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  • Max Martin

The Athletic Backbone

When I was a kid, I always dreamed of being a professional athlete. My brother and I would be glued to the TV watching our ski idols. I wanted to be like those guys, I wanted to push myself to be on that same level. 20 years later, I have achieved my childhood dream, and while I am happy with where that pursuit has brought me, the path to get here was not what I imagined. Now, with years of experience as an athlete and a coach, I ask myself - “Is there anything I would have done differently”?

It’s a difficult question and honestly - I don’t think I would change a thing. I know it’s hindsight thinking, but from a coaching perspective I think it’s valuable to look at these things and try to learn from them. When I look back on my younger life, I’m incredibly grateful to have had many of the things that helped me become an athlete.

Experiences are the most valuable lessons you can have. I’ve certainly have had many that pushed me to find the next gear. However, I don’t think many of these experiences are exclusive to just athletes. I feel that there are defining lessons that I’ve learned in life that not only translated to sport but to my everyday life. I will try to summarize my experiences to give you new perspective and perhaps some encouragement to push for that next level.

The people you surround yourself with will be the people that you model after. I was fortunate as a ski racer that I was able to train with some of the best young talent in the nation. These people were my teammates and my friends. We were competitive, we pushed each other, and we supported each other on and off the slopes. At the time I didn’t realize how important this was for me as a young athlete. I was being stimulated on a regular basis to work and train hard. Sure, there was the occasional teenage rebelliousness among us but we always kept our eye on the prize. I’m not sure what or where I would be if this wasn’t the case, but it was one of the best experiences I could have had.

Find friends that are going to push you the right way. The unconditional support from your peers is some of the most important support you can have. If you keep good company and fuel each others’ fires, everyone will succeed.

Whatever friend group you assemble will certainly help you stay motivated, but behind every athlete is a coach. The coach is not just the person giving you drills - this is the person that can maturely see your potential and how it can be shaped. For me this was one of the things that I struggled with in my athletic career. It wasn’t because I didn’t have good coaches but because I was a stubborn little shit. I was slow to recognize their advice and only listened to them half-heartedly. I ended up treating some of my coaches like they were babysitters instead of respecting their advice and time.

It is a privilege to be able to work with a coach so I urge all the young athletes out there to give your coach the respect they deserve. Listen to what they have to say and try to apply it to whatever you are doing. A coach can’t do the work for you, they are there to oversee the process. Even if the advice doesn’t improve your athletic performance, don’t get frustrated or upset. Instead try asking why? I failed to do this many times as a younger athlete. Most the time it left me feeling resentment toward my coaches. There is no place for feelings like this when you are an athlete, you have to trust the process and the coaches that are there helping you along the way.


As an athlete, you will experience a lot: Winning and Losing, Pleasure and Pain, Success and Failure. You will ride a wave of highs and lows which many people are not able to handle. Athletes deviate from the lines of a norm on daily basis and it is easy to get lost along the ride. I’ve been stuck at low points that have made me feel like I will never achieve anything again and that I should give up entirely. I’ve also experienced highs that made me believe I was winning when really it was just my ego being inflated.

So what does that really mean?

In reality these highs and lows are superficial. They are the results of your strengths and flaws. These emotions are shaping experiences for you to learn and build meaning from. It is an opportunity to learn about yourself. I would call this building your “athletic backbone”. If you’re in a low, try to understand the patterns that got you there, then pick yourself back up and move on to the next moment. If you’re riding a high do the same thing, but don’t let it distract you from what the next step is. Your backbone is what will keep you progressing and improving as an athlete.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model to becoming an athlete. However, there are at least consistencies to be mindful of. If this is the path you want to take, you should understand that everyone has their own unique experiences to draw from. Don’t compare yourself to others, try to learn from them. The more you can recognize your own unique attributes, the faster you will be able to progress.

Finally, don’t forget to have fun. That’s why we started in the first place. Fun is the best positive reinforcement you can get for each lesson you learn. I hope that in sharing some of my experiences you might be able to recognize similar patterns that you are experiencing now or even in the future. If you are reading this and you have questions, please send me a message. I’m happy to help anyone and everyone in their pursuit to a successful athletic career.




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Photos curtsey of Stephen Shelesky