The Self-Denying Athlete

We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” —Jesse Owens

I pride myself on self-improvement. I’m always listening to audio books while driving or reading books while at home. Nearly every successful person in any field throughout history says that the single most important key to success is self-discipline. Without self-discipline, we are doomed to revert back to our old ways and never truly grow.

Self-discipline can be applied to any field, but I thought it would be interesting to apply it to becoming a better athlete, competitive or not.

Social life: We see this catch up to even some of our best professional athletes. The temptation and urge to go out and party and stay out until 3:00 a.m. has ended many promising careers early. There is an old saying that nothing good can happen to you if you’re out past midnight. I’m not saying that you can’t have friends but rather that you need to be disciplined in your social life and the people you associate with.

Sleeping in: One thing that most people dread is hearing that alarm clock in the morning. I can look back at my athletic career from basketball through competitive bodybuilding and say that training or practice never got put on the back burner for anything. This meant getting up before school back in high school and riding my bike to the YMCA to work out and shoot 500 jump shots and waking up at 3:30 a.m. to train for my bodybuilding shows. You get the point. Do I regret not sleeping in all those times? No because I was able to get more done before most people woke up than the average person accomplished the entire day! I’m not saying athletes don’t need sleep. But if you’re going to get up early to hone your craft, make sure you go to sleep earlier.

Eating: It’s easy for athletes at the high school level to not eat or hydrate properly. Many eat absolute junk that won’t help them and probably makes them perform poorly, gain unwanted body fat, and recover slowly. Having a nice dinner or dessert once in a while is good for the mind and possibly the body at certain points, but we can’t make a habit of it. Rather we need to eat the right foods at the right times, have a plan, and work that plan.

Television time: I love watching a great sporting event or even a Seinfeld rerun, but those are things that I plan into my schedule. Watching long hours of television can negatively affect your energy and state of mind. Most people feel worse after sitting for three hours watching television. Ironically, the very reason they think they’re watching is to unwind and relax. Pick up a good book instead.

Mediocrity: OK, this one isn’t so hard to give up. If you do have a tough time giving this up, you probably don’t have the mental make-up to be a successful, competitive athlete anyways. Ninety-nine percent of the population is mediocre. We are the ones who want and have a strong desire to be different. We realize that we create our lives and athletic careers. Our lives and careers don’t just happen. We get out of them exactly what we put into them.

Money: Think about Olympic athletes, the ones with truly amateur status. These athletes don’t get paid for their training time or sport and only a lucky few make it through the big time endorsements  (i.e. Phelps, Bolt). Many of these athletes drive beat-up cars and can’t afford to go on vacations. This isn’t just Olympic athletes. Think about yourself for a moment. I bet you would spend your last dollar on a great program or on a great coach who would help you become a better athlete. Other people think we’re just wasting our money, but we get more value out of our sacrifices than most people can ever imagine.

Comfort: To be great, we must be willing to push ourselves out of our comfort zones day after day, training session after training session. Many athletes play through fatigue and exhaustion, which most of the population couldn’t even begin to fathom. The mediocre won’t push themselves past their comfort zones during training and that is why they’re still mediocre.

Sex: OK, I’m not going to say that I recommend this or have used this in my career, but if we look back through history at boxing, many of the greatest fighters of all time used this strategy because they thought sex would make them fatigued and less aggressive. The thought process is completely irrational. But think about just how far serious athletes are willing to go to achieve success. No matter what your opinion is on this, it nevertheless takes a tremendous amount of discipline.

If you’re an athlete (former or current) or coach, be proud of the self-discipline your sporting career has brought you and the same discipline that you have brought to your sport. The greatest thing I could have carried and taken from my competitive athletic career wasn’t a trophy or memories. Rather it was the self-discipline that I can now use in every area of my life. As athletes, this discipline will never leave you. That burning desire will always be inside of you. The only thing that will change is that at some point we will have to put the ball down and continue excelling at the game of life. That is when all the self-discipline and self-denial will truly be worth it.

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About the Author

Kyle Newell is the owner of Newell Strength, located in central New Jersey. To find out more about Kyle’s training insights, visit