This week’s blog is a personal story from Taylor Finley, sharing her own experience with a sports camp earlier this month.
What would you think if someone asked you compete in an intense competition for 20-hours straight? You would probably think that they are crazy! But over the past month hundreds of collegiate athletes across the country took on this challenge at Athletes in Action’s infamous “Ultimate Training Camp”. This high intensity, Christian sports camp teaches athletes 5 biblical principles and then puts them to the test in a 20-hour sports marathon known as “The S.P.E.C.I.A.L.”. Athletes refer to this challenge as, “the toughest 20 hours of my life,” “pure exhaustion yet,” and “absolutely life-changing”. I had the opportunity to attend Ultimate Training Camp this year and can say that it was nothing short of life-changing. Although the focus of the camp was to incorporate God into your sport, which was certainly central to my experience, I was also amazed to see how elements of sport psychology and the power of the human mind played such an important role in every athlete’s experience.
I want to focus on The S.P.E.C.I.A.L., as it was an incredible platform to see sacrifice, passion, pain, and triumph through sport in its most extreme form. Many athletes experienced a breaking point, or point at which they don’t believe they can go any further, and their body wanted to break down due to exhaustion. This is when it was crucial to apply the biblical principles we learned, humble ourselves, and surrender to the Lord. For me, seeing grown men and the strongest of athletes fall to their knees and break down in tears was extremely powerful and emotional. In physical exhaustion but more so overwhelming emotion, we learned how to surrender and move forward when we thought our bodies couldn’t carry us anymore. This is when the mind, and for me the grace of God, allowed us to persevere far past what I ever thought was possible. Personally, this may not have been the most physically challenging workout I have done in my life, but through this experience I saw the biggest transformation in myself as a person and as an athlete. I was amazed and how far I could go. Sprints, push-ups, or anything else thrown my way, I could not only complete but also excel at because of the power of my mind. Whether that is grit, mental toughness, or the grace of God, one thing is that through sport these athletes were able to experience something that had a dramatic affect on their lives.
In your weakest moment, you learn the most about yourself. Sports often expose your weaknesses in the most brutal ways, and The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. certainly forced the athletes to feel exhaustion and weakness. However, what most athletes found was that they had some source of strength deep inside themselves, to fight through and not simply survive the competition but actually thrive! This is the beautiful and unique thing about sports. Athletics has a unique way of breaking an athlete down in order to build them up even stronger, and this is when the greatest lessons are learned as we saw through The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Through sports and competition you can experience pain, suffering, failure, disappointment, and exhaustion like no other; whether physically through an injury or emotionally through a loss of a big game. At the same token however, sports teach us how to overcome adversity and preserve, resulting in incomparable joy, success, and relationships in teammates. Every athlete can say that playing sports shaped their character in some way or another for the good. It is often through the trials, such as that breaking point in The S.P.E.C.I.A.L., that qualities such as leadership, determination or grit develop within the individual.
This is when having a growth mindset, a concept that is widely used in sport psychology training, comes into play. Having a growth mindset involves believing abilities can be developed through effort and dedication, and in times of trial it is important to know that this challenge is all part of a process and a bigger picture. Finding your purpose and a strong motivation for why you play your sport is essential, and can help you overcome these times of disappointment or when you just don’t think you can push any further. For the athletes at Ultimate Training Camp, we focused on playing for God as our motivation. For any athlete, if you find a powerful motivation, whatever that may be for you, and focus deeply on that in every moment, whether practicing alone or playing in front of thousands of fans, you will be amazed at how far you can go and what you can achieve.