is demonstrated by performers who focus on the mastery of the task, feel a high degree of autonomy and self-determination, and are not predominantly motivated by external factors,” he continued.
The highly accomplished, according to Duckworth, are “so dogged in their pursuits . . . [e]ach was chasing something of unparalleled interest and importance, and it was the chase—as much as the capture—that was gratifying. Even if some of the things they had to do were boring, or frustrating, or even painful, they would not dream of giving up. Their passion was enduring.”
The highly accomplished have such a fierce desire that “it changes a person’s life,” wrote Bob Rotella. They persevere through adversity. They create a desire to succeed. “The ideas people choose to have about themselves largely determine the quality of the lives they lead,” concluded Rotella.
Perhaps, it is not at all a desire but a calling. It comes deep inside our gut, our inner-most being. Viktor Frankl noted in his memorable book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal.”
What is its value?
The old sports cliché, “no pain, no gain,” may, in fact, have some value for an athlete who desires to be the best. Why pursue a goal when you fail, sometimes painfully, time again? Perhaps, there is no value in punishing yourself. Value is what you are willing to pay for whatever your goal is. What value would you place to be the best athlete in your sport?
Frankl said, “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” Nietzche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
Grover noted, “To be the best, whether in sports or business or any other aspect of life, it’s never enough to just get to the top; you have to stay there, and there you have to climb higher, because there’s always someone right behind you trying to catch up.”
What does it cost?
We choose to set a value on the dreams, desires, and goals that we set for ourselves. Notwithstanding, there is a price to pay for ascending the summit of success. It will cost you time: time in which you must physically practice a skill (e.g. dribbling a basketball) to improve to a point where you don’t have to think about doing it; time in which you must mentally practice a skill (e.g., visualization) of seeing yourself performing so often and so successfully that you can’t miss.
It takes patience, persistence, and practice. You will not become an overnight success on the court or field. No one does. “The answer for anyone, of any age, who is propelled by a dream is a balanced commitment,” wrote Rotella. It should not consume your life, only those hours you set aside to focus on your sport and to be the best you can by giving it your undivided attention and energy.
Finally, how much does it cost to attain success? Plenty. As Grover noted, “Decide. Commit. Act. Succeed. Repeat.”