‘Science can’t measure hard work, desire, heart’

Goldie Sayers retired from athletics earlier this year after nearly two decades at the sharp end of a sport in which she won an Olympic bronze medal and broke the British javelin record. Here she passes on the wisdom received through experience in ‘What I’ve Learnt From 20 Years of International Sport’

    1. Get a mentor – Find someone who has done everything you want to achieve and ask them for help. This will enable you avoid your own mistakes, and some of theirs, too! You’ll be surprised how many people want to help if you want to learn.
    2. Ask questions – If you don’t understand something ask why. It’s as important to understand why you’re doing something as it is doing it. No single person knows everything, but you can learn something from everyone. However, ‘don’t take advice on embarking on a new adventure from somebody who’s never left home’ (Rumi).
    3. Coach others – It consolidates what you know and confirms both to your subconscious and conscious mind what’s most important to perform well. Communicating complex movements into simple tasks is much harder than coaching elite performers. Coaching those less able than you will not only help them but it will aid your own performance, too.
    4. Trust Your Gut – In certain industries outside of sport, you can proclaim to be the best when you’re not. Sometimes there’s no way of knowing. This is especially true in the medical world. Never blindly trust a surgeon with your career … the medical world is not set up to admit mistakes, so decide who should operate on you (if it comes to that) by asking questions and being advised by other athletes who’ve been through the same thing. If you want to be the best in the world, you should be operated on by the best you can find.
    5. Create Your Own Team – It’s your career and you need the best possible people to guide you. No problem is insurmountable with the right people in your corner.
    6. Train with the opposition – You might learn something, you might not. Either way, you’ll see they’re beatable.
    7. Develop passions/study outside sport – It’s a short career. You’ll not only need to get a job in a few years’ time, but balance in life and sport is crucial. Especially during tough times. Read books and be a student of your sport.
    8. Know your strengths – It’s easy to focus on the skills/attributes you don’t have. Work on your weaknesses, but really develop your strengths, especially coming into competition. If you’re not sure what they are, ask someone you trust.
    9. People are crucial – Facilities are nice but the right people/coaches are most important to your performance. I won an Olympic medal training in a school gym, a squash court and a cricket net. Get the best input you can. If you have to travel, do it. What you need will change as your career progresses, so the people may have to, too.
    10. Celebrate successes – You’ll never achieve the perfect performance and there will always be something you can improve, so celebrate the good ones as one day it will be impossible to perform like that. You never realise how good you are at the time. Believe that anything is possible.
    11. Don’t get comfortable – You’ll have to make some sacrifices/changes to develop. What’s outside your comfort zone soon becomes comfortable.
    12. Film your training – not just your event. One day what you used to think you’d always be able to do will become impossible. It’s nice to reflect on, too.
    13. Manage relationships – Get good at having difficult conversations. Be clear with what you need even if it’s not in your character. Your relationships with the most important people in your life can make or break your performance.
    14. Take the opportunity NOW – Don’t assume you’ll get faster, stronger, fitter as you get older. There are no guarantees you’ll get another chance. Don’t think you’re going to your first big event for experience – it might be your last.
    15. Don’t be one-dimensional – It’s easy to focus on your physical performance. Don’t forget your mental, emotional and physical development, too. These are equally important on game day.
    16. Think of yourself as a business – Don’t be too grateful to be doing what you do. You’ve worked bloody hard to get where you are. Make the most of it while it lasts and don’t be apologetic about how good you are.
    17. Plan for retirement – Your career (especially in sport) will be over in a flash. Having a plan will not only aid your performance but will make the transition easier. Talk to older athletes who’ve been through it and keep some money aside for re-training. It can be enjoyable if you’re prepared, but daunting if you’re not. Don’t stop moving when you retire. You’re used to expressing yourself physically so carrying on some form of training will help you figure out how you’re feeling and help you adjust mentally and physically.
    18. See obstacles as opportunities – Injury is inevitable and can be an opportunity to learn and even work on an area of your sport you previously hadn’t had time to work on. Often you’ll come back better than before. Being positive has been proven to accelerate healing rates.
    19. Don’t go finding problems – Leading into big competitions you’ll get hypersensitive and think niggles are the end of the world. Later in your career, if you can jog, you’ll know you can compete well.
    20. Plan your season mentally and physically – It is easy to look at peaking as a physical thing, but how do you want to feel when you perform mentally. It’s equally, if not more important on game day, so plan it.
    21. Space – You’ll be surprised at how much more space you have emotionally and mentally for friends and family when you retire. You have no idea how focused on your sport you are until you stop. You also have no idea how many amazing things are possible when you have the time and space to enjoy them. But don’t think you’re missing out on too much while being an athlete. There’s plenty of time for everything else.
    22. Compete – Get good at learning how to compete well. Training doesn’t count. The best performers are those who are most consistent. So work on your performance skills regularly and be brutally honest at where you’re failing.
    23. You don’t need perfect conditions to perform at your best, you need intent and passion more.
    24. Sport science can’t measure hard work, desire and heart. These are the most critical factors that will make you better. You may not tick all the boxes in terms of sport science and testing but if you’re great at your event then who cares. You’re not training to be good at tests. If you were to ‘talent ID’ a javelin thrower then you certainly wouldn’t pick me for height, lever length and natural physicality. I did ok. High jumpers are supposed to be tall but Jess Ennis-Hill is 1.65m tall. She jumped 1.95m. Sport is not an exact science and thankfully, it will never be.
    25. Don’t be scared to miss the odd session for something that will help you long-term. You have to be prepared to be adaptable.
    26. Consistency is key.
    27. Stay healthy – You can be in the best shape of your life, but if you’re not on the start line, you can’t win.
    28. Record everything and look for patterns in how you perform and how you felt doing it. Don’t base your competition preparation on your best-ever performance but on consistent factors in your top five.
    29. Your menstrual cycle will affect your performance. It can increase your injury risk, too. Be aware and plan accordingly.
    30. Doing the same thing, in the same way and expecting different results really is bonkers.
    31. If certain exercises, or types of training, that aren’t the norm make you feel confident, do them.
    32. What works for you won’t work for everyone. Don’t judge others’ processes. Everyone is on their own journey and has very different strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your own stuff.
    33. The level of focus you apply to your sport won’t ever be replicated. It’s the only time you will be 100 per cent mentally and physically at one. So, enjoy it.
    34. Trust and enjoy the process. It’s not only easier to get through tough patches but the end product will be better.
    35. Sleep is the cheapest and best supplement you can get. Don’t overcomplicate things when you’re not doing the basics right.
    36. Sport can feel like life or death at times. It’s not. So again, enjoy it whilst it lasts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Goldie Sayers, is a three-time Olympian, World and European Championship finalist and UK Javelin Champion for the past ten years. Goldie’s latest articles

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