Champions are comfortable with themselves

Looking back on his career, Miller spoke to Hicks about how he wanted to be remembered. "I hope people see truth when I ski," said Miller. "I don't have an agenda when I'm out there. I don't try to cover things up or look cool. Skiing is such a raw sport and people pick out what they want to see.

"That's would be something I would hope would stand out - the honesty of my skiing."

These comments made during an interview with Universal Sport's Dan Hicks, give a window into the mind of a champion athlete.

Champions are not trying to look like or be like anything or anyone, but themselves.

This means, that every time Bodie steps into a starting gate he has the absolute freedom to ski exactly the way he wants and the way he feels is best. The ability to be yourself and to act without hesitation or question is very powerful.

The moment an athlete leaves this mindset and try's to create a persona the distractions begin and the winning stops.

Shiffrin on pressure

"I truly believe that pressure is what you make it," Shiffrin said after coming from behind to win the slalom. "And if you work hard enough and you prepare well enough, no matter how much pressure you feel, you can still perform."
Quote taken from ESPN W. Feb 21, 2015. Mikaela Shiffrin talking about her gold medal in the World Championships in Beaver Creek Colorado.

The simplest approach to high level performance and in this case winning is to prepare better than any of your competitors. Through my research of champion athletes, a differentiating factor between those who win regularly and those who win on occasion or not at all, was their level of preparation.

There is a nuance here because "sweating" and time on task is not enough to qualify as being prepared better than the competition. The champion finishes a training session as tired mentally as physically. The champion finishes every training session having learned and/or perfected a desired skill. Each practice session has a distinct purpose.

It is this daily attention to detail which gives a champion the ability to stand at the top of the race course and be in control. For the well prepared athlete, it is just another race.

For a champion, every race is the same

"I try to win as many races as I can. Every time I'm in the starting gate I'm trying to win, whether it's 60, 61, 62 or whatever it is, I just try to ski my best. So it was more frustrating just talking about this record in the media. But for me mentally it was the same as any other race. Now I'm happy we can stop talking about it."
Lindsey Vonn, as quoted on the FIS-Ski.com website, January 18th, 2015

As Lindsey Vonn talked about win number 62, what stood out in this quote was her line: "But for me mentally it was the same as any other race."

Champions do not differentiate between races. In every race, they are competing with the same purpose, which is to win. This consistency of approach is a critical component of their mental strength. It helps to reduce or eliminate pressure, as it makes every race the same.

Give the water a try!

Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA's all time greats is experiencing what most athletes go through at the twilight of their careers, injury and physical breakdown fighting against the desire and ability to still compete at the highest level.

As things go, the aging body always wins this battle. Of the many questions one could ask, the questions - Could this have been delayed? If so, how? - seem appropriate.

Many years ago, I was giving a well known NBA player a series of pool workouts. The countless hours spent running and jumping had made his knees sore and like Bryant, he was doing everything possible to stay on the court. During one of our pool sessions, he exclaimed: "I wish that I had been doing these kinds of workouts earlier in my career. If I did, my knees would still be working."

While I have no idea what any professional basketball team is doing for their physical conditioning, I would bet that water training is not a regular part of their off season or in season program.

Whether you are a high school athlete, a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, the pool should play a major role in your conditioning and sports preparation routine. It will take a highly tuned body to the next level and it will reduce the inevitable wear and tear to your joints. It may even prolong your career.

I hope that Kobe Bryant has discovered the power of water. With a properly developed pool program, he will be able to stay in shape with the least amount of stress on his aging body and joints. Most importantly, he may just get another productive year or two added on to his already illustrious career.

Full steam or nothing

"If I don't have a sense everything is basically full steam, I'm not going to run,"
Bode Miller, US Ski Team January 2nd, 2015 AP article published on ESPN.

These are the words of a champion. Individuals who are the very best will not compete unless they believe they are capable of winning. "Full steam" for Bode means being able to compete at the level which makes winning possible.

This is a strong message for any junior skier or any other athlete who thinks that competing through injury is the way to winning gold medals. While champions may certainly compete with aches and pains, they will not enter the starting gate unless they know they can go 100%, which at Bode's level means competing to win.

The take home message for any injured junior skier or any other athlete, unless you can get into the starting gate knowing that you can give 100%, you are not yet ready for competition. You will not get your desired result and more importantly you run the added risk of further injury.

Senator Graham - Not the right approach

Senator Lindsey Graham's suggestion that we consider an Olympic boycott because of the Edward Snowden affair is wrong. Using athletes and sport to make a point on the stage of world politics is not the right approach.

Apparently, Graham is not a student of history or has forgotten that the 1980 Olympic boycott did not go so well. Going back a few more years, Senator Graham seems to have also forgotten that Republican President Richard Nixon used the sport of ping pong to thaw relations with China. Further, he even uses the 1936 Olympics as an example. Perhaps Lindsey Graham has never heard of Jesse Owens?

To educate Senator Lindsey Graham, Jesse Owen's was an American athlete who won 4 gold medals and was the most successful athlete at those 1936 games. Further, Jesse Owens was an African American athlete. Hitler's disgusting attempt at showcasing the strength of his aryan race was turned upside down at those games. In fact, one might argue that if the world had put Hitler in his place as did Jesse Owens during those Olympics perhaps the most horrific period in the 20th century history might never have occurred.

Using sport as a tool to separate and divide is antithetical to the entire concept of sport. Sport always has and always will be about bringing opponents together in a fair competition. It allows adversaries to meet on a level playing field and play a game. A game that in most instances builds friendships between the opponents off of the playing field. Friendships bring people together which is generally considered something positive.

Senator Graham should stick with politics and leave sport and Olympic competition to the athletes.

Sergio and Tiger

Sergio Garcia is an extremely talented golfer with a colorful personality, but perhaps he should stop talking.

While outspokenness may be part of his personality, it is distracting him from playing his best golf. This is not to say that he should stop being himself, but it is time to let his golf do the talking.

His back and forth with Tiger Woods has gone well past the limits of social decorum or acceptable behavior. The fact is that Garcia missed the shot on the par 5 second hole while playing with Tiger at the 2013 Players Championship. It was not Tiger who missed the shot and it certainly was not Tiger's fault. Garcia allowed himself to be distracted. I would suggest to Sergio that he go out and practice playing golf with a designated noise maker in the background.

Champions are in control of their actions and must be ready for any possible distraction that can occur within their sporting environment. A golfer hoping to win and especially wanting to become a champion (one who wins regularly in all events on the Tour) must be able to perform under less than ideal circumstances. In golf, noise during during the back swing is possibly the most challenging to overcome and most obvious to occur. Clearly Sergio needs more practice for this and other distractions. Not only does he need to learn how to perform under any condition, he needs to learn how to move on from mistakes.

It is time for Sergio to stop talking and start playing golf.

Tiger Woods - Uncomfortable for most

In a recent critique of Tiger Woods, Rick Reilly of ESPN takes aim at the Nike ad with the caption: "Winning Takes Care of Everything." For a champion like Tiger Woods, winning is the reason to compete.

It is what drives every aspect of his life. Great competition and beautiful surroundings add to the excitement and challenge of a match coming down to the final holes, but it is ultimately the battle within the body and mind of a champion which matters most.

For an athlete/competitor like Tiger Woods to regain control over his body and mind and thus his ability to win in any condition or environment is the ultimate state. However, reaching this level is extremely rare as the impediments are so great. From injury to distraction, physical to mental, there are countless ways to miss the final putt.

In his column, Rick Reilly criticizes Tiger from a perspective that has nothing to do with winning. He brings up Tiger's affairs and calls them the worst sex scandal in pro sports history. To begin, Reilly's critique could have said the "worst 'known' sex scandal....". Whatever the case this line of attack has nothing to do with golf and everything to do with Reilly's perception of how Tiger should live his life.

Next he talks about Wood's temper and apparently "filthy mouth". Again, these are all personal critiques and opinion. What comes out of Tiger Wood's mouth at any given moment during a competition, pleasant or unpleasant is part of the environment. If Rick Reilly does not like this aspect of Tiger Woods then he should wear ear plugs.

To become the very best and perhaps the best ever in a particular sport, requires an approach that may or may not be comfortable for most other people. The path to the very top is singular and one sided, yet while much support is required it is still a personal battle. Some people call this selfishness or narcissism. Others would call it an absolute focus on a specific goal and doing everything possible to reach the goal.

Anyone who is in this rare world is still human and capable of making mistakes. Unfortunately, for the person at the very top it also means that any personal error or transgression will become public. It means that every action will be judged and analyzed by the many fans and bloggers who have their opinions and own set of facts.

Tiger Woods had his past, but now this is the present. He is back at number 1 in the golfing world and hopefully will thrill us with more victories and great competitions. As for the negative commentary by Rick Reilley and others, I would argue that Tiger never asked to be worshiped. Tiger Woods did not ask everyone to assume he was a perfect human being. As champions and truly successful people believe, the past is past. Learn from your mistakes and move forward. Do not dwell on the past.

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy walked off the course during the 2013 Honda classic. Apparently, he was frustrated and suffering from tooth pain. For an athlete of his caliber, the decision to stop for pain that, in most cases is a very uncomfortable irritant is questionable.

Performing consistently at the highest level of sport is extremely difficult and it often requires competing when not feeling 100%.

McIlroy is a very talented golfer who has 10 professional wins including 2 majors and a list of other achievements. He is currently ranked number 1 in the golfing world. A ranking that adds even more pressure to an already highly competitive environment. Rory McIlroy is now learning what it takes to be a champion. It is not easy to be number one.

If McIlroy is to reach the heights of a Tiger Woods he must quickly put this event in the past. It was clearly a poor decision with the real answer found in the opposite scenario. What if he were playing a round filled with birdies and an eagle or two? The answer is virtually certain that he would not have noticed any tooth pain. More to the point, playing through tooth pain does not significantly increase the risk of sustaining a serious muscular-skeletal injury.

Whatever the case, let's hope that McIlroy learned from this experience and that we will continue seeing him competing against Tiger Woods and others for the top spot in golf. Rory is a fun golfer to watch and he certainly should not be judged negatively or harshly for his decision to leave the tournament.

Armstrong admits guilt

Lance Armstrong, the winningest cyclist from the era of cycling where everyone involved in the sport seemed to be doping has admitted guilt. Now what?

I was one of those hopeful to the end holdouts that he was riding clean. Yet, his admission did not come as a surprise. There was simply too much evidence to suggest that he broke the rules along with the rest of the team and apparently most of the elite cycling world.

After listening to the Oprah interviews, I was struck, but not surprised by the depth of his competitive nature. Consider that he had the ability to hold an entire organization together. An organization that supported the purchase and distribution of illegal performance enhancing drugs and also aggressively kept the use of these substances essentially private - All of this and still doing the physical and technical preparation necessary to win the Tour de France.

It cannot be forgotten that performance enhancing drugs alone do not put an elite cyclist on top of the podium. Lance Armstrong knows how to win. He is clearly an individual who leaves nothing to chance. Everything that he does and says is tightly controlled. His answers to Oprah were precise. No words were wasted. This is how champions operate.

Armstrong operates at a competitive level that is unfathomable to the average observer. Many of the critiques that I read from the Oprah Winfrey interviews attacked the competitor. If Armstrong had been anything other than what we saw on the Oprah Winfrey show, this would never have happened. Lance Armstrong, the 7 time Tour de France winner would not have existed - performance enhancing drugs or no performance enhancing drugs.

For his role, Armstrong deserves his fate as do his former teammates. They all broke the rules and should be penalized. Because Lance Armstrong held out to the very end, he is still no better and no worse than the guys who have been coming clean over the past decade. The cycling organizations should also do some soul searching along with some objective analysis as they somehow missed this enormous doping scandal. More to the point, it would seem that the cycling organizations did not have the trust of the riders who might have wanted to report the problem.

Sadly, if the entire top tier of the tour, including Armstrong had ridden clean I bet that Armstrong would still have been a great cycling champion.

Mikaela Schiffrin

"It's not going to change anything for me. There will be more interest from the sponsors maybe and media, but I'm still going to be doing the same thing."
US Ski Team member Mikaela Schiffrin talking about her record setting second World Cup slalom victory.

With her victory in Zagreb, Croatia, Schiffrin became the youngest US Ski Team athlete to win twice in a single season. She also became the youngest woman to win two slalom races on the World Cup circuit since 1977.

Champions maintain their focus, even with the excitement that surrounds their success. At the young age of 17, Schiffrin's comment on her victories suggests an understanding of this critical component to winning. If Mikaela Schiffrin can mange to hold off the increasing distractions that come with winning, especially record setting victories, the door will remain wide open for her future.

Ted Ligety: Equipment and Winning

Prior to the start of the 2012/13 World Cup, US skiing superstar Ted Ligety was not happy with the rule changes regarding GS skis.

In fact, he wrote a long opinion on this issue and other problems he had with FIS policy. (the FIS is the ruling organization for World Cup ski racing) Go here for a full read.

So far this season Ted has dominated the World Cup GS races. During the Summer months he obviously put his questions aside and did everything possible to prepare using the new ski design. This is a testament to his immense skill and ability to only focus on what he can control. He cannot control the FIS, but he can control his preparation.

While Ted may still have issues with the FIS and the new ski design, his performance this year tells a different story. His winning margins are some of the widest in 30 years. Should this continue he is on his way to another World Cup GS title and affirming his place amongst the greatest all-time giant slalom skiers.

The messages for all young ski racers are clear. Equipment is important, but what matters most is your preparation and your ability to adapt. Ted Ligety is proof that with proper training, winning is possible regardless of the ski shape.

Armstrong - Still in the news

Lance Armstrong is once again in the news. This time Tufts University, in Massachusetts, rescinded an honorary degree. At some point, I hope that this insanity comes to an end. The attacks on Lance Armstrong by sponsors, institutions, organizations and individuals have gone too far.

Maybe we should look a little deeper into the cycling world during the Armstrong years. Given that most podium finishers during the days of Armstrong were caught doping, why can't we accept that for better or worse that during those years doping was the norm? This means that Armstrong either doped or did not dope. If he did dope, there was an enormous conspiracy that went further and deeper than Armstrong or his team.

It is impossible to have so many accusers and participants for doping not to have been widespread and known to everyone. It must have been pervasive at every level and potentially even known to the organizers. As the accusations go, Armstrong and his teammates were the best.

Breaking the rules of a competition is wrong, but singling out the one at the very top and giving the rest a break because they came clean and apologized is also wrong. What if when Armstrong joined the tour, he saw the writing on the wall? What if he saw the doping and the success that came by combining doping, extreme effort and a burning desire to win? What if at that point he had two decisions - fight the ingrained culture and be ostracized and never have the chance to compete or make the decision to do everything better than anyone else?

Again, I am not condoning breaking the rules. I also feel let down by the apparent culture of doping that enabled those athletes to perform super human feats of strength. However, we must remember that champions do not compete for anyone else, but themselves and victory. Oddly, with Lance Armstrong he had something more than himself. He had a charity and a cause that made his victories and success even more important.

How many people reading this blog have ever in their lives felt so driven by a cause that they would do anything and everything to win?

Back to the sponsors, organizations, institutions and individuals who profited massively by their association with Lance Armstrong. If you believe so strongly in your decisions to let Armstrong go, then go all the way! Estimate how many millions your association with Armstrong brought in to your businesses or institutions and divest yourselves of those profits. Do the right thing! Do it 100% or not at all!

Courageous admissions? - Another chapter for Lance Armstrong

I am tired of reading about Lance Armstrong and the allegations by his former teammates. In another unrelated case, I read about US Speed Skater, Simon Cho and his recent admission of tampering with another skater's blades. What is wrong with our society and what appears to be a perpetual need to break the rules?

In the case of Armstrong, I have always been a supporter, but am now getting beyond caring of whether or not the allegations are true. In a sport that was known for doping, one could simply say that the competition was fair and let it go. With all of the other riders in that era being caught or admitting guilt many years later it seems that amongst all the top competitors the competition was fair. Then, if Armstrong really did dope as accused, he still won. Amongst a field of dopers he was the best and ended up on top 7 times. If he did not dope during those years then his prowess is only magnified.

What is clear, cycling has a big problem and I am going to guess that unfortunately most sports have problems. Back in the late 70's and early 80's in my physical education classes, we would talk about steroids and performance enhancing drugs. We would attempt to differentiate between vitamins and special diets and any other "legal" means to enhance performance and steroids being used to enhance performance. What was the line between legal performance enhancement and illegal performance enhancement?

For example, suppose an athlete discovers a special fruit deep from the jungles in Brazil. Then after eating this berry he gets super human powers and a massive increase in his bloods oxygen carrying capacity? Is he a cheater and a doper? Is he breaking the rules because he is using a substance that is not out in the open and on the tables for all to use? Or is he a champion through chemistry?

Not following the rules of sport is wrong and it nullifies the competition. In a sport like cycling, they all seemed to dope, so at this point who cares? Why should a group of 26 that included 11 former teammates, admitted cheaters and others be believed any more than Armstrong? What is their goal?

What if a scientist testified that the damage done to Armstrong's body, just after his cancer treatment was so great that if he did take EPO, he would only just get back to the level of an athlete who never had to fight cancer?

I wish all of these guys would go away. I see no strength our courage in admitting guilt for participating in an alleged major coverup so many years later. These guys have nothing to lose and everything to gain through their admissions. If anyone at this stage has something to lose it is Armstrong. Where were these courageous men when their admissions would have really counted?

What is more beneficial? Cleaning up the sport of cycling or inspiring people to cure and survive cancer? I see no benefit to sport or the world situation by bringing these allegations public so many years later. I would have rather let this gang of 26 and Lance Armstrong live in private with how they pursued their lives and dreams as athletes and citizens, allowing the fans to still have their visions and dreams. I see no moral or ethical benefit to society by their admissions and accusations.

Thoughts on Armstrong and USADA

I woke this morning to the news that Lance Armstrong is no longer fighting the forces accusing him of doping while winning on the tour. As a staunch supporter of Armstrong, this stance has me feeling deflated. Armstrong's competitive nature, skill and work ethic cannot be questioned, nor can his commitment to the sport. While, I certainly believe that every battle must end, I find this entire episode troubling.

I have written about this issue in the past and continue to remain shocked at its staying power. Given that these accusations occurred so many years ago and during a time when many on the tour were accused and found guilty of doping, one could almost say that if Armstrong was doping, what did it matter with respect to the guys at the very top who were capable of winning? The playing field was balanced and doping alone would not help the racer who was not strong enough to contend for a title. However, even if true, cheating is still not justified.

With respect to this entire investigation, there are too many questions that remain unanswered. Is it an investigation that has taken a great champion to his knees or one that has uncovered a very methodical and deliberate cheating scheme amongst most of the field at the highest levels of a sport?

Why did USADA pursue accusations of cheating so many years after the fact? Was the continued pursuit of these accusations, really done for the "good of the sport"? What were the motives of Armstrong's accusers, especially those already found guilty, beyond doubt of cheating? Was Lance Armstrong treated fairly or was this a witch hunt by a biased sport's governing body, jealous competitors and admitted cheaters?

Further, I find it shocking to read that many involved in the accusations are now saying that Armstrong's decision to stop fighting is an admission of guilt. As far as I know, in this country one is innocent until proven guilty. What happened to those standards? Is the USADA's arbitration process fair and balanced? I would suggest that USADA's quick assumption of guilt, without a trial shows their bias and that perhaps they are not capable of conducting a fair arbitration process.

Further, as US District Judge Sam Sparks notes here and in the 3 paragraphs below (August 20th, 2010, Bicycling) there were "troubling aspects" of the case, "not least of which is USADA's apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with UCI's equally evident desire not to proceed against him."

"Unfortunately, the appearance of conflict on the part of both organizations creates doubt the charges against Armstrong would receive fair consideration in either forum," Sparks said, but added that made it more important for the matter to be resolved by the parties involved - also including the US cycling federation."

"As mystifying as USADA's election to proceed at this date and in this manner may be, it is equally perplexing that these three national and international bodies are apparently unable to work together to accomplish their shared goal - the regulation and promotion of cycling," Sparks wrote.

"However, if these bodies wish to damage the image of their sport through bitter infighting, they will have to do so without the involvement of the United States courts."

Given all that has happened, the career of Lance Armstrong, no matter who is telling the truth will, because of this event forever be clouded. For this, the USADA and its win at any cost mentality should always be questioned. USADA helped to deflate the image of Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong has done more for the common good of humanity than the USADA and all of his accusers combined.

Lance Armstrong and his foundation and the hope he gives to people fighting cancer far surpasses any benefit USADA just won for the sport of cycling. Who cares about the value of sporting competitions from so far in the past when the career of the individual in question has given so much hope to so many people in truly desperate circumstances. USADA should be in the business of touting what Lance Armstrong has done with his notoriety and fame and urging other great athletes to do the same.

As someone who at one time blindly trusted and believed in organizations and groups that were designed to protect us and fairly enforce rules, I am without question a skeptic. Everyone has something personal to gain. USADA and the words of former teammates turned accusers versus the words of Armstrong and his supporters, at this point they are all just talking. Great Champions know how to let things go, perhaps USADA and the accusers of Armstrong should learn from Lance and do the same.

Cheating and sport

South African gold medalist, Cameron van der Burgh admitted to cheating in the breaststroke competition. He took extra kicks after the turn. In his words: "It's not obviously - shall we say - the moral thing to do, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it." USA Today.

The short answer is to thank this swimmer for what is described to be an unremorseful and even brazen admission to calculated cheating. On the biggest stage in his sport, he has brought into the open an important philosophical and practical issue. Not only do his words and actions remind us of a spoiled child sticking his tongue out at his parents looking for attention and daring them for action, he is telling the sports world that there is a problem - A problem that needs to be addressed.

The beauty of competition and ultimately winning is to be the best while performing within the rules. To blatantly break the rules means that a competition, as it is designated does not exist. In a sense, this individual is the gold medalist of a non-event. Cheating voids the competition. His award is then meaningless.

Sport and competition at the highest level and especially for a select few is only about winning. However, this does not mean victory through calculated rule violations. How the game is played is part of the entire process. Unfortunately, it is sometimes talented, and obviously hard working individuals like this who hurt sport. Ironically, given the immense skill required to make an Olympic finals, I wonder if this individual could have won playing by the rules?

On the other hand, if everyone with a chance of winning was doing the same maneuver could van der Burgh legitimately be called the winner? If what he did is common place amongst all of the top swimmers, then on that particular day he was the best of all the rule breakers. As you can see, the slippery slope starts to get steeper and steeper. Perhaps, the international swimming organization needs to change its rules or install underwater cameras for all major competitions?

In the end Cameron van der Burgh will have to look in the mirror everyday and know that he won Olympic gold not by simply being the best on that given day, but by being the best with some extra help. His years of hard and dedicated effort concluded with victory by breaking the rules.

Champions and retirement

Michael Phelps has been questioned numerous times over the past few days regarding his stated retirement. His responses have been clear and concise, this was his last Olympics.

He will finish as the most decorated Olympian to date, a record that most certainly will stand for many years. This is what champions do, except for uncontrolled circumstances they finish on their terms.

If, on the other hand, Phelps were to continue swimming what would be his goal? In his interview with Bob Costas, he stated that he has reached all of his career swimming goals. He has also become the Michael Jordan of the swimming world. If Michael Phelps were to seriously consider a 4th Olympics, it would have to be for something greater than just the love of competition. For Phelps, the only result that matters is gold.

Champions at the level of Phelps love competing and winning. Competition for the sake of competing is not worth the time and effort. The idea of competition for the sake of competing is an anachronism from an old Olympic Ideal that never really made sense. However, if Phelps were to compete again in 4 years every aspiring Olympian will have to double their efforts if they hope to win.



The Champion's Way

The Champion's Way is a must read for parents, coaches, young athletes and for anyone interested in how champion athletes win over and over again

Available on Amazon