A high-performance athlete coach reveals his six-factor approach to turning talent into greatness
By Gaétan Boutin, B.Sc Kinesiology, CSCS, CCP
It all started at an early age in grade school. My friends and I would sit around the lunchroom table debating about our favourite athletes. “Who’s the best athlete in the world?” was always a hot topic. But the ultimate debate for me was this one simple question: Are elite, world-class athletes born great or just built to be champions?
This question planted a seed inside my head and it’s still growing to this day. I would research and research about my favourite athletes in hopes of coming up with the answer to this age-old question, and I have since made it my life’s mission.
I am a high-performance athlete development coach and I have helped engineer elite athletes from all sorts of different sports. I am going to share with you my proven, battle-tested approach to developing athletes from years of research, trial and error, and actual case studies.
I have come to the conclusion that the answer to this question is simple: elite, world-class athletes are both born and made. An athlete is born with a certain set of superior genetic traits that help make them elite in certain areas, but — and this is important — in order for them to achieve the highest level of sport, they must go through the daunting gauntlet of elite athletic development.
Over the years as a coach, experimenting with world-class athletes, having lots of success and lots of failure, I have created what I believe is the ultimate formula for engineering the perfect athlete — “The Strong Athlete Six Factors to Elite Performance.” Like any good blueprint, you have to be precise, know what kind of materials you have
to work with, and accept that it’s going to be a long haul because there are no shortcuts to greatness.
It’s important to note that these factors are not treated in a speciﬁc priority sequence. Think of it like building the perfect wheel: all spokes have to be of equal length to balance the wheel so it can roll smoothly. Now that you understand the foundation, let’s get right into the six factors.
The Champion’s Mindset
The perfect athlete must have a laser-focused mindset. This can’t be underestimated, so I work endlessly on developing and formulating specific mindset strategies for the athletes I coach. If you ask an elite athlete who has reached the pinnacle of their sport to tell you the story of their journey to the top, you can bet that they will say something along the lines of, “when I was kid, I always envisioned myself playing in the Super Bowl,” or “hoisting the Stanley Cup,” or “winning a Gold Medal in the Olympics.” The perfect athlete is driven and motivated first and foremost by a fire deep inside that pushes them through extreme conditions that most people couldn’t tolerate. This is something they are born with, but it’s also something they have to constantly work at developing.
In addition to intense focus, the perfect athlete must be hungry. Hunger is such a powerful force that makes humans go to absolute extremes in order to eat. It’s literally a survival principle, so when an athlete takes this basic instinct and turns it into a driving force to relentlessly hunt down their dream of being great, they become unstoppable.
The perfect athlete can do well from having a chip on their shoulder — something that they are pissed off about and have been for years. You’ve heard stories from countless athletes who say things like “my high-school basketball coach cut me from the team,” or “everyone said I wasn’t good enough, big enough, strong enough, or talented enough,” and the list just goes on. They need this — for adversity can be turned into motivation, and motivation is a powerful fuel that can accelerate the rise to greatness.
The perfect athlete always has superior skills, and these skills are developed from hours and hours of tirelessly working on their craft. In fact, the rule of thumb in the performance world is that, in order to achieve mastery of any skill, you have to dedicate at least 10,000 hours of work to it. You’ve probably seen those commercials featuring Edmonton Oilers phenom Connor McDavid, for example. When he was a young child, his father hung up a several-inch-thick board of plywood in their garage, and told him, “If you shatter this board with your shot, you will make it to the NHL.” So a young McDavid toiled in a Richmond Hill garage for years, honing his skills until he eventually destroyed that piece of plywood. Today, he is not only in the NHL, but is considered one of the greatest hockey players of all time, even after just one pro season. I tell athletes all the time that it takes 10 years to become a success, so you better settle in and get comfortable because there is lots of work to be done.
From an early age, it’s important to have young athletes playing a wide range of sports to help them develop diverse motor skills. The perfect athlete starts as the perfect well-rounded athlete. High-level athletes — even young ones — should be able to pick up a new sport or skill very quickly because they were exposed to so many different movement patterns early on. This is critical!
Once the athlete reaches a certain age, usually around his or her mid-teens, they can start the transition into specializing in or focusing on the sport in which they want to be world-class at. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule, but the majority of case studies prove that the best approach to building the perfect athlete is to diversify their exposure to all sports at an early age.
Never, ever can the perfect athlete think that they have “made it” and they no longer need to work on improving their skills. New skill development needs to be a lifelong mandate for the perfect athlete.
You can’t build a world-class athletic machine and then piss in the gas tank and expect it to win. When it comes to nutrition, the perfect athlete must make a lifelong commitment to eating real food — whole, unprocessed, natural, and organic meals. As well, they must commit to drinking real water — spring water naturally sourced from deep within mother nature — and use only the highest-quality nutritional supplements available on the planet that don’t contain harmful artificial ingredients.
The perfect athlete doesn’t waste their efforts from practising and training by refuelling their body with low-quality sources of protein, carbs, fats, and fluids — it just doesn’t work that way. There are so many hidden toxins and perfomance-robbing chemicals in processed, fast-foods that, over time, will cause the athlete’s body to break down, leading to chronic injuries and early retirement. The perfect athlete doesn’t eat with a fast-food quick-fix mindset. The perfect athlete must have so much respect for their body that they seek out every nutritional advantage they can get based on the latest cutting-edge research.
Freaky Strength and Conditioning
This is where we separate the good from the great. Physical abilities such as power, strength, mobility, agility, and endurance can often fall under the “born with it” side of the equation. Elite athletes are born with certain genetic traits that will help them excel in speciﬁc sports. For example, an athlete born with a higher ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle ﬁbres is going to be much more successful at explosive sports such as sprinting or powerlifting. On the contrary, they would not do so well in an Ironman endurance race. So it’s important that the athlete’s genetic strengths are identiﬁed at an earlier age to steer them in the right direction for success.
While genetics do play a role here, don’t get down on yourself if you don’t think you were blessed with genetic greatness. With today’s scientiﬁc advancements in strength and conditioning training, an athlete can make exceptional improvements in their physical capabilities. I’ve seen it ﬁrst-hand! It will take hours and hours in the gym lifting weights, swinging kettlebells, doing pull-ups, pushing sleds, running sprints, and going far beyond the limits, but the work will pay off in the end.
It's All About the Team
The simple truth is that nobody ever truly achieves greatness on their own. It takes a dedicated, hard-working team to help an athlete become a champion. Even in individual sports like golf, where the athlete is seemingly out there on their own, there is a team of experts right behind the curtain. Champions have intelligent coaches, great training partners, and a strong network of social support such as family, friends, and loved ones around them.
And the most important thing is that all members of the team believe 100 per cent in the athlete and support their goal by being positive and motivating at all times. To become the perfect athlete, you need a village behind you, supporting your journey every step of the way. It’s that simple.
Calculated Rest and Recovery
A great coach knows when to push their athlete and when to scale them back. All performance adaptations from training occur during the recovery time away from the gym, so the perfect athlete must make sure they are factoring in enough downtime. You can’t always be training full out — hard work alone doesn’t build champions; smart work is equally as important.
The perfect athlete treats their body like a well-oiled machine, getting regular maintenance through massages, infrared sauna sessions, cryogenic therapy, and salt bath therapy. They also know the importance of sleep and ensure that they are getting enough sleep every night to support the recovery process from their physically and mentally demanding schedule. Sleep is underrated and should be a top priority for every athlete who wants to become great.
So there are the six components of what I believe it takes to engineer the perfect athlete. Mindset, skill development, nutrition, conditioning, support, and rest. Without any one of these factors, you will never reach your true potential. I will end with one of my favourite quotes: “Hard work beats talent every time, but when talent works hard … look the hell out!”
ABOUT STRONG ATHLETE
Based in Brampton, Ontario, Strong Athlete’s philosophy is to help athletes, professionals, and individuals push past their limits and become the best version of themselves. Currently, Strong Athlete offers programs for athletes in bodybuilding, hockey, baseball, football, basketball, soccer, CrossFit, fight sports, and more.
Gaétan Boutin is an elite high-performance coach, specializing in strength and conditioning, functional athletic movement, performance nutrition, and mindset coaching. He is also a co-founder of Strong Athlete Elite Performance Inc. To learn more about Strong Athlete and Gaétan, visit Strong-Athlete.com.