As the world anticipates the 2012 London Olympics, all attention will be focused on the athlete or team who epitomizes the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” There is something deeply captivating about exceptional performance in the world of sports. Voltaire (1694-1778) must have spoken of this phenomenon when he articulated, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” It appears that the fascination for extraordinary performance in sport produces an encouraging effect on those who observe and appreciate it.
In my study entitled, “What Makes a Champion: A Narrative Analysis of Filipino Elite Athletes’ Storied Lives” I looked at the life stories of five Filipino elite athletes who have achieved top world rankings in their sport: Paeng Nepomuceno, Eugene Torre, Bong Coo, Bata Reyes and Django Bustamante.
There were six characteristics that these champions had in common. All of them showed relentless passion for the sport, consistent striving for the perfection of their craft, solid commitment to discipline and determination, authenticity in accepting one’s true self, focused goal orientation to achieve both performance objectives and life aspirations, and positive views of adversity.
All of our champions expressed an intense preference for their sport compared to other activities and invested a great deal of time and energy on it. And despite the long years of engaging in the sport, the enjoyment did not seem to wear off with time. Paeng revealed he was “too crazy” about bowling, The others, too, spoke of their love for their sport.
Striving for Perfection
What appears to set the champions apart from the rest is the uncompromising pursuit of extraordinary excellence and to perfect their craft. Paeng’s mastered his mental game which became his competitive edge. Bong persisted in perfecting her strikes in spite of fatigue. Django was tenacious in discovering his own style of playing. Bata showed a devotion to master all the components of his sport.
Discipline and Determination
The single-minded approach to their sport drove the champions to rigorous training regimens that exceeded the limits of the mind and body. Paeng gave up high school parties in favor of training. Bong continued working with her own coach after team training. Django took every opportunity to play with and compete against superior players.
Interestingly, all our champions were aware of their strengths and limitations both in sports and life. In my interviews, the champions disclosed both their triumphs and defeats in their professional and personal lives. There were hardly any pretentions to portray a perfect self image that is free of any flaw or weakness. For instance, Bata admitted losing to inferior players in smaller regional competitions due to the overwhelming pressure of competing for the country. For an athlete of his stature, that must have been very humiliating; yet he did not cover it up or rationalize those defeats. Such manifestations of authenticity bolster the champions’ courage, not only in taking on lofty goals in sport and in life, but in dealing with their true selves as well.
In all their winning moments, the champions succeeded in attaining both sport-specific goals and personally meaningful life aspirations. Beyond establishing his supremacy in the sport, Paeng takes pride in receiving the President’s Trophy from the International Olympic Committee. Eugene was not just Asia’s first Grandmaster, but was happy that he succeeded in breaking the barriers of age, status and race. Both Bata and Djano did not only win World championships, they rescued their families from poverty.
A common characteristic among the champions was their optimistic outlook in life. They all had the ability to reframe adversity as a temporary setback or opportunity for growth. Even defeat or injury were taken as opportunities to learn and grow and did not stop them from continuing their quest. Bong’s failed marriage provided her the drive to excel in her chosen sport. Paeng took every loss as an opportunity to train better for the succeeding tournaments. Eugene considers adversity as indicative of a real champion and thus welcomes it. Django was never derailed by failure as he accepted them as part of the game. Bata considered losses as unfortunate twists of fate, never a lack of competence on his part.
All in all, their life stories reveal that beyond physical skill and training, there exists a champion mindset. They all have distinct cognitive and emotional schemas that allow them to relentlessly push themselves towards their goals. And like heroes on a quest, they pursued their lifelong personal aspirations and never stopped aiming for excellence in their sport.
Dr. Marissa Adviento is a sports psychologist and part-time faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University. Her full study was presented at the 2012 Pre-Olympic Scientific Convention in Glasgow, United Kingdom in July (http://www.icsemis2012.com/) and will be presented at the Psychological Association of the Philippines convention this August (http://www.pap.org.ph/)