Grit: The One Thing You Need In Sport

Grit: The One Thing You Need To Have a Satisfying Sport Career

I’m coach Rebecca, and I’m here to talk about grit which is the one thing you need in order to have a satisfying, long-lasting, awesome sport career.  I have seen this one thing in the most successful athletes I’ve personally coached or interviewed.  It’s something that is universal in people who go the distance in their sport.  I’ll tell you about that in a moment, but all of this got me thinking…why do they make it to the Olympics?  Why do they make it to their dream school for college?  Why do they make it to that end game that they were shooting for their whole lives?  Well, they didn’t burn out.  That’s one thing that’s really important.

What is Success?

Take a moment and think to yourself – what is success?  Whether you’re a parent of an athlete or a coach, or you’re the athlete yourself, when you think of athlete success, what does that mean?  If I was to look back on my gymnastics career and ask, “Was my sport career a success?”  The answer would be no.  I don’t feel like it was a huge success.  I have a lot of regrets.  So for you, what would make your sport career a success?  Just think about it for a moment.  What would it require of you?  Is there a certain benchmark?  Is there a certain end game or something specific that would make you say, “Yes, would be like, yes, that was a success”?

Definition of success: The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

So you get to decide what is a success is for you.  That’s good news, right?  It’s not like only Olympians are successful and everyone else fails.  That might be your definition, but it might not be the best for self-confidence.  If your aim is to be perfect, then if you’re not perfect, you’re not a success.  If your aim is to reach an outcome and you don’t reach the outcome, you’re not a success.  That’s just something to chew on a little bit that you define success, so if you feel like you’re failing well, consider that.  You are setting up what success means for you.  I’m not saying your new aim is to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, so success!  But I do want to redefine what success means, because the way you redefine it is going to potentially make or break how long you stay in your sport and how much you can get done.
If you only feel successful, valuable, or happy when you are reaching a certain benchmark, it requires a lot of you.  And what I’m going to say is that it actually could end up being a long, hard life if you are only happy when you are reaching a benchmark.

Chasing the Carrot

As a former gymnast, I was always chasing the carrot.  My mindset was, “I’ll be happy when I’m a level four.  I’ll be happy when I can do my back handspring.  I’ll be happy when I beat Camille good on beam.”  She was my nemesis.  It was always her or me.  Then it was, “I will be happy when I go to college, when I get a good job, when I get engaged, when I have kids, when I get a house,” etc.  I’ve always been like, “I just need this one more thing and then I’ll be good.”
If you’re anything like that, if happiness lives outside of you, then it’s possible that you might never feel truly satisfied with your sport.  That’s a problem because science has proven that we all perform better when we’re happy.  We’re better at our jobs, our sports, we’re better at our relationships when we’re happy.  The other day I was in the car with my husband and I was grumpy because something wasn’t going right.  I wasn’t reaching one of my benchmarks – I was not succeeding in that moment.  My husband said something and I jumped all over him.  The next day we were in the car and my husband started talking again, and I realized it doesn’t really matter what’s happening – if I’m not happy, everything feels hard.  Everybody feels wrong.  Everything feels unreachable.

Happiness has to be the thing you have before you can start performing better.

What we’ve all done in this culture and the sport is go, “Well, once I reach my benchmark and feel successful, I’ll be happy.  I will have arrived and it’ll be so great,” but we’re not happy because we’re setting these big benchmarks and not reaching them.  We’re feeling like failures, which makes us worse at performing, which actually sets this negative feedback loop into place where confidence is just constantly being erased because of what we have defined success as.  You cannot wait until you reach your goals to be happy, or you might actually never reach them because of that.

Bottom line, you have to get happy first, which requires changing how you define success for yourself.

You might think that I just let the cat out of the bag on the one thing that you need.  Curve ball!  It’s not happiness.  

The one thing that you need that can make your sport career a success is grit.


There’s a lot of research on grit.  This is the thing all the best athletes have.  Think of it this way – when you get to the top, everybody is equally talented.  Everyone’s equally intelligent, and everyone has equal resources in order to get to the top.  There’s some wiggle room in what I’m saying, but you get the idea.  You’re the best of the best with the best coaching, with the best training time, with the best talent.  There you are at the top… but what sets people apart?
It’s that ability to do a little more, dig a little deeper, stick with it a little longer.  It’s this integrity.  I’ve heard it defined as fitness of character that puts you in line with what you say you want because you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone to get it.  You have this passion for a long-term goal, maybe still an outcome goal, but it’s sort of this big picture thing that allows you to just stay with it.  This is not an end game in itself.  It’s not like, “Well, when I get grit, I’ll be happy,” right? 

Grit is an attitude.  It’s what allows you to work hard and allows you to reach goals.

Grit allows you to struggle and fail and not be “successful”, but you are able to quickly regain your mental control.  You don’t spin out, you don’t go into a big drama.  You’re able to regain your mental control after even unexpected uncontrollable events like a pandemic.  Your season is different, you are stuck home for five months – whatever that unexpected uncontrollable event is, you gain control.  You dust yourself off and you try it again. That’s grit.

Example of Grit

There’s one girl I used to coach who was the embodiment of grit.  She would pick herself up and try again.  Now, this is not the obsessive passion of keep going until your body falls apart and you’re a bloody mess on the floor.  That’s not healthy. That’s not what we’re looking for.  This girl would say, “Can I come in on Wednesday and condition?  What if I do this extra thing?  Hey, what if I work on my imagery on the side?  Maybe I’ll train my mind if I’m maxing out my body.”
She was the person who said, “I’m going to work harder than my competition.  I’m going to get a little more out of my comfort zone than that girl next to me is willing to be,” and that allowed her to feel like everything she was pouring into her training was going to get her what she wanted.
If there’s any doubt, you’re holding back.  You’re hesitating.  You’re just going through the motions.  That creates this sort of background noise of “Do I really want it enough?  Am I really good enough?”  chatter n your mind versus just going, “I’m going to pour everything I have into this.  There’s no question that I’ve done everything I can and I will get what I want.”

9 Ways to Increase Grit

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is improving awareness of your body and how to calm it down.  You strengthen your ability to tune into your body, sit with discomfort, and let feelings and emotions come and go without reacting.  Think of yourself like you are a mountain and your feelings and emotions are the weather – no matter what comes, you’re still a mountain.  There’s lightning, you’re still a mountain.  If it’s hot, you’re a mountain.  There’s wind, you’re a mountain.  You’re able to distance yourself from feeling scared or worried.  Instead, when you have a fear thought, it’s like a little cloud in the sky that you’re watching float by.  Then you have a worry thought, then a confident thought, and a “what’s for dinner” thought, knowing that what’s going on in your body and in your mind are all things that you can handle.  The better you get at being mindful, the better you get at handling things that come your way and the more you can increase your grit.

2. Persistance

I’m going to share with you one of my favorite quotes in the whole world by Margaret Perlis, she’s an author.  She says,

Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.

This is basically the gritty people’s mantra.  Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.  If you can look at life in that way, knowing no matter what struggle you’re up against that feels too hard or too big or insurmountable, or you don’t have what it takes – what if you could look at it with the knowledge that everything will be all right in the end and that this isn’t the end now?  That just allows you to keep at it. That allows you to build up grit.

3. Pursue what interests you

Why would you want to do all this hard work and drudgery if it wasn’t something that really mattered to you?  So check-in.  If you’re having trouble digging deep, going the extra mile, doing everything possible to give yourself a chance at what you say you want in your sport, check-in and ask yourself if this really does interest you, or if you’re just doing it because it’s what you’ve always done. When you pursue what interests you, it’s easier to stick with it and build grit.

4. Have a role model or a teacher who helps you along the way

Anytime you are engaged in something challenging where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel or you feel like you’re like walking through molassees and every step is so hard – you need someone to lift you up.  When things are coming easy, and we all have those moments, you’ll need someone to remind you you’re going in the right direction – just keep walking.

5. Practice doing hard things

This means deliberate practice working on strengthening your weaknesses.  If there’s one thing in your sport, for example, if you’re a swimmer and you’re terrible at kicking, that’s the thing that you’re going to focus on.  You work on your weaknesses, that’s the key.  You can even get a little extra credit right now.  You can write down one thing that you consider to be one of your weaknesses or something that’s hard for you doesn’t come easily – something that you need a little extra work on.  Write that down and set a specific goal around it for this week.  In order to improve, you have to get good at getting out of your comfort zone.  If you’re thinking, “Oh, I hate kicking.  I’m not going to give full effort on this set,” shift that and say, “Okay, kicking is my weakness.  I’m going to dig in hard to it today.”

6. Imagery

Imagery is creating a complex and sophisticated image in your mind of various situations that might happen.  One of the girls in PerformHappy was on the group chat earlier this week talking about how she felt scared to do her big release move on bars.  She was noticing that in her imagery she was feeling scared, but she was doing it successfully.  She thought she was doing her imagery wrong, but I said, “That’s so good!  That is exactly what you want is to have that complex imagery.”  I teach this in one of our challenges that allows you, to encounter exactly what you would encounter in real life.  You might have that heart pound, you might have that “what if”,  or that adrenaline.  When you’re imagining it, and it happens that way and you are successful,  it allows your mind to kind of wrap itself around the thought of, “Oh, this is possible… even if I feel scared, even if I’m not totally sure.”  Doing imagery in a proper way that uses all your senses and your emotions is so powerful.

Imagery Example #2

Here’s one other imagery example I love to use of Alex Honnold.  He was the guy who climbed Half Dome with no ropes.  If you know Yosemite’s Half Dome, it’s insane.  There’s a Netflix documentary on him called Free Solo.  He used to imagine himself in that last 20-foot stretch – if he made a mistake, he literally would die.  If he made any false move, he would die in his imagery.  He felt it, he smelled it, he tasted it, he saw it.  Every single element of it was in there, including how incredibly terrified he would be in that moment.  He knew that he’d be able to respond in the right way because he’d practiced it, and he was not going to be shocked when he got up there.
As you get better and better at doing imagery, you create clearer images, and it allows you to remember what you’re working for.  If you know what you’re working for and you see it in your mind and you know what it will feel like, then you can keep at it.  You can go that extra mile.

7. Take a look at your failures and be willing to accept criticism

This one is hard for me personally.  Why is this one so hard?  I hate criticism and I just want everyone to love me all the time and tell me how great I am.  If you’re there in the comments, you can tell me I’m awesome.  That would make me feel great, but that’s not going to make me great.  What’s going to make me great is listening to the people who think I’m not killing it.  It’s going to be listening to people who have eyes on me and say, “You know what, Rebecca, you could do better here.”
If you’re not gritty, then you want to stay in your comfort zone and focus on what’s good and not really worry about the other stuff.  But if you’re willing to look at your failures and look hard at them, accept criticism, that studying of the past is going to allow you to have a much better future.

8. Have an unshakable belief that you are going to make it happen

This doesn’t have to come from any place of, “Well, the facts show that I should be able to do this. and I’m 12, and if I get to this level…” No.  This goes back to that quote.  So your attitude is I want this and I am going to make it happen.  Sometimes our little gremlins in our minds will say, “No you’re not.  That’s dumb.  You can’t do that!”  You know what Simone Biles has, that internationally elite level athletes have, is they walk in and they’re like, “Yeah, I’m doing this.  This is what’s happening,” and the grit comes in.  You just keep at it.

9. Stick with the winners

Hang out with people who are gritty, who are optimistic, who are going that extra mile.  Sticking with those people makes it a lot easier to find your own grit. 

My Definition of Success

I want you to take my definition of success if you please.  If you don’t want to, that’s fine too.  Here’s what I want for you:
Success is knowing that everything is going to be okay, trusting that everything works out in its own time, and letting go of the outcome, knowing it’s all going to work out.
I know it’s crazy.  You dream big, you allow yourself to say, “I want this. I’m going to get this, and I’m successful now because I know I am going to be okay, and I’m going to trust the process.”  That’s where the success feeling comes from.  Not when you get the skill, but you’re successful because you know to trust the process and are willing to do the work.  Then you just sort of have to let go, which is really hard for a controller-perfectionist like me to be, but I just have to keep on trudging and know it will be okay.
Try that.  I’m going to repeat that quote one more time as I wrap-up.  Margaret Perlis says, “Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”
I hope that you will go forth and maybe your goal for the next 24 hours is just to remember as many times as you can that everything’s going to be okay. Let that be your mantra and see how that feels.  
Grit - The One Thing You Need to Have a Satisfying Sport Career | Coach Rebecca Smith

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