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How to Win

Being a Finisher

Nothing quite matches the excitement of Day One of training camp.

Seeing old faces, learning new ones, getting ready for all the challenges, facing the unknown … it sounds a lot like New Year’s Eve, just without the bad driving. It’s got more buzz than Kourtney Kardashian’s pregnancy.

Only one thing takes away from the good feeling. As a coach, you never know on Day One who your finishers are. What’s a finisher? Check out this video of John Stephen Akhwari, who became a star of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Akhwari, of Tanzania, went down in history not because he won a medal, but simply because he finished. An hour after the medals were decided, Akhwari staggered into the stadium and crossed the finish line.

When asked what kept him going, Akhwari answered, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. My country sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

Now THAT’S a finisher.

Trouble is, on Day One of training camp you only know who your STARTERS are. Everyone comes full of energy. Everyone is willing to work hard. But as a coach, you must identify the ones who will be working hard three weeks from now.

Of course, part of that is up to you. A big part of your job is to motivate — as University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance says, to drive athletes to higher and higher levels of effort and achievement. And that means that YOU have to be a finisher, too.

Any coach can motivate on the first day of of practice. Any coach can arrive full of energy. It takes a special coach to motivate when the injuries hit, when bad attitudes surface, when that first discouraging loss takes place. On those days, it takes a finisher.

Speaking of finishers, the PGA tournament produced one on Sunday. Y.E. Yang became the first person ever to overtake Tiger Woods in the final round of a major.

But, like John Stephen Akhwari, Yang didn’t come to the tournament to give a poor effort. He had spent time preparing for just such a day.

“I saw that a lot of players fold when they would play with (Tiger), so I would watch on TV and come up with a mock strategy on how to win,” said Yang. “When my chance came, I thought that I could always play a good round of golf, and Tiger, who is great, could always have a bad day. And today was one of those days.”


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