One of the hardest variables to measure is your athletic potential. Nobody knows how good they can ultimately become, which is why they practice and train to improve. People must believe that there is no ceiling to their potential. As soon as you see a limit to your work, it becomes discouraging. If I believed that all I would ever amount to is a 52 meter discus thrower, I would quit right now. I want to throw farther and if I knew that I would never be better no matter how hard I tried, I’d pursue something else. If you bag groceries and someday wish to manage a chain of Meijer’s, go for it. If you believe that you will never be anything but a bagger and aren’t satisfied with asking “Paper or plastic?” anymore, do something to change it, or get another job.

Your potential lies in your physical attributes as well as your mental approach to whatever you are pursuing. A taller person who is more explosive and has a larger wingspan will have more physical potential than myself. However, the equalizing force is your determination. If that same person has less desire, you can overcome your physical deficiencies and be as good as, or better than them. If you don’t believe this, you don’t believe in yourself.

Goals are a reflection of your self-confidence. Last year I had a conversation with one of my track teammates from high school, David, regarding goal setting. He was training to compete in the 400 hurdles at AAU competitions over the summer. By getting a good time in this event, he hoped to acquire a walk on position for MSU’s track team. His training partner was Javonte, a self-assured and naive high school sophomore who was on the rise. They both set goals for themselves going into the summer, David’s goal was to run 2 seconds faster (54) than where he trained at. On the other hand, Javonte was intent to run 4 seconds faster (52). The difference between the two was the belief in their potential. David limited himself by not believing in a higher goal, he ran a time similar to where he practiced at. Javonte may not have achieved his desired time, but he ran substantially faster (53.89) than he’d been training at, and earned All- American honors in the process. This may have been because Javonte had more athletic potential, but it was also because of his belief in himself and his abilities. To David’s credit, he had set a lofty goal earlier in the high school season and achieved it when most people didn’t think he could. He was an extremely hard worker and very dedicated to the sport. I honestly believe that David felt he had tapped out most of his potential, which is why his goal was so modest.

There is nothing wrong with setting goals that people think are ridiculous. When all is said and done, you might not have accomplished what you set out to do, but you probably improved more than you would have with lower expectations. My goal prior to senior year was to improve my discus by 20 feet (from 160 to 180) and my shot by 7 feet (from 48 to 55). While I may never have registered a mark that met those goals, I threw the distances on different occasions during practice. Let me be clear in saying that this doesn’t satisfy what I set out to do, but only assured me that I had it within my means. The form I used never allowed for me to accomplish my goals, but the desire I had enabled me to even shoot for them in the first place. Officially, I improved by 10 feet and 3 feet respectively

Don’t limit yourself by being too “realistic” in your foresight. Believe you can accomplish great things and approach every day with that in mind. You will always come across people with more talent or potential than yourself, but talent is only one part of the equation for success. The other component is your mindset and desire to improve. Maybe you will beat the more gifted competitors someday, and maybe you will lose but still tap into more of your potential. Tyson Gay will probably never beat Usain Bolt in a race. I hope he doesn’t believe that, and I’m sure that’s the case. Tyson continued to train and improve even after Usain shattered records at the Olympics. In the 2009 World Championships, he recorded a personal best time of 9.71 seconds in the 100m. While he may have finished second in the race, he ran a time that nobody but him or Bolt had ever touched legally.

Obviously, part of your athletic potential is determined by genetics. However, a person can only reach the limits of that potential by having a commitment to excellence. Your mindset and work ethic truly dictate how far you can go. I believe that, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to compete with bigger, more gifted athletes.

This may be precocious and contradictory in some aspects. I realize that in all this talk of excellence and commitment, I’m not even a national level thrower myself. The reason I write this is because in my mind I truly believe that I can become one. If you truly believe in yourself and your ability to perform, and execute to the best extent possible, you will realize your potential.