I’ve been in the presence of plenty of entitled athletes who believe their hard work has entitled them to results, or even the right to open their mouths at all. I love people like this, because they’re typically the first to become a royal embarrassment in the throes of competition. It certainly blows the mind with the “everyone deserves to feel special” participation trophy era, but I’m equally stunned by the “you worked hard, you deserve it!” mantra. Similarly, I’m instantly skeptical of anyone who can’t name a unique trait besides “I work hard!” that makes you a strong athlete/competitor.

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If you have truly worked hard, have the confidence to say you’re fast, because you put in the tens of thousands of hours to get there.

If you have truly worked hard, have the guts to say you’re strong, because you have the faith in the results of your training.

If you have truly worked hard, have the measure to say you’re smart, because you have dutifully committed the time into practicing every possible scenario.

Working hard is the minimum base line requirement to even be considered an athlete

It’s not a unique trait. It’s not a special talent and it doesn’t determine skill. It’s literally the most basic tool for achieving success that any and all methodologies boil down into. It’s the final variable that determines the yield from the combination of focus, direction, and commitment. Consequently, any compromise of those three contribute to the variation of results that each individual athlete chooses. In conclusion, what does it really look like to bring the concept of working hard to a level where it can genuinely be recognized as a unique strength?

Focus – Often times, both winners and losers train the same on paper. I talked about this the last time I wrote for APS and I bring it up again with the topic of focus. I have seen enough garbage on my Facebook feed of how hard someone is working only to completely humiliate them in competition. Often times these same people probably put in more hours than me, or even perform the same workouts. I have also been soundly defeated and put in place by competitors with similar regimens. The difference comes down to a willingness to push the body to its threshold every second of every workout. This is an incredibly simple concept that is consistently resisted due to the general population’s unwillingness to admit their own mental weakness. If you run a six minute mile, you’ve got no business clocking in the eights. It’s that simple. Don’t tell me you’ve pushed ten miles if you have to hide the fact you pushed them slower than I could crawl.

Direction – Nothing makes my head hurt more than an idiot claiming that hard work can solve anything. I can’t walk, and no amount of training will let me walk up a flight of stairs, just like no amount of training will let any human being fly. Treating hard work as a path and not a tool is a guaranteed way to immortalize your stupidity forever. Find the path to success through proper training and education. Once the foundation is laid out, treat hard work as a tool to travel the path you’ve laid out to ultimately achieve your goal. Training for IRONMAN Kona is equally as strenuous as training to be an NBA player. Don’t train like an ironman to play basketball and don’t train like a basketball player to run an ironman. Going all out in the wrong direction will still only lead to failure.

Commitment – This is so painfully obvious it almost hurts to write. Working hard is a lifestyle discipline, not a highlight reel. You don’t get to stitch together your top moments and put them on social media and pretend that’s how you handle everything. Every waking second of your life is a test to your will to commit to excellence. Training is only a couple hours of your day. The real work comes in the other twenty-odd hours—how you sleep, what you eat, and all the other ways you treat your body. After all, it’s not hard if you bust yourself for a couple hours only to take it easy and slack the rest. You will have to sacrifice for the sake of your training. That’s not debatable.

Constant reflection and evaluation of work ethic is a must to succeed

One of my mentors has gained notoriety as one of the fastest and most explosive players in our league. In a function class that’s generally not recognized for explosiveness, he has set a new bar for what’s possible, and now expected at the elite level. In talking to him, I’m grateful for his guidance, support, and how he constantly challenges me. I remember once, when recounting how a significantly less accomplished player asked him what his key to success was. My mentor simply said to train hard. When the inferior player responded that he did, he was asked, “Do you really train hard, or are you just fat?”

What’s hard today won’t be hard tomorrow. What’s hard for you might only be hard because you’re not good enough. Accepting this truth is the first step towards improvement. The standard for what is acceptable must be accountable for itself each and every time you prepare to train. Keep pushing, or quit dreaming.

James Sa is an APS athlete and wheelchair rugby player for San Diego Sharp Edge. He works full-time as a grant writer and enjoys reading, trying new food, and video games. He doesn’t enjoy training because he trains the right way and works hard. He’s not afraid to train so hard that he’d be embarrassed to post it on Instagram.