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Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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4 Making it early in sport

In Session 3 you saw a vivid example of the hunger, drive and mindset needed to work towards mastery of rowing. Often in sport, a rising teenager (15–18 years old) bursts onto the adult national or international scene: what can happen to your hunger and mindset beliefs if you ‘make it’ early in sport (i.e. aged under 18)?

Author Rasmus Ankersen explains what his and others’s research has shown.

My definition of a winner is basically ‘a loser who has evaluated themselves’. This relates very well to a study that looked at the golden generation of Swedish tennis players. Back in the 80s and 90s Sweden had 5 of the top 10 best (male) tennis players in the world (e.g. Bjorn Borg et al) and the research showed that almost every one of them were not in the top 5 in the country as youngsters.

It’s interesting because those who start out with a big advantage or talent as youngsters don’t make it; it can be a disadvantage to be too good too early because you kind of feel entitled. Whereas a lot of these young Swedish tennis players had to struggle, they had to think about ‘how can I improve?’ and ‘why is this important to me?’ and ‘am I willing to do what it takes?’ So they all had an evaluation mentality and that is what made them winners.

(Ankersen, 2016)

Consider the following statements.

  • Most children who are very successful in sport in childhood do not go on to later sporting success.
  • Most people who are very successful as adults did not achieve amazing things in childhood.

You may be able to think of exceptions to these statements. However, they are in the minority. One thing is certain though, the appropriate motivation to continue learning is vital.