Athletes and those focused on their health want to better their personal best, win events and overcome any injuries over their sporting season. It can be tough to get motivated and know what to do to make positive changes, so hopefully these 10 tips will help you reach your goals this year.

1. Address your attitude

Your attitude can make or break how you compete. A poor attitude can be viral – a bad play or referee call can negatively affect your performance or seep through members of a whole team. Frustration and blame are two characters you definitely don’t want to carry on your shoulders, as they could mean the difference between winning and losing. Thankfully, a good attitude is just as contagious, but it does take practice to develop a positive mindset.

2. Identify your strengths

Big BashWhile there is no doubt it’s beneficial to have a positive attitude, you also need to be realistic about where your strengths and weaknesses lie. It’s important not to ignore your weaknesses – these are nothing to be ashamed of and you and any coaches can set aside time to work on any real limiting factors standing in the way of a peak performance.

To some extent, your strengths are influenced by genetics, but they can be boosted with training and help make you a star in your field. Those athletes who spend more time building on areas they are already good at (such as catching or fielding in the game of cricket) tend to be happier, healthier and more successful, says psychologist Dr Tim Sharp from The Happiness Institute.

3. Feed your body

The phrase ‘You are what you eat’ definitely holds true for all athletes. Depending on your sport, the ratio of body fat to lean muscle can affect your performance. A dietitian can help serious athletes achieve peak inner health but, for most, simply cutting back on alcohol and processed foods and concentrating on a balanced diet of meats, cereals, fruit and vegetables can satisfy the nutrient levels your ‘temple’ requires.

Complex carbs are an athlete’s primary source of fuel (think breads, cereals, pasta, fruit, and vegetables), however you really only need to carb-load for a few days before a sporting event if you will be working out at a high intensity for more than 90 minutes. Protein is also important – while it doesn’t provide energy, it is vital to maintain muscle mass.

4. Boost your fitness

Sydney triathlonIf you’re really fit, you have a much greater chance of winning events or beating your personal best. If you’re training solo, try doing your chosen activity early in the morning. You are much less likely to be distracted from work-outs early in the day and won’t waste hours procrastinating. Plus, when you work out early, you will feel great all day! If you have trouble getting motivated for training alone, train with a friend or someone else you know who competes in the same sport. It will not only make you more accountable to your training regimen, you will probably channel your competitive nature and pick up your intensity on those days when you feel less than at your best.

5. Drink enough

We’re not talking the beer or cocktail variety here, of course. Dehydration can damage your performance and, in extreme cases, threaten your life. Playing a team sport or running etc can cause your body to dehydrate quickly, so be sure to drink before and during. Sports drinks can replace important electrolytes and mineral loss and can be factored into any type of high-intensity activity (Read Sports drinks: Facts to drink up). Remember not to wait until you are thirsty to drink, as thirst indicates you are already dehydrated. Your urine colour is a good way of checking – pale yellow or a straw colour means you are probably hydrated enough, while yellow urine means you need to reach for a drink asap. Clear urine could be a cause for concern – athletes, especially endurance athletes such as marathon runners and triathletes, need to make sure they are not overhydrated by drinking too much water or they could risk hyponatremia, a condition caused by serious sodium depletion in the body’s cells.

6. Prep, prep, prep

butterfly swimmerIt’s a no-brainer – you can’t win races or top your personal best if you haven’t done the prep. Training, warming up to prevent injury, eating well, mental preparation, hiring a coach if you don’t already have one and competing on a regular basis are all great ways to prepare yourself for winning. You might have a stack of natural ability but so do lots of other people. So, unless you are committed to working hard at your chosen sport (and not just on game or competition day), you may not reach the goals you set yourself. After all, there is no (legal) substitute for downright hard work when it comes to improving your sporting performance.

7. Concentrate on technique

Golf swingWhatever sport you take part in, the chance of injuries is often in the background. Focussing on technique can help you avoid unnecessary injuries. In the most basic forms, for example, netballers can focus on landing correctly to prevent knee injury (Read The goal to save netballers’ knees); cyclists can lift themselves from the saddle (ideally on a rise) for a few seconds now and again to ease back pressure; swimmers can ensure their strokes are conducted properly to stave off shoulder injuries; tennis players can concentrate on hitting the ball in such as way so as to avoid elbow, shoulder and wrist injury. If you already have an injury and are still training, try not to alter your correct technique to compensate, otherwise you could develop bad habits that will only set you up for further injury.

8. Shave the seconds

If you take part in timed sports (such as running events, triathlons etc) or even a team sport where you need to negotiate a ball around other players, seconds – even fractions of a second – matter! For example, cyclists might look at their equipment first – a lighter bike will travel more quickly – and are well-known for shaving every exposed part of their bodies to minimise drag. Also, footballers might investigate and practise ways in which to move the ball quickly between their feet and pass it onto another team member – a second too long in transferring a ball might mean the opposition steals it away. Work on shaving your seconds using a combination of equipment and technique, and you may see yourself on the winning podium before you know it.

9. Learn from winners

Australian netball champion Laura Geitz

Australian netball champion Laura Geitz.

If you love your sport, chances are you have a few heroes you aspire to be like. In reality, being a sporting hero goes beyond performing the physical feats of a sport. Every athlete does that. It’s their business, after all. True heroes exude that something special. They may have perfected a technique that allows them to allude the opposition’s attempts to thwart them. Or they may have, like Sir Donald Bradman, a humility and sportsmanship that is respected and admired beyond their superior level of talent. If you have a mean right football foot, perhaps you could train it to ‘bend like Beckhams’? Or you might want to channel the sheer determination of Serbian tennis player Ana Ivanovic, who has seen her fair share of ups and downs over the years (due to form and various coaches) to achieve her current world ranking of number six. There is much you can learn from sporting stars’ successes and failures, so spend some time on a little research to see how you might gain.

10. Stay motivated

This probably one of the hardest things to achieve long-term. Motivation is measured in two forms: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic is the desire to perform well and succeed, while extrinsic is based upon reward – such as the winning prize, medal or place. It works to think of motivation in terms of the commitment you’ve made to yourself. Each day you are sometimes motivated, sometimes not, but when you’re committed, motivation becomes easier.

City to Surf

City to Surf. Photography: Dominic Loneragan.

To become the best athlete you can be, you must be motivated to do what it takes to maximise your ability and achieve your goals. To increase motivation, you can utilise visual clues, such as inspirational notes and photographs, set goals (the sense of accomplishment and validation of the effort helps you feel good and makes you want to strive higher), and address on a regular basis what you can do to be the best athlete you can possibly be. At the end of the day, to be a winner in your field or better your personal best, you not only have to work hard, you also have to want it really bad.

What other tips do you find help you to win or beat your personal best? Let us in on your secrets in the comments section below.