Many who are involved in competitive sports will tell you that your success is often more dependent on your mental state than your athleticism, that mental strength can overcome physical strength. After some emails on the topic from my former Ultimate Frisbee team and playing on an Australian Football team that has not been able to close games out late, the topic of mental fortitude has been on my mind.
With an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Malaysia looming, and my fitness deteriorating due to excessive travel and beer, I have been making my final surge to prepare for the competition ahead. It doesn’t help that I’m on Koh Pha Ngan, a island in Thailand that does not emphasize any type of exercise except of the liver. My options for land based fitness are running on the beach or running on the road. The road course I have been running ends with a vicious hill. Up to today I had not yet been able to climb to the top. This is a badass hill. Seriously. Today I was going to do it.
The rest of the run went as usual and I arrived at the hill. At the beginning of it I knew I was going to make it to the top. In the middle I wasn’t so sure. By the time I had reached the point that I had gotten to yesterday, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it.
But that’s not the only thing that went through my mind. I started thinking about my future in sport. At 38, two knee surgeries in, I can’t hang with those young guys on the Thai AFL team that kicked a couple of goals against us on ANZAC day. I can’t run with the new batch of Filipino ultimate players for whom the length of the field seems inadequately short. Watching top level ultimate in the US, the game has passed me by. Maybe time to hang it up.
I was about to stop. The excuses were piling up. There was an indiscriminate sound behind me. Maybe someone needed help. What could I do but stop this incredibly painful thing I was doing. My stride started breaking.
Fuck this. Gotta finish. The top isn’t far. I wasn’t moving fast but I was making progress. I can do this.
I did. I knew it. And that’s not the only thing I thought at that time. Maybe I do have a few years left. I can get fitter and stronger. Maybe I won’t be as fast as all of those fast fucks on the AFL or ultimate field, but my experience and intelligence and make up the difference. I have a lot to contribute in both sports.
It wasn’t additional physical strength that got me to the top of the hill. It was will. It was a mental workout of the type that can contribute to both my immediate and long term success.
The moral of the story is set tough, realistic goals and achieve them. If your workout goals are soft, and easy to accomplish, how is that going to help at the end of games or tournaments when your body is suffering on a level you’re not used to? If your goals are too hard, it will be too easy to suffer crushing failure or to allow yourself to not achieve them while patting yourself on the back for trying.
Once your goals are set, achieve them. Those last meters make all the difference. The more you hurt, the more important it is to push through. Those meters make all the difference. Especially in your head.
I’m clearly no fitness guru, and these lessons are not rocket science. They’re just what I learned at the top of a steep hill in the hot Koh Pha Ngan sun.