It has been 10 years since I got my first running leg! I have enjoyed every part of my career and learned so much through the experience. But here are some lessons I could have stood to learn earlier:
# 1) Consider the possibility that you may dedicate the next decade of your life, missing several important social occasions, forgoing other career opportunities, enduring endless grueling workouts, only to wake up the morning of your Olympic final and have your dream shattered by food poisoning. Would those 10 years pursuing your athletic dream still have been worth it? If the answer is no, then pick a different career. If it is yes, remember in both the good times and the bad that you chose this.
#2.) One loss doesn’t make you a loser, and one win doesn’t make you a winner. Always keep your perspective and aim for consistency.
#3.) Be intentional about maintaining friendships inside and outside your sport. Sport alone cannot fulfil you. No matter how talented you are, no matter how many wins, you can never escape the basic human requirement of friendship. Winning, but having no one to celebrate with will hurt more than losing.
#4.) Make up a list now of all the things you will do when you get injured: new skills you would like to learn, classes you would like to take, internships that interests you. Notice I said when you get injured, not if. You are not special; it happens to everyone. It’s far better to use your time productively instead of moping.
#5.) Take ownership of yourself and your career. Do not automatically deflect important decisions to experts. Be respectful, be grateful, and acknowledge the wisdom and counsel of others. But remember that you are also an expert when it comes to yourself.
#6.) I cringe when I think of the number of receptions I have been to filled with very important people working for very successful companies, and all I did was stand in a corner talking to other athletes. The most valuable thing you can amass in your athletic career are contacts, not prize money and sponsorship (unless you are going to be the next Usain Bolt, then you can ignore this one). Prize money and sponsors disappear when you retire as an athlete. Your contact network is what will help you to start a successful round 2.
#7.) Live your personal life and your sporting life according to your own set of values - do not buy into cliche sport quotes without critically assessing them. This includes reciting them in interviews and allowing them residence in your subconscious. For example, watch this video of Derek Redmond's 400m semi final at the 1992 Olympics
Then see if you still agree with Vince Lombardi when he says “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing.”