In this edition of A-Z, Olympic Gold Medalist Marlon Devonish discusses goals and how to achieve them. He looks at how elite performers transform strategy to execution to achieve the desired outcome. Marlon also gives a personal insight as to who inspired him as a young teenager, striving for that Great Britain jersey, when he just started to dream of Gold.
Elite performance requires discipline and an underlying determination to achieve your goals. As the end of the year approaches, perhaps some of us are reflecting on New Years resolutions-some we have achieved and some we have not.
Goals are nothing without execution. They are achieved and lost on a cold winter morning when it's difficult to motivate yourself. They are strengthened or diluted by others’ opinions. They break loose or are firmly anchored, in your own personal psyche.
Marlon explains how your goal needs to come from a place of passion, a place in which you are truly invested. He shows how remaining connected to the bigger picture at times of indecision and ambiguity are essential for pushing yourself forward and achieving the desired outcomes.
Creating goals is easy and achieving them is hard. In my experience goals typically take longer than I expect to achieve them. Part of my personality is to be ambitious and to push myself to achieve more. Of course, these values are very much in line with BISS Puxi as we help our students surpass levels that even they thought not possible, both in sports and academically.
The path to success is rarely smooth or linear and we all encounter problems along the way. That’s life and that is part of elite performance. If things are not going well, it does not mean you are not an elite performer, it means it’s time to rise to the challenge. When things get tough I’m afraid that sometimes there is no other way than to grit your teeth and get through it. As a rule of thumb I would focus on the basics when training and racing are falling apart. It’s better to revert back to the basics, rather than be lost in the technical marginal gains.
I’ve always been quite single minded about achieving my goals. However, I admit that there have been times in my career where I have had to draw deep on my own well of determination to follow my own plan. Many of these experiences I have shared openly with you in my blog.
In those moments when you are tested, it’s important to remain connected to the bigger picture. As part of goal setting, elite performers define a clear purpose in extraordinary detail. This is something I learnt to do from a young age growing up in the UK.
I was born and bred in Coventry, which is a city in the heart of the British midlands. This is where my love for athletics began to flourish at the Coventry Godiva Harriers Athletic Club. I owe so much to them, many of whom were volunteers, and my coach Wayne Morant, for taking a young gangly boy with lots of enthusiasm, but not much experience, through the beginning of my journey in athletics. At the influential age of 18, Coventry was everything I knew, and was my home.
There came a time when I needed to move on and to train with a different training group. Looking back it was an obvious decision but I remember at the time, it was quite an emotional wrench to leave.
I remember the competition, and enjoying the races in my age group, but having a nagging feeling that I was not progressing and could challenge myself further. It was easy sometimes to push that aside as I felt the adrenalin rush through your body. Winning is always fun, but not at the expense of progression.
My initial goal was to get into the Senior Great Britain squad. This goal drove me to take action. My primary purpose was to improve myself by training and competing with people who were better than me. However, my goal and the decision behind this was more defined than that.
It’s great to start with big goals. Be ambitious. But the art of turning strategy into execution is based upon taking a big challenge and putting it into smaller manageable blocks. Athletics gives you quite a clearly defined structure revolving around the main prize of the Olympics every four years and the Commonwealth, Worlds, and European championships every other year.
From these core milestones, I would work down to monthly, weekly, daily, and even skill specific blocks. In sprinting, when a tenth of a second is the difference between winning and losing every tiny segment makes a difference. All your actions must be fully aligned with your purpose and goal. Nothing is insignificant if it is connected to your ultimate goal so small efforts repeated over time can make a big difference.
It’s important also not to look too far ahead. At the start of the season pundits will start to try and pick out Olympic hopefuls and, during the post competition interview, the athlete will roll out a cliches like ‘one race at a time’. These clichés don’t make great TV but they are critical for the internal mentality of an elite performer. Looking too far ahead can be a danger. It's ok to dream, as long as you recognise it and refocus on your purpose and stay focused on the goal.
Some opportunities were better than others, for various reasons that required some serious consideration, as this decision would affect my future aspirations. There were several training options available to me. I could train with a specialist sprint group and be one of the many within my specialty, or I could train with a variety of event athletes where I could draw from a wider range of disciplines and expertise, and fundamentally, be one of the few. I chose the latter based on quality over quantity, being one of the few sprinters meant more time and more focus on me. This opportunity required me to uproot from Coventry and move to Windsor.
Role models are important and can come in different shapes and forms. Some of them are close to you and others seem like sporting Gods far out of reach. My Dad and I loved watching boxing. There were some big characters back in the day including Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns and I wallowed in the competitive spirit of the boxers and the camaraderie with my Dad. As a parent, we sometimes don’t appreciate what a massive influence we have on our children both good and bad. The great times we had enjoying sport is something I try to emulate with my kids now. Simply by spending quality time with our children and listening, truly listening to them, and sharing and embracing sports together, can be the spark to igniting a passion for sport.
Sporting role models of my generation and before, included Carl Lewis and Muhammad Ali. As a budding athlete, Lewis’s effortless and fluid running was like poetry to me. I understood the training and the pain behind the preparation. However, Carl Lewis made the huge effort look like ballet and I wished to be able to cut through the air like he seemed to do to win races.
I liked Muhammad Ali for different reasons. I loved the way he talked with the press, how he entertained and ultimately how he delivered on his promises. He was also a man of his convictions who was not afraid to make a stand based on his true beliefs. His inner strength seemed to outweigh even his incredible outer strength…
Today, my hope is that by working here at BISS, and with the array of fantastic and dedicated educators. I can share some of my real world experience of winning, and sometimes more importantly, the losing in sport. My hope is that I too can contribute to the development of young athletes here in Shanghai. You can’t guarantee they will reach Gold, however if a young lad from Coventry can make it, with the right application and support, anyone can.
Next week we look at H for Humour. In elite performance, humour and camaraderie play an important role in cutting through the stress and the strain of your journey towards being the best you can be. See you next time.
To read other Marlon's blogs, please click here.