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With track season about to start, many athletes are starting to think about their goals for the 2018 season. In addition to specific goals for your times or marks, I’d like to you to think just as much about goals for your improvement process.

Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has demonstrated through her research that long-term achievement, success and life satisfaction depends more upon sustained and focused effort—grit—than upon talent.   Dr. Duckworth endorses a four-step cycle for effort and improvement; setting a challenging stretch goal, focusing upon that goal, evaluate the results you attain from your focused effort, and then reflect upon those results and see how you want to improve the next round.


All of these steps are important. You might start by thinking about (and writing down) your goals for the season, and maybe talk to your coaches about what you would like to achieve this season. Next…100% focused effort. Be prepared for good practices (sleep, nutrition, hydration, stretch and take care of injuries, be on time) and be diligent once you are at practice. Over the course of the season, you will continue to get feedback; how you feel at practice, the way your reps improve, how hard it feels to work at a certain level and how fast you recover, and your marks at competitions and league finals. And then after the season, you can reflect and consider how you want to improve over the next year; more off-season training, maybe add work in the weight room, different time management.

All of these steps are necessary. The focus step may be the most challenging for a young person, but without focus the four-step process breaks down. If you wanted to jump 15’ and only jumped 13’8”; and during the season you missed 20% of the practices, and tried to skip out on some of the less-fun plyometrics work; at the end of the season, how do you know whether the training was sufficient for you to break 15’ or not?


One reason Dr. Duckworth’s concept of grit is so appealing is that the choice to be gritty, and the choice to embark on this cycle of improvement, is independent of the amount of innate or genetic talent an athlete might have. Anyone can choose to set a tough goal for themselves and pursue that goal with 100% focus and passion. You don’t have to be gifted to decide you want to be the best you can be. You choose to be the best you can be. And Dr. Duckworth’s research has shown that people with the grit to be persistent and work hard over a long period of time can out-perform people with more innate talent but less grit and less desire to invest effort.

The reason this matters to me is not only because we would have a better track team if we all were focused and gritty. The reason this matters to me is because the kids on the track team that develop these habits, have an opportunity to be more successful and feel more satisfaction in their lives. And I want you to have success and satisfaction and happiness in your future.


I know that this process helped me in my life. In my last job, and long before I had heard of Angela Duckworth, one of my responsibilities were some very contentious licensing negotiations with some big electronics companies. These companies were much bigger than my company, and I have some very vivid memories of walking into meetings with myself and one attorney on my side of the table, and on the other side 18 people from Fujitsu: An executive in charge, three or four attorneys, four or five engineers, a marketing person, two manufacturing engineers, and a couple more people who had jobs I never quite figured out. Scary! And we would go round and around in discussions for a year before coming to an agreement. Before each meeting, I’d have an idea of what we wanted to accomplish. I’d prepare for the meeting with my team as much as we could, and my attorney and I would do the best we could in that meeting. After each meeting, we would evaluate what we accomplished and come up with improvements and plans for the future and apply what we learned not only to negotiations with that specific company but also to our company’s entire licensing strategy. And, repeat.

I think you can learn a lot during a track season about this virtuous cycle of goals, effort, feedback on results, and reflection and plans for improvement. And I believe that internalizing the benefits of this cycle will help you though out your lives.


And here is the key: This virtuous cycle of grit, of improvement, is available to each and every one of you! This cycle is independent of talent. You don’t have to be a naturally gifted athlete to decide to set a stretch goal for yourself, and focus 100% on achieving that goal. This cycle is a choice. You can choose, or not, to set challenging goals for yourself. You can choose, or not, to focus and work hard this coming track season. This choice to be gritty or not is available to all 129 athletes that have signed up for the track team. I think that is an empowering idea.


Dan Coughlin says, “Excellence is doing the best you can at whatever you are doing while simultaneously learning how to do it better the next time.” Nothing in this quote about how you are doing compared to other people, or against other marks. Dan talks about doing the best you can do, and continuing to improve.

I couldn’t agree more, and that’s what I am hoping for from the team, and from you, this season.

Let’s all get ready for a season of excellence, in the best and broadest sense of the word!