Did Alex Rodriguez gamble with his time as a key player in the baseball world? Did Anthony Ervin take his body for granted after winning gold in 1996 and not winning again until 2016? What does it take to be a lifelong champion?
According to the book, The Champion's Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive, "To perform at a champion's level, you must have a winning off-field game plan that includes specific strategies-for instance well-placed environmental cues that you can use to achieve your excellence and remind yourself that you are working to win." A winning off-field game plan, which does not include performance enhancing supplements. The environment that you put yourself in can support your growth or deter it. There are no easy fixes or short cuts.
31-year-old Michael Phelps owned his mistakes and got back into the pool despite his demons. By now you probably have seen the Under Armour commercial featuring Phelps training in the dark, when no one else is looking. Those are the well-placed environmental cues an athlete can use to achieve his/her excellence.
For Rodriguez, it was a matter of not believing in himself to achieve greatness without supplements, without cheating. His environment did not support his growth as an athlete, instead it blocked him from competing at a level that he himself created, not PEDs.
For his final game as a Yankee my 18-year-old son, who has been enamored by the Olympics and as deep a Yankee fan as myself, watched Rodriguez at the Stadium from second row seats with both sadness and regret. Rodriguez could have been so much more than he was to the game as a player. I don't know if it was the pressure to perform at a higher level as a Yankee, giving up his preferred position of shortstop to conform to the Yankee defensive plan and being told he would anchor the team's offense that lead him down his bad path or if he just didn't believe he could train and be who he wanted to be as an athlete without supplements.
Despite all of these obstacles, Alex Rodriguez has the numbers of a lifelong champion and perhaps a hall of famer. What builds you as a champion at a young age should stay with you as you mature. For athletes like Rodriguez, Ervin, and Phelps, it's about committing to the long hours in the gym, giving up events like Simone Biles did to become the 4'8" gymnast that conquered the world at the Games and it's what you do when no one else is looking that defines you as an athlete who knows he or she has done everything possible to be at his/her best.
At the end of the day, no matter your age, whether you are 15 or 50, "You have to train your mind like you train your body," Bruce Jenner. Rodriguez may be done as a Yankee, but will he reinvent himself with another team? Will he reinvent himself as an athlete? What keeps you a champion at any age is yourself and your willingness to eat clean and train dirty- thinking it and then doing it, visualize to actualize and feed your spirit.
--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Senior Staff Writer
BYB Hot Stove Columnist