I recently had a guy at the boat ramp ask me about my tagline, “Never give up!” That encounter made me go back to why that simple, but key, mantra had became so important – first as a world-class decathlete and later as an angler.
The search for a powerful, guiding principle became critical to me right after I began competing in the decathlon. It was different than anything in sports I had done before, since most competitions are based solely on beating other athletes. The paradigm was that I had to let all my past experiences go, focusing instead on putting forth my best mark in each of the 10 events. You competed against a scoring table, so beating someone by a bunch didn’t mean anything, your best mark did. All events received a score that accumulated, and he with the most points at the end of the two-day event won. Sounds easy.
The gist of this whole radical departure from normal sports was that it didn’t matter who won a race, but rather what your best mark was in each event. Every second and inch was fought for in all 10. You never left anything on the table with a less than all-out effort. Novice decathletes had a bad habit of showing off in their good events, thinking that they were killing it by beating someone else badly.
Slowing down at the finish of a race to show how great you are is dumb and a major no-no in a decathlon. It was a typical rookie mistake caused by the showboating we still see too many athletes practice today. Experiencing the agonizing two-day event made me search for ways to survive the crucible.
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“Pain makes cowards of us all” has been around for a long time, but when that pain really does start, either embrace it or shy away! I began to study my sport and I could see that in almost every competition, the real contest began the second day when most athletes had an injury or were just exhausted. The tendency toward mentally giving up was very strong, especially since you knew the worst was yet to come at the end – the dreaded 1,500-meter run.
After two days of intense competition, the metric mile was the ultimate monkey on most decathletes’ backs. The pain was waiting, and it might be necessary to have to run your very best race to try to get the time that would give you enough points to beat the other guy. Did you have the guts to do it?
In this environment of intense mental pressure to surrender was where I learned that it was normal for most decathletes to mentally let down when it got tough the second day. You could count on it. It was a major breakthrough when I realized that it wasn’t how good guys looked early on in the competition because they would usually self-destruct later … opening the door to me, if I just kept going.
To survive in big meets, I carried a piece of paper with that simple but profound statement: “Never give up!” It was my lifeline in a war of attrition. I found that you would almost always end up on top if you just simply kept going. My strategy began to center around staying mentally steady and let the others self-destruct. The bigger the competition and pressure, the more it was true.
It wasn’t skill in most cases that prevailed, but rather who didn’t crumble when the rest did! So those simple but powerful words were what kept me centered on the real battle, the internal, mental one. The human desire to give up is strong and rationalization is a powerful force. Such a simple thing.
Looking to improve your game? Are you deliberately focusing and trying different techniques and areas when things are tough? Going the extra mile can be the real difference when it seems hopeless.
Yeah, I’m pretty competitive, but at the end of the fishing day I’ve continued to find that the real race isn’t with others, it’s really against myself. Master yourself, do your very best, and never, ever, give up!