The Athlete’s Code

The Athlete’s Code

For the past 30 years, I have been lucky and privileged enough to be involved in several sport activities and some of them at the highest level of competition. I mixed with a lot of sportsmen/women and among them I met just a few athletes.

In my eyes, it’s not enough to be talented in sport, to be commercially exposed and/or to have a six pack to be considered a real athlete. It’s more than this: no one is born as an athlete, you become one, it’s a status that you earn and you must deserve. It’s a journey. A sportsman should not be seen as a real athlete based on just one moment or one performance but on a continuity of events and practice, a long time process with constancy in attitude and behaviour.

Regardless of the sport practised, the ethnicity, the gender, age etc… Those whom I have met that I consider to be athletes are very similar in their behaviour, they give one this feeling that their actions are naturally influenced by a kind of universal code of ethics. When you meet an athlete often it is obvious that there is something special about this individual. On the one hand, there are things which can be seen or heard such as physical shape, presence, words and posture in movement; and on the other hand there are things which cannot be seen but can still be perceived such as an aura of confidence, of self assurance, of well being and a hidden physical and mental strength.

It takes time, commitment, a lot of effort, some sacrifice, some compromise and more to achieve the status of ‘athlete’ in my mind, but all have in common this overarching code of behaviour which I will attempt to identify below:

A code of discipline and structure. With time and the repetition of appropriate and specific training, the athlete sets up some patterns and some inner connections which naturally become structured and repeated routines. They will be potentially used again and/or added to others in the case of transferring across between physical, sportive and /or psychological activities. The athlete is conscious that he has an inner spiritual warrior who drives his actions and controls his own feelings at any given time and does not let them take over without good reason. For this, the athlete needs to be very disciplined internally as well as externally.

A code of honesty and responsibility towards himself. The athlete doesn’t lie to himself, he doesn’t cheat, he is honest with himself and doesn’t try to find any excuses. He knows straight away if what he has done is good or not. The athlete questions himself, he can be introspective and self-critical and considers all the positive AND negative aspects of his performance. He can hear the truth without feeling hurt. He utilises constructive criticism to become better. The athlete takes and assumes his choices and his responsibilities; he doesn’t blame anybody else for the consequences of his own actions.

A code of respect and ethics. The athlete must respect himself and look to create a healthy mind in a healthy body. His body is his most incredible tool; he has to take care of it. Knowing how to structure the training is obviously important, however, the way of living, the behaviour, being open minded, the resting time, diet etc are as important. The athlete respects and tolerates others and the surroundings in which he evolves.

A code of strength and pain. The athlete is not only physically strong; he has to be psychologically and mentally strong too. He doesn’t give up easily and always finds enough energy to push his limits and motivations forward. Pain and hardship is part of being an athlete, and so he learns how to control it and use it positively. It often occurs during training but unfortunately sometimes also through physical and/or emotional injuries. We often discover the real athlete only after he has been through difficulties and physical and/or mental pain. The athlete faces them; he doesn’t run away and if he falls he always stands up again. Most of the time, the athlete stands up with dignity from these experiences, he becomes much stronger, much more mature and is able to put things into perspective

A code of pride and integrity. The athlete is not pretentious; however, he is proud of who he is and what he has accomplished. He is aware of all the sacrifices he had to make to reach this point; furthermore he recognises, is grateful and respectful for the sacrifices and/or compromises others have done for him. There is always an official or unofficial team behind the success of an athlete. The athlete is authentic. He keeps his integrity and he doesn’t denigrate his roots and his background which are present all the time during his evolution. He doesn’t make any judgement about other people’s roots and background.

A code of humility and progression. The athlete understands that ‘Perfection is not found in men but only in their intentions’, and that his limits today won’t be his limits tomorrow. He constantly looks for ways too grow within his practice and within himself. Even though he can be the best today, it might happen that others will be at this position instead of him in the future. The athlete doesn’t give up and keeps fighting but accepts that others can be better than him.

A code of courage and sharing. The athlete is not scared to share experience and knowledge even if this can potentially give the opportunity to others to take over. He is not afraid to take up new challenges. The athlete is not driven by fear; he gives and shares out of pleasure and love, not out of interest in reward.

A code of heart and happiness. The athlete gives 100% of his body and soul into his practice. He lives it. He is passionate, he enjoys what he is doing, he appreciates and takes pleasure in his discipline even when he talks about it. He lives the present and uses his past to improve his future. He feels free and happy in spite of the harder aspects of training such as the pain, disappointments, defeats etc…

A code of winning and fairness. The athlete develops the “desire to overcome” as well as the mentality to be the best he can be and to go beyond himself. It doesn’t matter if the competition is against others or against himself, it becomes an element to surpass. Nevertheless, this journey to win cannot be taken at any price. The athlete follows some rules with fairness and ethical behaviour; he understands where the line between his victory and his defeat is. This is not necessarily in the result but more in the way he approaches it. It doesn’t matter what will happen, he always controls the result by giving his best every time, so then he won’t have any regrets nor bitterness.

A code of the artist and the man. With time, the athlete polishes the connection between his body and his brain; he refines this harmony between both to be more efficient, faster, stronger, more fluid, more accurate and more confident. The athlete is creative; he will make his practice become an art. His execution, his perception and his approach seem to be easy, “effortless” and graceful to others. The athlete becomes “noble” in his gestures, in his attitude and in his reflections. However, the athlete is just a man, so we should see the same ethic and same behaviour in his daily life and not only in the context of his sport’s performance. An athlete is a person of honour.

Only time and the consistency in one’s behaviour can affirm this status of athlete upon an individual. The man and the athlete, with all their strengths and weaknesses, are one.

There are people who say that they are athletes and there are the athletes who don’t have to say anything…

by Francois ‘Forrest’ Mahop