How Perseverance Translates to Improved Sport Performance

How Perseverance Translates to Improved Sport Performance

- Kia Schollar

Marnie McBean, three-time Olympian and one of the most decorated athletes in Canadian history, shared some amazing insights on how she’s overcome fear and doubt in sport. You might be surprised to find out her recipe for success revolves around recognizing and admitting that fear and doubt are always going to exist. Having a desire to quit in the face of adversity is completely normal... say, what?

Marnie recounted her first 2 km ergometer test as a young rower. For those unfamiliar with ergometer testing, this is commonly used to test fitness and for race distance simulation. It is a gruelling test that challenges all energy systems of the body. Generally for a rower of Marnie's calibre, it takes roughly 6.5 minutes to complete this test.

She recalls going out hard and pulling with everything she had for the first 4.5 minutes, but things were getting hard and her head was telling her to stop. She was honest with me, she admitted she quit, and less than 3 seconds later she admittedly regrets her decision. But, she shook off those moments and got back to pulling with everything she had. Her reason: because in those 3 seconds she realized she wasn’t dead or broken, she could continue and better yet, she wanted to.

What a lesson to learn in your very first erg test: fear, doubt, and pain will always exist. This is not special or unique to sport. If we persevere through adversity, on the other side is most often positive outcomes. For Marnie, the result was a decent 2km erg time that left her wondering how much better she could be.

As Marnie spoke she helped me see the beauty in admitting and preparing for the worst.

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, it meant perfecting race simulations, executing drills to ensure her technique was rock solid and always, always, trying to improve.

Everyone experiences a physical and mental strain when your body and brain are screaming to quit. It’s only through preparation and challenging oneself daily, that you can raise your personal threshold and persevere to the finish line.

Speaking from personal experience, my life experiences tell me Marnie is spot on when she said, “there is no courage without fear”.

Caring comes with stress, and achieving your best means you need to deal with and prepare for the stressors of sport and life. As an athlete, Marnie focused on being the best technical rower she could possibly be. She recognized success is a long road and cramming is not an option.

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Marnie shared that she never expected race days to go as planned, much like life. But preparation helped her progress. There are no shortcuts. There is no cramming. If we hope to be the best at whatever endeavour we have in front of us, there is one road and it’s the road of hard work.

It is completely normal to be afraid. It is entirely okay to doubt yourself and want to quit.

But nothing worth doing in life is easy.