What does it really take to become an elite athlete?  The lifestyle of a professional athlete is often portrayed as glamorous on television and other media, but what isn’t often shown is what it actually takes to make it to that level.  Many young athletes say they want to play their sport professionally, however, very few are willing to do what it actually takes to get there. This article provides some insight into the real life of what it takes to get to the professional level in a sport.

The statistics on becoming a professional athlete are humbling.  According to data obtained from the NCAA  by Lynn O’Shaughnessy of CBS in her article The Odds of Playing College Sports, roughly .08% of high school football players (or 8 in 10,000) will be drafted to play in the NFL.  The chances are longer in the NBA and slightly better for the NHL and MLB. The point being, it is a long shot for any athlete to play at the professional level. To get there requires a separation from the competition and from those around you that also have the same stated goals.  So how do you do that?

“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time.”  –Vince Lombardi

Of all the attributes required of an elite-level athlete, one stands above all others: discipline.  Discipline must be applied in every aspect of the process to reach the true potential of any athlete.  Vince Lombardi, arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time (the Super Bowl trophy is named after him), wrote a famous essay called, “What it takes to be number one”.  It begins with the lines, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time.”

As an example, we recently started working with an NFL player who was drafted highly and is currently in a contract year.  He often trains early in the morning – as early as 6am (and he lives over 30 minutes away from our facility). For the time he has been with us, he has never been less than 10 minutes EARLY to a session.  That is the difference – the edge.  The best ones make getting to that next level a priority to the point that nothing else will get in the way.  This very morning he made the comment, “I really didn’t feel like getting out of bed this morning – I didn’t sleep very well last night, but I made a decision that I wanted this more.”  That’s the level of dedication, consistency, and discipline it takes to get there. You have to be willing to do what it takes every time, not just when it’s convenient or comfortable, but day in and day out, every time.

As in many aspects of life, becoming an elite athlete boils down to a series of choices.  You always have a choice of what to eat, how to spend your time, or when to leave home for a training session.  The question becomes, do you have the discipline to make the right or necessary choices on a consistent basis to achieve the things you say you want?  It isn’t easy, but when you can discipline yourself to consistently put in the effort required to get to the next level, you will increase your odds of “making it” dramatically.  Few are willing to make that choice.