Junior Athletes. What does it take?
What does it take to become a successful athlete? Recently I was asked to speak on a panel at Bond University about the five factors that influenced my development as a junior athlete. This started me reflecting on my childhood and my sporting progression from a late starter ‘have a go’ nipper to achieving my dream of winning the World Ironwoman title. So after chatting with my family, junior coaches and fellow nippers from Ocean Grove surf club, I came up with the top five factors I believe kept me in the sport I love and led me to pursue success.
1. Having fun
It’s so much easier to do something if you enjoy it. I fell in love with Surf Life Saving about 15 years ago and still absolutely love what I do. I used to beg dad to drive me half an hour to Ocean Grove beach so that I could go board training with my friends. Us kids used to have a ball chatting, catching waves, shivering, staying in the showers for way too long and getting through the tough river board sessions MG (coach) used to set. I especially liked going to carnivals, weekends away and training camps. Not much has changed since then. I still love what I do. Training at the beach every afternoon, travelling the world to race and everything in between. Fun and enjoyment was and always will be my number one.
2. Family support
I didn’t realise until I moved out of home at age 18 how much mum and dad did for me and my sister. They used to drive me to swimming in the morning, training in the afternoon, make me dinner, pack my lunch and cheer for me at every sporting event they could attend. They were encouraging, supportive and took an interest in any activity I chose at the time. They allowed my sister and I to make our own choices about which sport we pursued, even if that included five different sports all at once. This helped my self-motivation, it was always my choice to train. These values are still ingrained in me today.
3. Not specifying too early and keeping a balance
This point is a little controversial. Every elite athlete follows a different path to success. Personally I attribute my love of the sport and longevity to being involved in a wide range of sports, music and other activities. Up until I was 18 years old I was playing five different sports and it was only when I finished school that I decided to move to the Gold Coast to focus on my dream of making the professional Ironwoman Series. Most of my fellow competitors who were winning age group gold medals and focusing so hard at a young age have dropped out of the sport. Maybe if I had have committed solely to Surf Life Saving earlier on I would have had greater junior success, but perhaps then I would not still be loving the sport and competing today.
4. A good coach and friends
To develop as a junior athlete you need to train hard, learn skills and gradually progress. This can’t be done alone. When I was growing up my coaches were very influential in helping me become the athlete and person I am today. They got me hooked on Surf Lifesaving, especially Mark Graham (MG), he just cared so much and always knew the right thing to say even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I demonstrated ‘potential’ in a few sports but preferred to go to surf training because I made some awesome friends there. We used to push each other hard and then laugh about it later. Some of my best friends are still from Ocean Grove surf club days.
5. Interval drive
A young athlete can have it all; supportive parents, a great program, friends and fun, but unless they are dedicated to improving, learning and being better every day then that athlete will not reach their potential. I remember some mornings I would wake up so tired for swimming training. I would start getting ready and mum would come in and suggest I go back to bed because I to rest. I was so keen and was willing to push really hard when I was young. I have always been highly self-motivated. I don’t know whether this was taught or was within me but it has certainly helped me develop into the athlete I am today.