Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Fight - what fuels you to train harder?

Jayna Hefford - Team Canada

Twitter. A place to connect with those we know, those we wish we knew, and those we don’t know but are getting to know better through their tweets. I follow a lot of pro-level athletes on Twitter, and following them is basically an invite to go along and spend a day with them in cyberspace. If there was an “athletes on Twitter drinking game” (great idea, I know!) we would definitely be reaching various levels of inebriation based solely on one statement: “drink when an athlete tweets that they’re heading to the gym.” After big wins, tough losses, painful injuries, and even during holidays, it seems like the gym where athletes spend a majority of their lives. Even in leagues like the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, NCAA, and CIS, where most of the players have day jobs or college classes or families to attend to, they still seem to be able to squeeze in the time for a workout session no matter what. The commitment of these players into improving their skills and conditioning is remarkable. As a recreational hockey player, I am not required by my team or league to meet specific requirements or pass any tests in the gym (for which I am grateful, because I’d fail miserably), but I still think about finding that motivation from within and how it would factor in to an athlete’s overall performance. Why is it that some athletes are able to play at a high level for decades, while others fizzle out in just a few years? Why is it that some athletes are able to enjoy season upon season of injury-free participation in sports, while others can’t seem to go more than a month or two without ending up on the shelf? And as athletes, when are we most motivated to train harder: after a big win or after a tough loss?

In January of 2012, after losing a tennis match that lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes, Rafael Nadal was asked how he felt about the match. “It’s nice (to) be there fighting, trying to go to the limit, bring your body to the limit of its chances,” he said. “It’s something I really enjoyed, and I (have) always said it’s good (to) suffer. So when you are fit, when you are with passion for the game, when you are ready to compete, you are able to suffer and enjoy suffering.” And, as legend would have it, Rafa and his opponent Novak Djokovic were both back in the gym training within a week of their marathon match.

There are constantly features on NHL players and their training regiments. A lot of them are interviewed while they ride the stationary bike or jog on the treadmill. The general public is well aware of the players’ commitments to physical fitness when they’re not on the ice. Such is not the case in women’s hockey. It is always surprising to talk to people who claim to be knowledgeable sports fans but who are still under the impression that female hockey players are merely beer leaguers with a bit more publicity. They claim to be fans of the sport yet they are unaware of how much the women commit to strength training and cardio. They think the women just show up to games and hit the ice. If only it were that easy eh! They never stop to ask themselves: “how was it that at age 35, Becky Kellar was able to compete at the Vancouver Olympics against opponents who were 12 or 15 years younger than her? How was it that Kim St-Pierre was able to be back playing for the Montreal Stars just 8 months after having a baby? And how is it that, at the age of 35 and with over 200 games played for Team Canada, Jayna Hefford is still able to compete for a spot on the National Team for the 2014 Olympics?”

For those of you who follow these players closely, you know the answer. They train. They train hard. And they get fitness tested all year round (including on the day after Christmas apparently!). What I would like to know is, what is their motivation when they train? Are they training so that they can play their best against a longtime rival? Are they training to avenge a tough loss against a longtime rival? Are they training to ensure longevity in their career so they can play the sport they love for as long as possible?

And what about the rest of us – what motivates us to get up off the couch and head to the gym? What are we picturing in our minds when we are trying to push through that final leg of the cycle on the elliptical? What pushes us to add those extra 10 pounds to the free weights? There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. For me, it is not the promise of winning or the fear of losing that motivates me. It is the knowledge that the only way to sleep soundly at night is to know that you did everything you could to be the consummate player and professional for your team. It is the feeling of a certain pride and joy that is associated with knowing you came through for them because you were ready for the challenge. And it is believing that nothing is ever “meant to be” unless we make it so. As Jayna Hefford and Jarome Iginla once said in a commercial for Nike: “Let the world keep believing we owe everything to fate. We’ll keep training till we control theirs.”

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