Thursday, 7 March 2013

how to win at the 7 easy steps:

Back in the summer of last year, I began this blog as a bit of an exploration of success in high performance sport - what it means, how to achieve it, etc.  The original concept was to explore success - and winning - from both a coaches’ and an athlete’s perspective and hopefully do it in 500 words.  
Well - that didn’t quite work!  
At least the 500 words thing didn’t anyway.  

Apparently, I have no clue how to edit...but I’m working on it.  

In 2013, we have had guest-posts from athletes Lisa Szabon-Smith, Leah VauseSteve Mesler, Kelsey Andries, and Craig Pickering, and this week American bobsledder Elana Meyers.  

I decided to approach this week’s guest-post slightly differently, asking Elana what I believe to be 7 pretty key questions as they relate to sport and success.  

1.  What are you trying to accomplish in sport and why?  

A perfect run.  Perfection is often in the eye of the beholder and it sounds like a weird thing to strive for, but as a pilot in the sport of bobsled, you rarely - if ever - watch a  run of yourself or a competitor and don't find a mistake or somewhere they lost time.  As a pilot, it's something we're all searching for - a run that is free of mistakes, where every curve is driven just right and the speed reflects it - a run where you know there is not a single thing you could have done better to get down the hill faster.  I absolutely love driving my sled - I LOVE IT!  

There are few things in the world I can think of that are better than driving my sled down a hill at 75-90mph.  As a pilot, every day I get to challenge myself to try to figure out how I can get down the hill faster.  It's like a jigsaw puzzle I've been solving for the past three years and will continue to solve until I retire, hoping to get all the pieces right at some point to really see how fast I can take a sled down a hill.  It's frustrating at times, you often just can't seem to find the right piece, but when the pieces fit together it provides a great deal of satisfaction, especially the longer you've been frustrated.  So that's what I strive for - a run without mistakes.  A run where I get down at the bottom where I say to myself- there's absolutely nothing I could have done better.  

And an Olympic gold medal of course :)

2.  What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my Olympic medal, but not for what you would expect.  A year before the Olympics I had a pretty bad falling out with the pilot who I ended up racing with.  She was the second ranked US pilot and I came into the Olympic season as the top ranked brakeman so it looked like we wouldn't have to reconcile our differences.  However, soon after the start of the season, I got injured, tried to come back too soon from the injury, and then spent the whole season trying to hold on.  Needless to say, I lost my rank as the top US brakeman and started sliding with the USA 2 pilot.  The entire season it was clear she didn't want to race with me and really didn't want to go to the Olympics with me, while all I wanted to do was push fast and get healthy.  

When the Olympic team was announced, I was named to her sled, a fact that brought us both to tears - unhappy tears of course - that we'd be sliding together even with everything that happened.  The situation was what it was and I knew I had to accept that - I was going to the Olympics after all.   As uncomfortable as it was we decided to go into the Olympics as a team with a mission - to win a medal.  Regardless of what had happened the past year, we put it aside and really worked to become a team.  It was surely awkward for both of us, but we knew we had a goal and had to work together to achieve it.  After everything I had been through that season - from injury to difficulties with a teammate - it made winning the bronze that much sweeter.  It's not my proudest moment because we won, it's my proudest moment for what we had to overcome to win.

3. What does success look like to you?

In my younger days as an athlete, I used to define success through the ways we all traditionally measure success: in softball it was my batting average or whether or not someone voted me to the All-American team; in bobsled, it was whether or not I set a start record or we won a medal.  As I matured as an athlete, I came to define success in a different way, and unfortunately for observers, it can only be measured by my reaction and delight or disappointment.  

For example, in Sochi, Russia, at the World Cup event there I won a silver medal and finally beat Kaillie Humphries, who had beaten me and everyone else handily all season.  However, the race was not a success to me because of that or because of my finish, it was a success because the day before I almost crashed out of curve 9 and was having so much trouble in curve 10 I had to fight the thought that I might not make it down both runs of the race.  The success was that despite two weeks of struggling in the curve, I nailed it twice in the race.  
So to me, success is about accomplishing goals and exceeding the expectations you place on yourself.  

medallists at the Lake Placid World Cup November 2012

4.  What is the difference between success and winning?

To me, winning is what the world sees.  Winning is the outcome, the part of sport an athlete doesn't have direct control over.  Success is the process - it is how you view yourself as an athlete; not only how you compete, but also how you train.  Success can happen on a daily basis, each day you can be successful in a training session, whereas winning can only happen in competition.  Success can sometimes include winning - you can be successful in reaching your goal of being the best in the world - but just because you win doesn't make you successful.  There are plenty of people who have won races, games, and championships who would not be considered successful.  
It's sometimes hard to separate the two; we are taught to view people who have a lot of money or who win a lot as successful.  Money and winning can be measures of success - if you’re successful at your job then you're often rewarded with money and if you're successful in sports you're often rewarded with championships- but the two are not necessarily one and the same.  Success is more about how you do what you do and the outcome as a result, where winning is just that - winning - defeating another opponent.  Success encompasses setting a goal, working towards a goal, and reaching it.  Whether that's winning a game or driving a curve better, it's still success.

5.  What are the most important factors that determine your success?

The number one factor that determines my success is whether or not I put in the work to be successful.  When it comes time to accomplish my goals - let's say win a race - I want to step to the line knowing that I've put in all the hard work to do so - that I've done everything possible to be successful and to reach my goal.  As cliche as it sounds, all success starts with hard work and there's no exception to good old fashioned hard work.  
Hard work isn't only physical, however.  I learned long ago that in order to be successful you must mentally prepare yourself for success.  My mental approach is another major determinant in my success.  That includes everything from setting proper goals, pushing myself when things get rough, and putting myself in a positive mindset to attack and be successful.  I am the only one who has the ability to unquestionably believe in myself, because I am the only one who can control my actions.  If I don't believe in myself, I can't expect others to believe in me and give me the support I need.  I have high confidence in myself because of all the work I put in - because of all the hours I spend working to get better.  This belief transfers into a positive mental state, which allows me to perform.  Mental fitness is something that I have to continually work at.  Not only do I have to make sure my confidence and mental approach are where they need to be - I also have to remind myself continually that my goal is to be successful - which doesn't mean winning every single race.  It'd be nice to win every time I got into my sled - but my ultimate goal of having a perfect run is a process, and I can still have success through that process regardless of what the races results are.

6.  Who's success do you admire the most?  Why?

One of the people who's success I admire most is one of my brakeman Katie Eberling.  In just two years in the sport of bobsled, she already has 2 World Championship medals, 3 World Cup medals, and has broken start records with me on 3 different tracks.  Although those are accolades that say more about winning than success as I defined it, I wanted to make sure to highlight that she has the resume that society would consider successful.  At any rate, I have had the privilege of living with her the past year and what makes her successful is her devotion to sport - which can be measured in terms of the time spent studying it and training and the effort given at every session.  She came into bobsled a skinny volleyball player - maybe 145lbs - and everyone passed her off as an America's Cup brakeman (the lowest level of bobsled competition).  

However, she came in and worked hard, gained the weight, and pushed her self at every opportunity and became the 2011 US Push Champion, defeating Olympians from the most recent Games!  She is a goal-oriented person who sets goals and continues to go after them, and she does so with the most integrity - just simply working hard to push fast.  She has continued to push fast even when others should have beat her, she perseveres even when the cards are stacked against her.  I admire her success because it's truly an example of someone putting everything on the line in pursuit of their goals, and then reaching those goals even when others say they shouldn't.

Elana, with brake woman Katie Eberling at the 2013 World Championships

7.  What cost are you willing to pay for success?  (and/or winning?)

I'm willing to pay the highest cost I think there is for success: time.  Time is our most valuable asset - we only have so much of it.  How we use our time often shows what we value in our lives.  Whatever that means for the particular goal - whether it's training or reading up on a topic to reach your goal - the time you spend to accomplish something is the greatest price you can pay.  

Think about it - if you spend 8-10 hours a day sleeping and 3-4 hours a day eating, that only leaves you with 11-12 hours.  Now take away another hour for things like showering and other personal care stuff, you've got even less.  That limited amount of time is very valuable and it's the greatest thing I can offer to any attempt at success and/or winning.  I devote time away from my fiancé, my family, and my friends to do what I love - to bobsled for my country.  This is time that I will never be able to get back and I've missed so many life events during this time.  I willingly give my time in the pursuit of success in bobsled and make the most of that time to be successful.

This is Elana’s second appearance on McMillanSpeed.  Last year, at around Olympic Games time, she shared her thoughts on funding in amateur sport at a time when there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the lack of support for National Team Athletes.

Elana is a bronze medalist from the 2012 Olympic Games in Vancouver-Whistler, and has won successive silver medals at the 2011-12 and the 2012-13 World Championships as  pilot.  She goes into the 2013-14 Olympic season as a strong medal favorite.  

Elana also recently got engaged to Nic Taylor, who proposed to her on the medal podium following the recent World Championships iN St Moritz. 


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