Success always leaves clues, and this is no different with sprinting. I started running track when I was 7 years old, and it brought me to the NCAA, and the 2012 Olympics. Through the entire journey, there were clear habits that most successful sprinters shared. These habits are more about the intangibles that stood out over the sprinting technique.
No matter if you are at the high school, college, or professional level, these habits can make a difference. These are daily choices sprinters make that seem small but start to add up over time. That is how powerful habits work. Each habit is like a brick. One brick on its own is useless, but if you add up enough bricks, you eventually get a wall. If you stay consistent from there, you will ultimately have yourself a mansion.
7 Habits of Elite Sprinters
RECOMMENDED READING: What 17 Years of Sprinting Has Taught Me About Mastery
Great sprinters have a vision of their future. They see themselves winning the Olympics, they dream about their success at night, they daydream about winning. They spend so much time dreaming about it that when success comes in real life, there are no surprises. They have played the same tape over in their heads so many times that success only makes sense.
Elite sprinters know what the perfect race will feel like, they can feel the relaxation in the muscles, the ideal block start, and the smile on their faces when they win. Visualization is a reminder of what is being worked for, but it also makes success familiar.
2. Recovery Routine
Most successful sprinters have already had a significant injury. If not, sadly, it’s likely on the way. Very few seem to escape this fate. Injuries at the time seem like bad things, but they provide the perfect opportunity to figure out what it takes to succeed. The time not practicing gives you time to research and think. It becomes crystal clear that no matter how talented you are, you must stay healthy if you want to be great.
Elite sprinters all develop their own routine that helps them stay healthy. They have a portion of time after practice that is dedicated to staying healthy. Now, this can look a variety of ways depending on the financial resources allotted, but everyone has some mix of the following things.
- Ice bath
- Chiropractic treatment
- Prehab exercises
- Extra time in the weight room
- Assisted stretching
- Foam rolling
If you watch how Cheetahs operate in any of the animal documentaries, it’s a great representation of how elite sprinters do things. The motto is if you don’t have to run, walk. If you don’t have to walk, sit if you don’t have to sit, then lie down.
Both cheetah’s and elite sprinters are lazy. They preserve all their energy until its game time. In the case of the cheetah, that means running after an animal. For sprinters, that is a rep at practice or a race.
Rest is a huge part of being a successful sprinter. Rest can mean taking your full 5 minutes between reps, but it can also mean doing nothing on your off days or time that you are not at practice. The goal for elite sprinters is to do nothing unless it’s necessary. Operating this way takes a massive mindset shift to value training and rest in the same light.
4. Take No Prisoners Mindset
Elite sprinters always believe they can go faster, and even if it’s unrealistic, they think they are the best in the land. Sprinters all have different ways of expressing this mindset, but the root of it comes from the same place. When elite sprinters step on the track, there are no buddies, pals, or friends. It’s wartime, and elite sprinters are trying to rip anyone to shreds who dare step on the same track as them.
Usain Bolt would do all of his antics before his races and put on a show, but at the end of the day, he never once thought he was going to lose. He was going into every race, going for blood. Every Sprinter he was racing, had one thing on their mind, they wanted to be the one to dethrone him, and they all truly believed they could do it on any given day.
5. Trust in Their Coach
Elite athletes have excellent relationships with their coaches. People try and make this a strictly business relationship at the pro level all of the time, but it rarely works. Elite sprinters have a mutually healthy relationship. Both parties, like each other, listen to each other, and understand how the other operates.
Too many athletes think that their talent can succeed with any coach. While there are too many coaches that believe that their program can work for anyone. Both attitudes slowly erode a positive athlete-coach relationship. Once this relationship breaks down, success on the track is going to suffer no matter how good the workouts are.
6. Seeking Mentorship
Elite sprinters always seek out mentors that can help them get better. This is the big reason that people go to an individual school or join a specific training group. Elite sprinters want to be around people who are better than them. Even if one of the best, you can still train with people who are strong where you are weak.
Most successful sprinters can point back to one or two athletes who mentored them and helped them to understand what is required to be successful. The reason mentorship matters are because its someone who knows the game better than you are cutting down on your learning curve. Instead of learning from making mistakes, you get to learn from people who have already messed up.
7. Seeking Critique Over Praise
You know that you are stepping into the elite ranks when you care more about getting critique than you do about praise. When you are first starting to learn something, you yearn for approval. If you get critiqued too much too early, you eventually just give up because you don’t have the confidence in it to stick with the harsh criticism.
On the other hand, when you are elite, you want to improve and fix all the little things you do wrong. You already have a good idea of what you do right, but you seek feedback to consistently get a better picture of what you can improve to help you get to a new level.
For example, when you seek a critique every day, that is 365 chances to improve something you are doing well. Where praise may make you feel good, there is not a lot you can learn from it. The learning is in the mistakes and the failure.
The easiest way to be successful is to find someone who has what you want and copy their daily habits. For sprinters, the things they do every day are subtle but that time spent resting, and working to stay healthy, keeps you in the game so you can train. The visualization builds mental fortitude. While having a good relationship with a coach and mentors makes sure that your environment is healthy and pushing you to learn. When you put it all together, you get an athlete ready to dominate for the long haul.