By THOMAS HUKAHU
WHAT makes an elite athlete different from another athlete or sportsman or woman?
Have you wondered about that?
(I am picking up from where I left off weeks ago when I wrote an article about PNG athletes attending the Tokyo Olympics, and similar international sporting events.)
Sure, you may have read about elite athletes in the papers or books, or even from watching videos.
But have you been up close to a top athlete to have learned from them?
A few of you are privileged because you have a close friend or relative who is an elite athlete, and you may have learned something about success from them.
But for most of you reading this, you may not know much about how champion athletes carry out their daily activities to help them prepare for their competitions.
I have found out many years ago some principles or qualities that they major on, and I realised that those are equally vital for achievers in many other areas as well.
Weightlifters taught me a few things
I was privileged to have served with Team PNG as the press attaché in two different international tournaments and got to meet some of Papua New Guinea’s best athletes, including Commonwealth Games gold medallists Dika Toua and Stephen Kari, and silver medallist Morea Baru.
During the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, both Toua and Kari won gold medals in their categories, the women’s 53kg and men’s 94kg respectively.
Kari again won gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games while Toua managed to grab the silver.
Baru stepped up onto the Commonwealth Games medals podium for the first time in 2018 when he won the silver medal in the men’s 62kg.
I have learned a bit from those athletes, about how they train and the way the think.
The principles or qualities they embrace separate elite athletes from just any other athlete.
So, let us learn from these athletes.
What makes them become champions and continue to be champions?
They sacrifice a lot and train daily
Most sportsmen and women you know train for two or three days a week. (That is what I did too when I was playing amateur football in my 20s, or training alongside my students in their school volleyball teams.)
Elite athletes train daily, for seven days a week.
Toua, Kari and Baru have trained with their coach Paul Coffa for many years in the Oceania Weightlifting Institute.
Training demands that they live and train in that institute, which was for years situated in Noumea, New Caledonia, but has since moved camp to Melbourne, in Australia.
Coffa is a world-class coach and has trained lifters from PNG and those from other Pacific Island nations as well, those who have gone on to win medals in the Pacific Games and Commonwealth Games.
Some of them have also competed in the Olympics, like Toua and Baru, who competed in Tokyo 2020.
All the athletes in Coffa’s institute learn to abide by the rules he has set and keep up with the training regime there.
Adhering to the rules of the institute is very important.
Toua has said in 2014 that often they felt like they were living in a prison.
And yet, they do it because they know that is what will get them to win top medals in the Pacific Games and Commonwealth Games.
Without sacrifice, how will someone become a champion?
Where there is no pain, there is no gain.
They plan long term
Most people involved in sports want their teams to win, and even if their side is a new team, they expect the team to win regardless of the odds that may be stacked up against them.
Elite athletes get from where they are to where they want to be by formulating a long-term plan, and work alongside their coach to get to be a champion.
This quality become apparent to me on the night that Kari won his gold medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
He told me during dinner that when he participated in the 2010 Delhi Games, he came fourth and from that moment he made it his aim to go for gold four years later.
So, after the 2010 Games, he started working with his coach and putting in the effort daily and for each week.
Consequently, Kari won gold in the 2011 Pacific Games and soon he also became the Oceania champion in his category.
(He also mentioned that he had a training partner who was good to work with and also had his own goal.)
Did you get that?
When Kari came fourth in the 2010 Games, his eyes were set on gold in the 2014 Games, not silver or bronze.
That is how a champion thinks.
He is very specific about his goal, and looks ahead in time and prepares for that moment.
It is not by luck or chance, he thought about it and worked tirelessly for the moment when he would win that prized medal.
Baru has a similar story.
In the 2014 Games, he was placed fourth behind a Samoan.
In the 2015 Pacific Games, Baru stole the show in his category and won gold, even beating the Samoan who beat him in the 2014 Glasgow Games.
A bit later, Baru also became the best lifter in his category in Oceania, and in the 2018 Gold Coast Games he won silver.
Elite athletes, like weightlifters, set goals and work through a well-thought-out plan with their coach on how they can improve their performances and go a step or two higher in the next competition.
In other words, elite athletes are strategists.
They ink a plan and then work the plan.
They write their goals
Writing one’s goal is known to be a habit of elite athletes, and I knew about this method long before I heard it from a top PNG athlete.
During the 2014 Glasgow Games, Ryan Pini, the PNG swimmer and gold medallist in the 100m butterfly in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, gave a small talk to PNG athletes and said that before the 2006 Games he had already written his goals and one of them was to bring his time lower in his best event. (He gave an actual figure.)
When he got into the pool, Pini did just that and won gold by beating Michael Klim of Australia and Moss Burmester of New Zealand in a time of 52.64s.
When he was speaking to PNG athletes in the 2014 Games, Pini asked them if they had already written down their goals before they started competition.
That was a good tip that came from a top PNG athlete who has also competed in the Olympics a number of times.
Do you realised that those very principles or qualities that these top athletes follow are the same principles that are used by achievers in academics as well as business?
If you want to achieve something in your life, you have to adopt some of those principles.
Change the way you do things. Do it like how these top athletes do it.
Learn to make sacrifices.
You may have to cut out the unnecessary time you spend on social media or socialising if you want to become a top student in mathematics or English.
Learn to plan long term.
Sometimes, you will not do well in a subject initially, but you must keep on going because your aim is not just be first today but be first in a subject in four months’ time, or even next year.
Learn to write your goals, whether it is in your diary, or a small card that you keep on your table.
You don’t have to show your goals to everyone.
You may even keep them to yourself.
But write them somewhere and take a look at them from time to time.
Some coaches in life will tell you that the more you think about something, the closer you will get to achieving it.
Write those goals and take a look at them from time to time.
And then, put in the effort to achieve them.
Applying the principles in business
Those same principles mentioned above can also be applied to business, if you are thinking of starting something for your family or clan.
Maybe starting an SME, a small and medium-sized enterprise, to offer services to your people?
Make sacrifices, and that could mean stop spending money on unnecessary stuff to raise starting capital for your SME.
Plan long term, plan for next year or two years from now.
Write down your goals, and your set targets, how much you want to make in six months’ time or a year down the road.
And, work towards achieving those goals.
Another tip: Use SMART strategy
This is a tip that you can incorporate in your plans.
It is a strategy that is used in many fields, including business and marketing, and is referred to as the SMART strategy, the acronym with the letters standing for:
• S – specific
• M – measurable
• A – achievable
• R – realistic
• T – timely
When you set your goals, ask if they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.
Can you see that a good weightlifter like Toua or Baru has incorporated those factors into their plan to achieve their goals?
They are specific (gold medals), measurable (weight amounts) and timely (planned in two- or four-year segments).
Do the same for your goals too.
Success may take longer
In life many people want success, but the kind they want must be quick and easy success.
We have been greatly influenced by instant noodles, instant coffee, instant whatever.
But true success takes longer.
True success will get you to stand on a podium, and you will be there four years from now, or even eight years from now.
Our PNG athletes, like Toua, Kari and Baru, are good examples of people who are successful and continue to lead the race in their respective categories.
You can apply the same principles and succeed in whatever you want to, where you are.
Next article: The qualities of a good coach
• Thomas Hukahu is an Australia Awards student in Adelaide, South Australia