50 tips from top Canadian athletes

Photos by Jack Leahy, FANFIT.com

Advice on how to achieve optimal performance


Here at FANFIT.com we deliver content on fitness, training, mindset and nutrition that will help you achieve your own goals. Along the way we interview athletes, including Olympians, who let us in on their nutritional habits, training tricks, motivational techniques and more.

We decided to compile these tips from top athletes and did some additional research in rounding out a list of 50.

Hopefully you’ll find these insights informative, and even inspiring.


— From the FANFIT team

1) Train in the sand. Train your heart and lungs, and move barefoot in the sand. Martin Reader is a massive fan of running and training interval runs barefoot in the sand. He expects the performance improvement and lack of firm footing is equivalent to training at a 30 to 40 per cent resistance factor. In the end you are stronger, fitter, and all those stabilizing muscles are learning to perform and generate power when you are absent solid footing.

— Martin Reader, Beach Volleyball


2) On limiting distraction. “Fewer distractions, internal or external, means better performance.

I try to have fewer choices to make every day, setting myself up to be in execution mode the majority of the time with focus where it counts most.”

— Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny, Sprint Canoe


3) “Just fall in.” In an interview, Larry Cain remarks that athletes who compete in paddle sport events are often competing tight because of a fear to fall in the water. This reduces the ability of the athlete to take their best strokes, and ultimately compete to their potential. So Larry’s advice, just fall in and get it over with. Lose the fear. This concept can be applied to other sports, and in life. Cain argues that once you force yourself to fall in the water, or make mistakes if it’s in another sport, the better prepared you are to fearlessly take on the task at hand.

— Larry Cain, Sprint Canoe


4) Skill development and breaking things down. Fear can be an obstacle in taking on new challenges and acquiring new skills. For Rosie MacLennan, every new skill on the trampoline was acquired through an analytical breakdown of each skill being divided into familiar pieces. By finding comfort every step of the way, you grasp the overall skill or movement more quickly. One other tool used by Rosie is the process of slowing down the overall movement to emphasize each component. This can be done in trampoline with a special apparatus, in canoe kayak with a bungee cord, in other sports with careful attention to the process. Going half speed can in fact speed up the adoption of high level skills.

— Rosie MacLennan, Trampoline


5) Dynamic sport requires dynamic training. Soccer goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé embraces the idea of fun and dynamic challenges that mimic the ever changing nature of her sport. Some of the exercises and routines she prefers include box jumps and obstacle courses. She’ll come up with alterations on exercises that accomplish more at once by activating many different muscle groups like on a balance ball or on one foot.

— Stephanie Labbé, Soccer

Stephanie Labbé embraces dynamic challenges that mimic what's required in soccer. (Ewan Nicholson)

Stephanie Labbé embraces dynamic challenges that mimic what's required in soccer. (Ewan Nicholson)

6) On what makes a great leader. “A good leader is someone who has the ability to motivate others around them through their actions alone, is incredibly respected by her teammates and coaching staff and is also willing to do anything for the team at any moment. One of the best leaders I have ever had the pleasure of playing with and against is Marie Philip Poulin. She embodies every one of those qualities while being one of the most humble athletes I’ve ever met. To me that is the epitome of what a leader can be.”

— Jillian Saulnier, Hockey


7) Focus on things in your control. On race day Luke Demetre only worries about the things that are in his control, and forgets about everything else. By reducing things down to this type of singular control based focus, it helps limit the opportunities for distraction. If you stray from a strong sense of focus, come back to working through things in a step by step manner (one task at a time). “Everything is always one step at a time. Never rushing it, stay in the moment and at peace with the out of your control elements and factors.”

— Luke Demetre, Bobsled


8) Train your mental edge before crisis strikes. Nicole Forrester, (also mental performance coach), says too often athletes and leaders look to work on mental training when in a stressed state or something has gone wrong. Look to train your mental edge at all times for maximal performance, and understand that building and maintaining confidence will provide a performance edge

— Nicole Forrester, Athletics (high jump)

9) Excellence does not need to take a backseat as a parent. Genevieve Orton showcased the incredible opportunities available to achieve huge success in sport as an Olympic kayaker, and it came after the birth of her daughter. The key to making it all work, support and time management.

— Genevieve Orton, Sprint Kayak

10) Train the adrenaline and pain. Eric Gillis notes that he gets “more excited for a workout” when he knows it’s “about (a) consistent effort and getting the workout in” rather than stressing about the exact pace you’re running at. He talks about how these types of workouts get the adrenaline going more than long marathon training while still maintaining a very specific purpose.

If you’re training for a long distance running event, enjoy the speed days and the different type of pain they bring to your muscles.  

Your legs will thank you on race day.  

— Eric Gillis, Olympic Marathon Runner


11)  Get comfortable competing with the best in order to become the best.  Andre De Grasse explains his transition to sprinting required a steep learning curve, and a need to quickly adjust his comfort level to competing alongside the best. Coming to grips with the talent he competed alongside each race and seeing improvement, reminded him “I’m supposed to be here, I am one of the best.”

— Andre De Grasse, Athletics (sprinter)


12) On leadership and team building. “Concerning yourself with the way you’re perceived can potentially push you from notoriety to narcissism, and being a good leader is all about taking focus off yourself and onto progress.”

— Simon Whitfield, Olympic Triathlon

Simon Whitfield: 'Being a good leader is all about taking focus off yourself.' (ITU)

Simon Whitfield: 'Being a good leader is all about taking focus off yourself.' (ITU)

13)  Embrace pain and build your capacity for greatness. Once you’ve admitted to yourself how bad or painful something can be, it no longer has the same power and surprise it would otherwise have on you. How can you normalize pain? How can you normalize fear and doubt? For Marnie McBean, it meant perfecting race simulations, executing drills to ensure her technique was rock solid and always, always, trying to improve.

— Marnie McBean, Rowing


14) Shoot for the moon and aim high. Don’t temper your goals, expectations, or work ethic. Donovan Bailey transitioned from corporate world back to athletics training, and quickly made the most of the decision with gold in both the 100m and 4x100m events at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

— Donovan Bailey, Athletics (sprinter)


15) Adapt and listen to your body. With injuries and arthritis in one knee following his sprinting career and athletics training, Bruny Surin shifted to lower impact training, and reduced the weight training load on his body with other activities like cycling, walking, and other training at the gym.

— Bruny Surin, Athletics (sprinter)


16)  Thrive off the atmosphere and enjoy competing. When training on the rowing erg, understand that if you are going to push your maximal effort it will hurt during the second half of any aerobic-based challenge, so recognize that, and pace accordingly.

— Carling Zeeman, Rowing

17) On the right performance drink for optimal output. “Sugar-free, colour-free branched chain amino acids in my sport drink!  Speedy recovery and all the good stuff!!!”

— Karen Furneaux, Kayak

18) Mix the intrinsic with the extrinsic. Eric Woefl loves the feeling of accomplishing personal challenges, and the joy of winning is that extrinsic icing on the cake. He explains why the balance of the two allows him to not only own the goal, but also push to his limits to excel at whatever he has set out to accomplish.

— Eric Woefl, Rowing


19) Don’t let mistakes compound. When you make a mistake, that’s OK. In fact, it’s normal and happens during any type of process (especially sport). The real mistake is to let that mistake compound and another one happen because of a lack of focus and distraction.

— Maverick Hatch, Beach Volleyball


20) Set your expectations as a winner. For Caroline Brunet it was not enough to simply toe the status quo of going and “doing your best.” She says she’s never satisfied with simply participating — she always aims to win.

— Caroline Brunet, Sprint Kayak


21) Be comfortable with pressure and your approach. Derek Drouin, a double Olympic medallist, keeps a low profile and isn’t afraid to change things up to maximize training and performance. In training, Drouin trains as if working toward a decathlon performance (involving many other disciplines outside of high jump). He has also re-engineered his form and technique to hit even better standards, rather than just sticking with what works. His willingness to work at a high comfort with who he is and what he wants to accomplish, seems to help on days when he needs to perform.

— Derek Drouin, Athletics (high jump)

22) All about the planks. This famous Canadian heptathlete focuses on training her core with a lot of plank variations. Given her desire to stay upright and long during her running and various events, she avoids crunching exercises because it is not supportive of her desired performance positions.

— Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Athletics (Heptathlon)


23)  On setting team culture. “As captain of my university team a big part of my success lies in being a supporter of other teammates regardless of talent level. There's something about coming together, creating team cheer, and being there for all events. When you know that no matter your event or expertise you were supported … this motivated me to be a successful leader on the track. It was a big part of getting the 60m national university record.”

— Sam Effah, Athletics (sprinter)

Sam Effah: 'There's something about coming together, creating team cheer, and being there for all events.' (Jack Leahy) 

Sam Effah: 'There's something about coming together, creating team cheer, and being there for all events.' (Jack Leahy) 

24) “Staying in the moment, being very engaged in what you're doing at a given time and try and avoid the ‘get through this’ mentality.

I had a target outcome but tied my goals to the process far more than the outcome, and I found people to talk about them, that helped me commit and stay accountable.

Within each week highlighting three goals at the start of the week to stay focused through the grind.

Debriefing every major result good or bad to identify areas for improvement.”

— Ben Russell, Sprint Canoe

25)  Things don’t happen as planned. Train for all aspects of competition, and be prepared for unexpected. This is a resounding theme in Scott Sandison’s history as an athlete in field hockey, perhaps highlighted by the last minute tying goal and overtime shootout that punched Team Canada’s path to the Olympics in 2008. If you enjoy the tough conditions and you familiarize this approach with yourself and teammates, it creates a natural edge against those who don’t have the same mindset when challenging conditions present.

— Scott Sandison, Field Hockey


26) All about the playlist on game day. Everyday before the big game, Tamara Tatham is armed with a playlist she listens to after visiting the chapel. Numerous studies seem to support Tatham’s opinion that music can be a performance-enhancing tool. Research by Dr. Costas Karageorghis suggests music allows for disassociation of the mind and diverts an athlete from feeling fatigued or distracted, flow states that allow the mind to almost go to an auto-pilot like state, repeated synchronicity of music and sport can improve outputs, and music can evoke emotions that enhance your enjoyment of the process allowing you to perform at a higher level.

Source: © The Health Sciences Academy

— Tamara Tatham, Basketball


27) Process metrics not outcomes. Coach Carly Clarke looks to focus more on the process metrics that support outcomes rather than the outcomes themselves. For example, in basketball this means looking at prioritizing “box outs” over rebounds. In general, Clarke advises attention be placed on the stepping stones that support the end result rather than on the end result itself.

— Coach Carly Clarke, Basketball

Ryerson Rams coach Carly Clarke works to keep her players focused on the process and daily improvement rather than the long-term outcome. (Photo by Alex D'Addese)

Ryerson Rams coach Carly Clarke works to keep her players focused on the process and daily improvement rather than the long-term outcome. (Photo by Alex D'Addese)

28) Don’t name team captains. Name leadership a priority for all team members and not just those who wear a “C”. For this reason, Clarke has restrained from naming team captains.

— Coach Carly Clarke (part II), Basketball


29) Daily meditation. Karine Thomas starts every day with 10 minutes of meditation to get things rolling in the right direction, and claims this is the most important part of her day.

— Karine Thomas, Synchronized Swimming


30) Let yourself off the hook. You need to be willing to apologize to yourself, and let things go and say “I’m sorry” to you. This is uncommon but simple advice. Letting things go and starting fresh might be as simple as saying “I’m sorry.”

— Jessica Zelinka, Athletics (multiple events)


31) 4 by 15 (the one hour workout simplified). Every workout should include a warmup, some resistance work (push and pull), some explosive movements, something for the legs, and cardio work and something for your heart. Elliott Richardson typically breaks his workout up like this:

  1. Warmup and Mobility.
  2. Explosive work with med ball, jumps, and dynamic movement.
  3. Strength training: covering legs, pushing movements, pulling movements, and core.
  4. Cardio and cooldown.

— Elliott Richardson, Football + Strength and Conditioning Coach (Acadia University)

Training at Acadia University in Wolfville. (Jack Leahy)

Training at Acadia University in Wolfville. (Jack Leahy)


32) Enjoy the process. Sidney Crosby speaks to young athletes and often reflects at how quickly time has gone by. Well into his professional career, he still fondly thinks of the friends he made during minor hockey, as the friends he would have for life. The lesson being, enjoy the experiences with your teammates and the process, because regardless of outcome you’ll be at your best when your enjoyment is at its height.

— Sidney Crosby, Hockey


33) Coach with IDEAS. Introduce, Demonstrate, Explain, Activity, Summary. For every coach out there, you need to understand that there are different types of learners and you need to engage each learner in their respective wheelhouse. This means appropriately teaching to the strengths of auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners. With this acronym, you clearly state the skill and goal at the start, and summarize at the end. During the demonstration you’re making visual learners happy, the explanation works for auditory learners, and the activity helps the kinesthetic learner.

— Norm Hann, Standup Paddleboard


34) Showcase your talent everyday. Kia Nurse describes winning a starting spot sooner than expected, and believes daily work ethic and effort was a major component. In theory, when you showcase consistent effort, it establishes higher levels of respect and responsibility from a coach’s perspective.

— Kia Nurse, Basketball


35) Respect and fearlessness. Melissa Bishop says her coach says the same quote to her before every race, “Respect all, but fear none.” Meaning race every race absent of fear, but be respectful of the talent around you (and never sleep on anyone). Great words to live and compete by.

— Melissa Bishop, Athletics (800m running)


36) Build on weaknesses. Mo Ahmed believes in himself, and trains his weaknesses to be as complete an athlete as possible. This also provides the confidence to believe he can win and beat the best. Historically, his finishing kick was a weakness, and over time has become a strength.

— Mo Ahmed, Athletics (middle distance running)


37) No such thing as “supposed to win.” Adam van Koeverden hates the term, because it’s not reflective of the challenge all competitors face. No one ever wins a championship or medal for simply showing up as the favourite. Be prepared to compete at your best every time you perform, and you have to “want to win.”

— Adam van Koeverden, Sprint Kayak


38) Visualize. Mark Oldershaw is famous for reciting a race plan that included the visualization of conjuring the strength of Thor after the halfway point in his race. The feeling and plan to be great at the toughest moments helped Mark finish strong and win an Olympic medal in the London Games.

— Mark Oldershaw, Sprint Canoe

Sprint canoe athlete Mark Oldershaw uses visualization to help him be great at the toughest moments. (Jack Leahy)

Sprint canoe athlete Mark Oldershaw uses visualization to help him be great at the toughest moments. (Jack Leahy)

39) Understanding Fear. One needs to understand that fear is often the challenging obstacle that  keeps us from following through on our ambitions. When we accept that fear is reality, it becomes easier to face it. Silken Laumann describes having raced scared of making mistakes, scared to be defeated, and having a terrible experience in the process until she faced that emotion and worked through it. The quicker we learn from this mistake, the quicker we can begin taking positive steps to enjoy the process and achieve better results in the process.

— Silken Laumann, Rowing


40) Rest to be at your best. For professional and elite athletes, there’s a temptation to go all out, all the time. The same is true of professionals that work in large and growing companies. Hayley Wickenheiser has learned that if “you don’t give yourself a bit of downtime — as hard as it may be to do — you’ll never be able to perform at your best when it really counts.”

“If you don’t get enough rest,” she says, “you can’t possibly compete at the level you need to.”

— Hayley Wickenheiser, Hockey


41) Stick to a routine for your health. After her athletics career, Catriona Le May Doan has dealt with a number of challenging injuries. She advises you stick to a routine after establishing the best practice and plan for you.

— Catriona Le May Doan, Speedskating

42) You know yourself best. Understand that you know yourself and your body better than anybody else, and try to trust that knowledge and transfer it to your routine. Consider your successes and failures, and build on the success and don’t let the hard times “own” you.

— Mikael Kingsbury, Moguls Skier


43) Meditation To Enhance Performance. Pre and post practice and/or workout meditation routine. Jamal Murray is known to perform an eyes closed meditation routine before and after every session. Murray says this routine has enabled him to be able to drastically lower his heart rate allowing for a more calm and focused in-game performance.

— Jamal Murray, Basketball


44) Yes “I” can. The two biggest keys to preparing for a gold medal performance at the Olympics were continuous small technical improvements, and secondly an unwavering belief that winning was possible.

— Mark Tewksbury and coach Debbie Muir, Swimming


45) Eat to be strong, not skinny. Chandra Crawford likes role model Sara Renner’s advice to focus on being your best not worried about image.

— Chandra Crawford, Cross-Country Skiing


46) Push your comfort zone, and create a practice environment that is tougher than the game. Challenge yourself at full speed during drills and practice and push your limits, so that when it comes to game time the transition is natural and does not seem like too much.

— Steve Nash, Basketball


47) Take the chances you get. Gretzky is famous for pushing people to be their best by not shying away from the chances they get. When you have an opportunity, make sure you seize it. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

— Wayne Gretzky, Hockey


48) Rebounding on bad days. When she has a bad day, Ellie Black tries to focus on the positive elements of that day, and understands that if you can do it on a bad day, at your best you’ll be fantastic.

— Ellie Black, Gymnastics


49) On nutrition. Training and nutrition go hand in hand. Eating a well balanced diet is essential to achieving your best possible performance, and understand that moderation is key, always. Don’t try to avoid temptation altogether, just understand your limits.

— Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, Athletics (hurdles)


50) On winter running. Ensure that you layer up for the weather. In Edmonton, (where Paula Findlay is from), the cold is a constant factor in the winter. However, with the right layering system that includes  a warm head, neck, and core, the outdoors are no match for your spirit to get out and exercise.

— Paula Findlay, Triathlon