When you experience extended droughts in performance, how do you respond? Do you back down in training or do you find a way to persist despite the adversity? Persistence is crucial to success and is a common denominator of Olympic champions. The ability to keep pushing forward, to rebound when you fall and to make adjustments to your training/ technique are some characteristics of persistence.
A persistent athlete sees slumps as a sign that something needs to change (attitude, thinking, preparation, technique) not as indication of a lack of ability. It’s easy to give up, but a champion perseveres, re-evaluates performance and forges a new path forward. Persistence is a habit that can be developed and will lead to greater athletic accomplishments.
One of the most persistent Olympic athletes is 41 year-old Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai. Kasai made his World Cup debut in 1989 and has competed in a record 490 events in World Cup competitions over 23 years.
Kasai has sixteen individual World Cup victories and holds the world records for the longest jump for athletes over 35 years old (224 meters) and for jumpers over 40 years old (221.5 meters).
Kasai, a model of persistence, has competed in seven Olympics during his career (a record for a ski jumper). Prior to the Sochi Games, Kasai’s sole Olympic medal (Silver) was earned in the team event in the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
At the Sochi Games, Kasai’s persistence paid off winning the silver medal in the individual large hill and the bronze medal in the team large hill. Kasai is the oldest ski-jumper ever to win an Olympic medal, “All these years I was disappointed by the Olympic Games. Today I just had to do it. I wanted gold but you know it is what it is.”
Kasai’s has persistently forged forward towards his goals despite the many ups and downs throughout his career. “I had moments when I almost gave up and thought nothing was going to work but my character is to fight and never give up and now I have a silver [individual] medal.
There are no secrets I just stick at it.” Kasai has no plans to retire yet, “Jumping is my life. I want to be in Pyeongchang in 2018, I want a gold medal.”
If persistence is a habit, how can it be developed? Here are a few tips:
- You must have a defined purpose. Having a driving force within you will help you persist during the tough times.
- You need clear goals and a plan on how to achieve them.
- You need to objectively evaluate you performance and must be willing to revise your plan when necessary. Failure provides feedback on how to perform differently.
- You must be able to focus on the present and learn from the past without reliving it.
- You must be mentally tough enough to get up every time you get knocked down. Remember to use positive self-talk. Don’t use negative self-labels when you don’t perform as well as you hoped.
You must stop focusing on results. Start focusing on what you can do to perform your best. When you focus on the results, you lose focus on what you are doing now.
You need to stay confident in your abilities. When things get difficult, remember your past successes and focus on the abilities you have.