US decathlete Ashton Eaton (© Getty Images)
Two-time world and twice Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton reflects on his younger days, and with the benefit of time and experience, on what he would now tell himself.
I know as a young child growing up you are a big fan of Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. You love their athleticism, their fancy flips, and how they try and make the world better - so you try to emulate them by climbing on trees and jumping off roofs. You are an innately curious explorer who is not afraid to venture out on your own and try new things for the sake of discovery. There will be times in your life when you question yourself because your thoughts and interests will be different than others. Remember to never doubt your intuition and imagination.
You are also honing your future competitiveness, and I like that. Remember that time you took two sticks and pushed them as far apart as you could and tried to jump over them? You did this for about three hours. From a young age you showed a great exploratory mindset and desire to improve.
This further developed after taking up the martial art of taekwondo. You don’t know it yet, but competing in this sport will help define your mentality which will contribute to your future success. You will enjoy the fact that every stage was measured. You would start as a white belt and once you mastered all the moves at that level you would move up to the next level. You find this attractive and enticing. You desire to learn everything and pass the test to reach that next stage as quickly as possible so you can learn even more. Most importantly, to advance in martial arts will demand you do things you don’t think you can do. Yet, you try and overcome. You will do this so much that when presented with a new challenge you may have doubt, but also the confidence to try. You will forget this from time to time, but try to remember it. Such an approach will be replicated once you take up decathlon and even more so later in life. Competing in taekwondo gives you the confidence that you can do anything.
Ashton, throughout your track career you will have total tunnel vision to achieve your goals. Sometimes you will feel it is advantageous to push certain people away believing they are a distraction from you achieving their athletics goals. Yet let me tell you, this is not always the best approach.
Take more time out with others. Devote more time to meet and get to know new people. Don’t just lose contact with some of your best friends to focus solely on your track career. You will miss friend’s wedding because of training but, remember, life is short. You will later discover attending such events will have had no negative impact on your training. In fact, it could have a positive effect on your mentality.
Later you will compete at the London Olympics, but during your time at the Games you will choose, for the most part, to stay in your room. People will ask you about life in the Village but you will have no clue. Please take the time to leave your room and experience what the Olympics has to offer. This is important.
Also during your competitive career as a decathlete do try and take time out to enjoy the moment of your successes. At the time of your biggest triumphs you may sometimes struggle to understand this phrase but later you will understand success does not last forever.
Finally, Ashton, don’t be afraid to pursue something you love but may not be good at instead of something you are confident you will do well in but dislike. At school you have a specific interest in science and technology but you fear you won’t do well. You will choose instead to study psychology. Ashton, it is important to follow your passions.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF