Everyone in this world is scared of something.
As athletes, especially combat sports athletes, we try and convince everyone (and ourselves) that we fear nothing, warrior spirit!
But reality is, we are not robots, we all have imperfections, weaknesses, insecurities and fears.
An aspect of this I have noticed more and more as I move into the veteran stage of my Judo career is not a fear of an opponent, not a fear of injury, not a fear of embarrassment but a fear of winning.
Being the ‘winner’ is apparently what most athletes train every day to achieve. However there are so many things I see people doing that are in fact sabotaging that pursuit. I don’t mean athletes who have always had these behaviours, I mean athletes who previously did not allow anything to get in the way of their preparation. They are close to their goal (however high that may be) and begin to start exhibiting some changes that are not conducive to their final goal achievement.
This can also happen when an athlete has done everything required to ‘deserve’ a result but it did not happen for whatever reason. Next time in competition they often have a different approach. There are often hundreds of athletes (look at IJF Olympic Qualifying for reference) who deserve a certain result, but often only a small number can get it (they only give out 1 gold medal in comp no matter how many good guys in a draw).
Some examples that spring to mind to this effect include:
- You may see someone who is winning a fight all of a sudden change strategy, freeze up or put themselves in to bad situations that result in them losing a fight they had under control.
- You may see someone take chances and try and win with something fancy and have everyone in awe of them rather than just notch up the win in workmanlike manner.
- You may see someone start buying in to referee calls and letting that take over their thought processes rather than their opponent.
Many people show a fear of winning before even stepping in to competition.
- You may see someone ‘let’ things get in the way of them carrying out their normal training program, eg work, study all of a sudden not able to be done before/after training.
- You may see someone letting injuries that would normally be ignored or pushed through stop them from doing the work they need to in preparation for competition.
- You may see someone mismanage their weight cut before a competition.
- You may see someone spending a lot of training time complaining about small off-mat issues during training, eg team selections, draws, coaches, competition locations, etc.
Now, I am not in a position where I will lie to you and say I have no fears. I have many.
However, a fear of winning is not one of them.
My biggest fear is in fact, losing.
This isn’t for any egotistical reason. I don’t fear people making fun of my result. I don’t fear someone hurting me. I don’t fear some guy I don’t like getting the gold medal. I don’t fear haters saying ‘I told you so’.
I fear letting myself down. I know exactly how hard I work every minute of every hour I spend on the mat, in the gym, on the track, etc. I also know that each second I spend destroying myself in training is for one reason.
Yes it is a selfish pursuit. I spend plenty of time outside of training giving back to people, my sport, etc. But when I am training, it is my time.
Now I can think of hundreds of things I’d rather be doing instead of destroying myself under a 185 kg deadlift, doing hill sprints until my calves cramp and I taste vomit in my mouth and getting pummelled over and over by my training partners in endless randori rounds.
So, it is a fear that all of this unnecessary torture I put myself through is in vain that fuels me. Taking that victory I feel I deserve is the easiest thing in the world for me. Charging for that finish line is what I owe to myself.
Once you are at the top of the tree, it is clear that your opponents will be gunning for you. That is reality. It is in fact a very vulnerable position. You have (whether realistic or manifested in your own head) climbed to the top of the tree, there is nowhere to hide, no one to blame for any side issues, it is you standing up for yourself.
My intention by putting these thoughts in to words is to see some of the many talented, hard working athletes I see every day putting in 90% of the work, take the bull by the horns and charge for that end goal. You may still lose as there can only be one winner.
However, by proving to yourself that you are not scared of winning, and more importantly, doing what it takes to win, you will find long term success as you will have given yourself the mental edge that most athletes struggle to ever get.
Yours in Judo,
Ivo Dos Santos
5 Time Oceania Champion
4 Time National Champion