Athletes who aspire to get to the next level of competition and performance must make greater sacrifices than the rest of us. And such sacrifices call for a new level of mental toughness, a new mindset and a new approach to sacrifice.
Many people think it's difficult for athletes to make sacrifices to achieve an elite level. Others argue that the pursuit of sporting glory is so rewarding that there should be no feeling of sacrifice whatsoever. In other words, if athletes feel the pain of making sacrifices, their desire isn't great enough and their pursuit will be unsustainable and short-lived.
These are short-term views of the journey to becoming an elite athlete. Taking a long-term view is not only more motivational for athletes, it also reduces the difficulty of the issue significantly. (Watch video of NFL RB Steven Jackson discussing his long-term view for reaching the next level.)
The mindset change comes in two parts: a change of timescale and a change of perspective.
Sacrifice is about giving something up. Making a sacrifice in pursuit of a goal involves choosing between what you want to do and what you must do. The nature of the sacrifice depends on the choice you make at the time.
Pursuing an elite level in sports requires not just sacrifice per se, but delayed gratification. If the previous statement is amended to read making a choice between what you want to do today and what you must do today,then the choice is more relevant to your journey, less divisive and more acceptable.
Still, choices will have to be made and many will be difficult, especially for young athletes in the early stages of their careers. However, if you view a decision as postponing one choice in favor of another, you should be able to more readily accept it. (Watch video of former WNBA star Lisa Leslie talk about the sacrifices she made in high school.)
Many things must be delayed to achieve the status of an elite athlete. Keep in mind, though, that the careers of most athletes are relatively short. At an extreme, waiting to get married and have children until age 30 may seem remote to young athletes, but such opportunities will still be available later in life.
In a more immediate sense, delaying a vacation, a birthday party or a night on the town until the off-season is possible for most athletes. In many ways, decompressing after a long season can be beneficial.
The second part of the change in mindset about sacrifice is a change of perspective. More often than not, sacrifice is seen by athletes in terms what they have to give up. Changing their perspective, they can view it in terms of what they will gain. It's not so much about sacrifice as it is about compensation.
Elite athletes get compete in front of thousands of people. And the pros get paid for their performance. They get to do things non-athletes only dream about. It's a natural balance. No one gets to do all the things they want to do when they want to do them. Most of us never compete at the highest level and reap the rewards that entails. It's only fair that elite athletes should not begrudge the rest of us our gratification or expect to share it.
Remember, the key to getting to the next level as an athlete is to adjust your timeframe and your perspective. Doing so will give you the mental toughness you need to make the inevitable sacrifices.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock