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The Making of an Athlete

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

Do you have what it take?

By: Neal Wen


As a Sports Performance Coach I’ve had the opportunity to work with over hundreds of athletes where I was fortunate to see some able to maximize their physical gifts (or lack of) and take it to the highest level while others only peaked in the amateurs. Almost everyday I receive messages and e-mails from young athletes seeking my guidance and coaching. The messages typically reads like this:

“Hi Neal, I’m a basketball player from (such and such) and I’d like to work with you as I really want to take my game to the next level”

Featured athlete Matt Attard, one of the most disciplined and dedicated athlete who persevered through the arduous requirements of becoming an athlete and is able to embark on a career in US college.
Strong discipline and dedication is the key to advance your athletic career.

Over the years I am a strong believer every young man deserves an opportunity to pursue their ambitions and a chance to succeed so I will always respond to the requests of these aspiring athletes and sometimes invite them down to our sessions. During these sessions I will show these young athletes ‘the ropes’, and the habits necessary to take their sport to the next level.

Through over a decade of experience, ~30% of these athletes will be overwhelmed and not-to-be-seen again, ~40% will last between 2-4 weeks and lose patience with the monotonous fundamentals and quit, and ~20% will persevere between 3-6 months before waving the white flag.

So what is the issue? In my opinion:

1. These young athletes thought they signed up to what would be an ‘elite’ training program using ‘professional’ exercises currently in vogue and only become disappointed by the rudimentary tasks that they were asked to perform and perfect; they simply lost patience.

2. They lacked true ‘grit’, as coined by behavioral scientist Angela Duckworth in her book (see link below) grit is defined as a combination of passion and perseverance. While I don’t doubt for a minute that these young men and women are very passionate about their sport however to succeed passion is only a start, you also need perseverance – an unrelenting drive to pursue. So simply, these athletes could no longer withstand the daily grind, setbacks and discipline required to become elite. The commitment was simply too much.

Today my biggest question for every aspiring athletes is “How serious are you really about your craft? Are you prepared to sacrifice?”

I am also a firm believer in the 10,000 rule. In the book The Talent Code (link below) Daniel Coyle suggests it requires 10,000 hours or 10,000 repetitions of planned, deliberate practice before a person can become a master at their selected field of study. Despite later research that questions the necessity and relevance of the 10,000 rule, I remain an advocate based on years of extensive learning about high achievers across a spectrum of disciplines. For me it is a recurring theme that top performers such as Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs were all products of the 10,000 rule when they finally set foot on the world stage.

Bruce Lee was known for his tireless work ethics and gruesome training schedule

Based on the philosophy of the 10,000 rule the key to admissions into elite sports maybe less about the physical training (it is more or less a prerequisite and by-product) but more about building elite habits and developing an unwavering mindset to peak sporting performances. Here are my 3 key habits critical to achieving athletic success for all aspiring athletes:

1. Lifestyle

Serious athletes build their lifestyle around their sport while amateurs build their sport into their lifestyle.

2. Beyond Coachable

Elite athletes are not only open to receiving constructive criticisms from their coaching staff but they actively challenges their coaches to identify their deficiencies and seek for ways to get better.

3. Attention-to-Details

Elite sports are in the details, the person who pay attention to fine details absent to the layman eyes will be the one with the final laugh.

I’d recommend all young, aspiring athletes to give some serious thoughts about their intentions with their sport; is it for leisure or is it for performance? If they decide elite sports is something they’d like to pursue as an occupation, then these 3 habits and mindsets should become the cornerstone for their athletic pursuit.

Recommended Reading

I highly recommend both of these book titles for anyone looking to pursue high performance. The Talent Code is one of the first books I ask all my athletes to read as it provides them an understanding that with deliberate practice, anything is possible.


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