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The Foundational Qualities of High Performing Athletes

BY Siri Lindley

Siri Lindley knows what it takes to achieve the highest levels in sport. A former ITU World Champion, she has also coached other athletes to World titles and Olympic medals. Find out what she believes athletes need in order to reach their full potential.

High performance can be looked upon in a number of ways. I consider it to be a symphony of the mind, body, and spirit coming together. The mind supports the body with proper cues, strategies, and a constant flow of energy feeding the the body. It is relentlessly focused on thoughts that will positively influence the body. Through training, the body has been prepared to be fit, strong, fast, and healthy. The spirit fills you with the passion to achieve the best outcome possible.

When one can orchestrate these three things and find that perfect balance, it allows for optimum performance. This is what we all strive for. This is what leads to those monumental wins, Personal Best performances, and the memories that are never forgotten.

Qualities of a High Performing Athlete

As a coach, my job is to give each athlete the tools to bring these things together, giving them every opportunity to race to the very best of their ability. However, the drive must come from within the athlete. Therefore, part of the process is convincing the athlete that everything they need is within them. They just need to know how to tap into it, how to utilize it properly, and how to thrive on the steady flow once the connection is made.

There are some key things that I look for in an athlete when I am deciding whether or not to coach them.

  1. What drives them and why is triathlon important to them?
  2. What are their goals? I assess where they are now and how far they need to go. My honest declaration of what I believe it will take for them to achieve their goals is key to our process. Even if I have to tell an athlete it will be a 10 year plan that they must commit to, I must say it. I will never tell an athlete they can do something if I don’t believe they can.
  3. What motivates them the most? Are they internally motivated, driven by some unseen force that sees them jumping out of bed in the morning, determined to find more, be more, and make more happen in their lives? Or, are they motivated by fame, fortune, or to be seen as a “pro athlete”?
  4. Are they willing to do whatever it takes to make their dreams come true? Are they willing to move to where I am and work together diligently every single day in an environment conducive to massive progress? Are they willing to make sacrifices that ultimately end up not being sacrifices, but necessary actions that allowed for major change and enabling greater performance?
  5. Can they handle failure? I will push them to the point where they fail often, or I should say, fall short of the ultimate goal on any given day. This will show them where they want to go and how hard they need to work to get there. Can they take constructive criticism? Can they be motivated by falling short, and thus be further inspired by wanting more from themselves?
  6. Are they eager to learn from a variety of sources including me, their training partners, and everyday happenings around them? Any athlete that thinks they know it all will never make it. I have been in the sport for 25 years yet I still feel I can learn so much. High performance for me is something I am constantly striving for. We should never lose our thirst for learning. There is no limit to how far we can go if we stay fueled by the passion to continue to grow every single day.
  7. The last thing, and one of key importance is, how bad do they want it? Does this goal permeate their thoughts all day, every day? Does it drive them constantly and fuel their daily fire? If yes, awesome. Passion is the key fuel that drives us all. If these two things are there, we can work wonders!

When I discuss the psychology of high performance, I am relying on the fact that each athlete striving for their best has all the above qualities. I don’t believe that one can perform at the very highest levels without goals, motivation, drive, mental toughness, laser focus, a willingness to learn and grow, and great passion!

The Person and the Athlete

To get into the mind of an athlete, it is key to know the person first. To me, the person is always far more important than the athlete. No one will be an athlete forever. But the person they are is the one they live with for a lifetime. I want them to be proud of who they are. I want them to like who they are. I want them to believe in themselves as a human being. The athlete comes next.

Finding the perfect training recipe requires knowing them as human beings. This allows you to better motivate them, structure their training, set up their minds to process the work that needs to be done, and process the results afterwards. Once you come up with a system for each athlete, you can then provide the structured training plan that will be the process they follow to get fitter, stronger and faster in all the disciplines.

Coaching is not just the training and how they do it. It is the recovery, management of the feelings surrounding the work being done, managing expectations and being able to keep your “eye on the ball”, and much more. There will be good days and bad days, awesome sessions and torturous ones. Guiding the athlete through the feelings surrounding each of these is key to helping them to form mental techniques and strategies for making every experience one that will make them better.

After many years of this process, the athlete finds their routine, their default mindsets that always put them in a position to get the very most out of themselves regardless of the situation.

Effort and Attitude

In a race there are two things we really have control over- your effort and your attitude. Once an athlete has built up their fitness, strength and acquired speed and all other skills necessary to performing at the highest level, it comes down to the effort they put in and the attitude surrounding it.

Having all the tools will always lead an athlete to performing to best of their ability. As long as they have an attitude of wanting to push, wanting to dig deep, being willing to suffer, and do whatever it takes on race day, they will get the most out of themselves.

In future articles I will go into greater detail as to how to find the perfect balance of mind, body, and spirit for all athletes. For now, just know these are the basic ingredients that to me, signify the potential for high performance.

Siri Lindley was part of the Psychology of High Performance panel discussion at the 2016 Endurance Coaching Summit. The online version of ECS is now available. Learn from coaches and experts on topics like physiology, marketing, planning and more.

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About Siri Lindley

A former world class triathlete, Siri Lindley is now focused on helping other achieve their goals. The ITU World Champion in 2001, an alternate on the 2000 Olympic Team, winner of 13 ITU World Cup races, and more, Lindley knows what it takes to reach your potential. As a coach, she has helped athletes win World titles and Olympic medals. Based in Boulder, Colorado, she runs Team Sirius, offering coaching, training plans, and training camps. Follow her on Twitter at @selts.