May 15, 2017 | Stories from the Field
By Hana Jariabková
Art Turock started as an athlete in high school, and wasn’t in competitive athletics again until his mid-fifties. Today, four decades later at age 67, he has won 2 medals in pentathlon in national track competitions. One bronze medal came in the 2015 pentathlon at the USA Track & Field Masters Championship, where his point total earned an 8th place world ranking for his age group. One year later, Art won the silver medal and again earning a #8 world ranking.
“It’s all in the mindset,” said Art to me with a smile, and I began to wonder whether winning has always been so easy for him. Or, had he ever had any doubts on his journey to a medal? Art’s smile slowly disappears. “As I was preparing for the 2016 pentathlon championship, my skillset in four of my five events started to unravel. I was actually getting worse in the long jump, discus, and javelin, and after I collapsed on a track during a 1,500 meter run time trial, well, of course I had zero confidence… ”
For someone who won a bronze medal the previous year, I could hardly imagine what that had to be like. What would I do in his case? Go home and have a glass of wine? Would I quit?
Art’s reaction wasn’t too far from that.
“I called my wife, Haley, and I’m telling her my situation, and I was hoping she would just agree with me – that I wouldn’t go to the meet. I’m doing all this convincing with her and she says to me, ‘Art, are you up to something bigger than yourself?’”
Needless to say, Art’s wife, who is also a graduate of The Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership Course, didn’t buy into his story and neither into his recent ‘failures’. His commitment was to train at an elite level needed to win a medal. She said to him, “Well, it looks like you’ve done just about everything. You did what your coaches told you, you’ve done unreasonable workouts. All you need to do is to show up at the meet and do your best that day. And essentially, you’ve accomplished your commitment.”
Art had agreed with his wife, but it was one specific discovery that helped him get through the doubt. “I remember saying to Werner Erhard during a leadership course, ‘Having to impress people is a pathetic form of self-esteem.’ I knew I was a bit of an approval-seeker but I didn’t realize how driven I was to impress others. That was a huge insight.”
I would be a quitter. I can’t live with myself as a quitter. And I’m scared that this could become a slippery slope that if I quit here, I could spend the remaining decades of my life quitting again.
With this realization, Art and his wife began to look for the main reasons that he would benefit from not showing up. First, no one – his friends, coaches, and fellow athletes – would have to see his all-but-certain crappy score and wonder, “What the hell happened?” However, if he didn’t even show up after all the months of rigorous training, their reaction would still be the same.
“What’s the long-term cost if you don’t show up?” asked Art’s wife. He replies with some disappointment in his voice: “I would be a quitter. I can’t live with myself as a quitter. And I’m scared that this could become a slippery slope that if I quit here, I could spend the remaining decades of my life quitting again.” And off he went to take a plane to the championship.
Art compared the lousy trade-off between short-term relief – avoiding embarrassing himself or not impressing people – with the severe price of avoiding competition and quitting on his year-long commitment.
“And then I won the silver medal. I did my season’s best long jump, my season’s best javelin, and I ended up ranked eighth in the world. And I almost didn’t show up!”
He says that after competing in pentathlon, his views on performance have dramatically changed. “If I showed up at the track having no confidence – based on recent results – I discovered that confidence doesn’t depend on recent results.”
I looked at the competition as a unique experiment to test how far my mental skills could take me in an athletic competition.
I had to stop there, because that belief about being confident goes against conventional thinking. Art explains further: “Looking at my recent results, I couldn’t have any confidence. My performance as an athlete was diminishing just days before the meet. So I could go in without no references to point to for confidence and all I had were my mental skills to empower my athletic performance.”
This is where I got interested – I could recall past events when I quit just because I didn’t feel confident. So I ask Art, what was it that got him through? What got him being confident? He replies, “I looked at the competition as a unique experiment to test how far my mental skills could take me in an athletic competition. I’ve got five hours of practice in generating a mindset that gives me confidence and access to my full performance capacity. I practiced staying focused on each jump, throw, and run, while I discarded distracting thoughts that could undermine my confidence.” Needles to say, this was a game Art won – and it got him a silver medal.
“I also started to look at winning in a new way,” he said. He changed the definition of winning from being based on a single competitive score to winning based on finishing the rigorous year-long training regimen that was required to win a medal.
“So, did you ask whether I had any doubt?” asks Art, laughing. I laugh with him, too.
This is how you get confident to win a medal.
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Art Turock is the author of Competent is Not an Option: Build an Elite Leadership Team Following the Talent Development Game Plan of Sports Champions, based out of Seattle, Washington. In 2012, Art participated in the Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership hosted in Whistler, Canada. To find out more about upcoming Leadership courses, click here.
Hana Jariabková is an author and online marketing expert based out of London, UK. She teaches courses on content and social media marketing and is a tutor at the University of the Arts London. Hana loves writing and has published short stories for adults and a children’s book. You can find out more about Hana from her blog www.hanajaywrites.com. Hana also participated in the 2016 Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership Course in Abu Dhabi, UAE.