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Building A Mature Athlete Identity

How To Fix A Faulty Operating System So You Can Feel Like An Athlete Who’s Worthy Of Winning

 

You have to expect great things of yourself before you can achieve them.”

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan was a Master of his mental game. He captures the essence of a mature Athlete Identity.
Michael Jordan was a master of his mental state. He outworked, outplayed and outstrategized his competition. He epitomised a mature Athlete Identity.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Whenever a new athlete joins our facility, one of the first questions we ask is: “Tell me about yourself as an athlete.”

You’d be amazed at the incredible array of responses I get; some are terribly self-deprecating bordering on self-loathing and others, full of confidence. While on the surface it’s an open-ended question to ask about their routines, habits, training history, competition history and everything in between, most of the time it’s an insight into their perceptions of themselves — what they say to themselves, what they don’t say, what the focus on, and what they omit.

Take these three examples:

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

“I’m a 100/200m Gift Runner. Last year I won the Wangaratta Gift which is the same race my Grandfather won 50 years ago. The Gift is actually named after him. I know age is against me, but I want to win the Stawell Gift and be Australia’s fastest grass runner.”

“I’m either 1 or 2 in Australia in Taekwondo. It changes. Sometimes I compete and I’m unstoppable and other times I get caught out making silly mistakes and go down. I’m going for Olympic trials next year and know I need to put everything on the line for this, so I’m willing to make every sacrifice I need to. I’m not where I want to be, and I know I can improve, and I want your help in getting there.”

“I’m trying to get back to sport, but I’m not sure I’d call myself an athlete. I don’t know, I’m not very good. I mean, I’ve competed at a pretty high level before but since getting injured, I’ve only been at club level. I’m doing OK there, like, everyone says I’m the MVP and should be playing in the premier leagues, but I feel like if I went back to more competitive football I’d be holding the team back. Do you think it’s worth me trying to get back there? Would you work with someone like me? I’m not really that good.”

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Now just before I get in trouble, these were modeled off athletes we actually train, but, they aren’t their exact responses nor is this necessarily completely accurate. I’m using this as an example to illustrate how three athletes can speak so differently about themselves; the first athlete is confident, the second athlete seems realistic, and the third athlete seems almost helpless.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

The reason we mention this is that how you speak about yourself outwardly, and, how you fit into your sporting worldview, is a window into your inner world and the experiences, beliefs, and expectations that come with that.

 

Introducing the Athlete Identity

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

ATHLETE MINDSET

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

In almost every mindset book for athletes, a significant portion of the book helps you to develop and get clarity on your Athlete Identity. You’ve probably even heard of the adage:

“You aren’t what you do.”

Your ‘Identity’, your inner world, encapsulates your Athletic Identity. This identity encompasses the extent at which you identify as an athlete and how you look inwardly and outwardly to validate your beliefs around your athletic ability. While it captures how you think and feel as an athlete, it has nothing to do with how fast you are, strong you are, or powerful you are. While they can be helpful, they aren’t necessary — as long as you compete in a sport and do it regularly, you’re an athlete. Our goal is to help identify how mature this Athlete Identity is, and if there are conflicts, inconsistencies or sabotaging beliefs, help take these immature, unrefined ideas and make them more robust, complete and mature. In ‘Brave Athlete’ by Simon Marshall, he describes a mature Athlete Identityas follows:

1. Competes in a sport;

2. Calls themselves an athlete without hesitation or judgment;

3. Allows others to do the same;

4. Takes ownership of their athletic ability without embarrassment or shame;

5. Allows others to do the same;

6. Does so without unnecessary self-loathing or self-promotion;

7. Has interests outside of sport that ensures that their performance as an athlete doesn’t completely control their sense of self-worth and,

8. You have normal responses to adversity, setbacks, and achievement.

Given you’ve elected to improve your mental game and shown an interest in this course, it’s highly likely you already have, a ‘somewhat’ developed athletic identity. You may have also noticed that there are two common threads interwoven within the framework:

What do I think about me? And,

How do I perceive others seeing me?

This captures both your inner world and, your outer world. For example, if we’re maturing our Athlete Identity because we’re now calling ourselves an athlete without hesitation or judgment, that would be an example of our inner world maturing. When we hear others talk about ourselves as an athlete and are not jarred by the comment, that would be an example of our outer world, maturing too.

Having a mature Athlete Identity is critical if you want to master your mental game. That’s because your identity is intimately linked with how you perceive yourself in the world, and, how you’ll deal with adversity, setbacks, and pressure as they arise over the course of your sporting career. This athlete identity is heavily influenced by a psychological framework known as a Schema, which is a categorisation tool your brain uses to organise and interpret information. These schemas exist for every part of your life in which you have had experience; and because you’re an athlete, that means you have a schema, or a stereotype, of how you view your athleticism. As you may have guessed, these Schemas that exist for the different areas of your life are also interconnected, meaning how you view yourself in one frame of reference, is likely to influence another. That’s ultimately a good thing — when you improve the framing in one area of your life, it’s likely to have a positive flow-on effect everywhere else. In the aggregate, all your schemas together make up your self-concept; an overall sense of how you think, feel and act in the world.

It’s important you understand what a schema is because it influences how experiences and how you perceive them, your expectations and what you do with them, what you attempt and what you avoid, what you yearn for and what you fear failing at, and, how you want everyone in your world to perceive you. This schema massively impacts your Athlete Identity, and if it’s going to form a good framework or scaffold to collect and organise your information, it needs to be free of devils on your shoulder and bugs in your operating system.

In this article, we’re going to explore some of the most common ‘bugs’ or manifestations of a faulty schema, and, what to do about them. This will account for the ‘inside-out’ approach to improving your Athlete Identity. After that, we’ll look at developing your Alter Ego, an outside-in strategy that has been used by countless high-performance athletes to help them ‘fake it until they make it.’ Both strategies have pros and cons and ultimately, you want to develop both until you encompass, or surpass, your Alter Ego.

ATHLETE MINDSET

The Four Common Athlete Identity Conflicts

TESTATHLETE MINDSET

Remember the third example athlete we gave at the start of the article? That athlete was experiencing what we call, an Athlete Identity conflict where her perception of self didn’t encourage a mature and positive outlook toward her sporting ambitions. The doubt in her ability created an internal conflict, which at some point in time, is going to create problems. Before we explore a strategy for her presentation specifically, let’s look at all four of the common athlete identity conflicts and a few quick tips for improving them.

ATHLETE MINDSET

Chasing A Former Athlete Identity

ATHLETE GOAL SETTING

Because many of the athletes we coach had great success as a junior and during school, a lot of them are attached to a former self. For those that have taken some time away from their sport, this can be especially confronting — it creates an identity crisis as a result of the large disparity between current and past capacity and achievement. That was certainly the case for me for a long time; I was having a lot of trouble getting back into a training routine after becoming a Father and fully embracing business ownership — I was so deconditioned compared to where I used to be, that it acted as a deterrent. Instead of starting, I was always looking back at ‘who I used to be’ and realising how far I had to go, that it felt insurmountable. The solution I found, is to focus on building a new identity, one that wasn’t attached to my past successes as an athlete and instead, redefined normal.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

HOT TIP:

If you’re trying to deal with a mismatch between your current self and your former self, try thinking about this new phase of your life as a 2.0; a new defined you, and something that isn’t attached to what happened in the years, months and days leading up to this. Use this time to think about what routines you’d like to establish, and what you’d like to improve on since coming back to the sport, and how you can make 2.0 work even better for you, and what you want.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

A Mismatch Between Your Inner & Outer Worlds

ATHLETE MINDSET

The second common Athlete Identity conflict is one where your inner and outer worlds are divergent; either you see yourself as an athlete but the world is telling you you’re not; or the world is constantly affirming you are, and you don’t feel like you’re good enough to call yourself one. Either way, a mismatch is going to create a dissonance that you won’t be able to bear forever.

Most of the time, this mismatch occurs as a result of an environment that is non-conducive to your success. Either you’re surrounding yourself by athletes who are further down their path of success and it’s belittling your achievements, you’re surrounded by friends and family who don’t have a good calibration of sport and don’t acknowledge what you’ve accomplished, or, you’re struggling to see the world in a way that encourages you to achieve more because you don’t feel good enough.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

HOT TIP:

One of the best ways to expand your schema is to train and spend time around people that are both better than you, and worse. Scheduling in a session with a really talented athlete on a ‘hard’ session for you when they are having an ‘easy’ one, and similarly, doing the same thing with someone else in reverse who is behind you. This provides the necessary perspectives to create a mature worldview that allows you to feel and be spoken about, as an athlete.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

A Fixed Identity

ATHLETE MINDSET

For some athletes, their perception of self is so rigid that it’s immovable; they have decided who they are and what they’re capable of well before they realised everything they could be. This is what psychologists call Identity Foreclosure, but, we’ll call a Fixed Identity because it’s a more easily understood description. When you’re struggling with a Fixed Identity problem, you’re no longer capable of self-evaluation and you can’t be critical of your behaviours. These are the types of athletes who might tell you “I’ve never really been fit”, or “I’ve never really been fast”, or, “I’ve never really been quick off the mark”. These perceptions of self are immature because it assumes you have no control over your reality, which of course, is not the case.

Another type of foreclosure is feeling trapped by your identity; a lot of athletes describe it as ‘falling out of love with the game.’ This is a fixed mindset in a different sense in that it implies that it is the responsibility of the sport to generate enjoyment, rather than your own sense of purpose with it. This of course, is a self-defeating argument — the sport can’t be responsible for your enjoyment and satisfaction because it’s never had the agency of doing so — that’s always been up to you.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

HOT TIP:

For new athletes entering a sport, surround yourself by others. Seeing others excel and learn around you will instill a sense of growth and possibility. For experienced athletes, reconnect with old friends and teammates, and connect training back to your original motivations.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

A Temperamental Identity

ATHLETE MINDSET

Athletes with a temperamental identity are suffering from an all-or-nothing mentality, some weeks they are on as hard as nails, other weeks they are MIA and soft. For those with a temperamental identity problem, their acceptance of their Athlete Identity is directly linked to their training habits — when things are going well, things are going great. When things aren’t going so well, things are going terribly. They become an amplification of their environment, making them susceptible to the impacts of setbacks like acute and chronic injury.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

HOT TIP:

Controlling the controllables is critical for athletes with a temperamental athlete identity. Creating good routines that are sustainable and removing the all-or-nothing mentality will help regulate the volatility you experience.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

How To Fix Your Schema From The Inside Out (And From The Outside In)

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

To mature your Athlete Identity, the best course of action is to tackle your schema from the inside out by shifting your thoughts and beliefs (and those that limit you) and as a result, influencing your athlete schema, and; to start pretending that you’re someone you’re not (until you are). Yes, that’s what we’re suggesting — until you make it, fake it. Believe it or not, both strategies are equally established in the scientific literature, and they both work, period. The former is a long-term solution that deals with the root cause, but requires patience, introspection and perhaps a shrink; while the latter is a quicker fix and allows repeated actions to slowly evolve your internal schema, without ever resolving the fundamental bugs in the system. Because of this, we always recommend attacking it from both ends.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Step 1: Recognise that your thoughts and feelings aren’t you.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

In order to rewrite the underlying code that builds the operating system of your brain, you need to be able to know all the constituent parts. For that, let’s use an analogy of a battlefield. As the Commander of your army standing on top the hill looking down at the battlefield, you are one of three essential variables, with the actual site of the battle (the environment) being another, and the armies (both your force and the opposing force), being the third variable.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

The site of the battle; the landscape, the trees, the weather; all of these things are representative of the different objective and measurable elements about you. It’s your height, body weight, fitness, strength power, and everything else that is measurable. It is what it is; it’s a fact and for this moment in time, it cannot be changed. You go into battle with the environment of the moment, in the same way, you compete with the condition you’re in, not the condition you wish you were.

In contrast to the facts, the thoughts and feelings you have are the armies that are in conflict. You have your army (the positive thoughts and feelings) and the enemy’s army (the negative thoughts and feelings). When you feel weak, that’s one of the enemy armies over there slaughtering your archery platoon. When you’re feeling strong, that’s your infantry mowing down their defenses. Similarly, when that thought creeps in that ‘you’re not good enough’, that’s an enemy soldier over there on a rampage, and when you’re feeling like you’re unstoppable, that’s one of your men on a kill streak.

Whatever happens out on the battlefield are your thoughts and feelings wreaking havoc on each other. Some days you’re feeling good and your army is in control, on other days you feel useless and you’re taking a hiding. When you worry about not feeling good enough, that’s reinforcements from the enemy army coming in to rub salt on your wounds and when you’re feeling on top of the world, that’s your reinforcements from the local village giving you a good old fashioned push.

While this sounds disheartening, the good news is there is a critical element missing from our analogy: you, the Commander of the army. Amongst all of this, the thoughts and feelings you experience are not actually you at all, because you’re the Commander, not the soldier. You experience your thoughts and you can see the carnage, but you are not actually part of the carnage. You are seeing the pain, but you are not in pain yourself. The secret to freeing yourself of a negative cycle of self-talk and limiting beliefs is to practice a strategy called detachment. Detachment is a technique designed to separate your thoughts and feelings from your experiences. To make this more understandable, it’s time to participate in our first lesson, which we call “Watching The Horror Show”. If you haven’t already, the exercise “Watching The Horror Show”, along with all our other exercises to fix your athlete identity, build your daily rituals, create your highlight reel, establish your non-negotiables and relax to recover are available in our resource manual when you join our free Master Your Mental Game Mini-Course.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Step 2: How To Change The Stories You Tell Yourself

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Athletes who struggle with any of the identity conflicts I discussed earlier are usually persuaded by the thoughts and feelings they experience, often conflating them to being a representation of you when in fact, they’re detached from you. The first exercise ‘Watching The Horror Show’ teaches you how to create clear distinctions between the two. In my experience, common conversations I have with athletes with an identity conflict go something like this:

“Sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough; that I’ll do all this work and still not be fast enough.”

Notice how this athlete is conflating their feelings they’re not good enough, with actually not being good enough. Or feeling like they’re not fast, with actually not being able to develop speed. This is a logical error because, in reality, you can choose what thoughts you listen to, and what thoughts you choose to reject. The aggregate of all the different types of thoughts that you listen to equates to your current Athlete Identity. Developing a matured Athlete Identity is simply a well-organized set of thoughts and feelings that get reinforced into a blueprint, or a schematic (notice how schema, forms the basis of ‘schematic’), to help you frame your experiences in the best possible light. A well-matured Athletic Identity recognizes that while you’re never going to always be in control of your thoughts and feelings, you’re in control of what you do with them. To do that, you need to take stock of your current position, completing the second exercise we aptly call, “Getting Your Story Straight.” This exercise is found within the Master Your Mental Game Free Mini-Course, which you can get immediate access to here if you’re reading this via our blog. Once you complete this exercise, you’ll have the awareness to spot conflicts between the facts, and, your subjective thoughts and feelings. Without getting caught up in specifics, you should be able to recognize things like: “Even though I often doubt my ability, the facts show that I’ve achieved quite a lot.”

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Step 3: In The Mean Time, ACT (Acting Changes Everything)

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

In Todd Herman’s book ‘Alter Ego’, he shares a secret of the world’s top performers that once you know, it will be so obvious that you’ll be kicking yourself you didn’t realize it (and applied) sooner. The secret is simple — pretend. The mere act of pretending to be someone you wish you were, even if that persona is the complete opposite of your true self, is being shown to work, scientifically. Up and coming athletes (who are now superstars), have been doing this for years. While their internal identity catches up to their status and fame, they tap into their alter ego to rise to the occasion and be someone they aren’t for the time they are competing in their field of play.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

In Todd’s book, one of the examples he uses to illustrate the power of the Alter Ego is the story of Bo Jackson, the only 2-time All-Star athlete in history. Oddly enough, Bo Jackson never played a game of professional sport in his life. Jason did.

Bo goes on to explain how as a young athlete, he had challenges containing his emotions and would get into a lot of trouble because of his anger. Often, he’d get caught up in the competition, and he’d retaliate against even the smallest perceived slights, causing him to get hit with unnecessary penalties.

One day, though, as he was watching a movie, he became fascinated by the unemotional, cold, and relentless nature of Jason. Jason was the hockey mask-wearing killer in the Friday the 13th movies.

At that moment—during the movie—he resolved to stop being Bo Jackson and start being Jason on the football field, leaving the uncontrollable rage on the sidelines.

Bo went on to explain how Jason only lived when he stepped onto the field. And when he walked out of the locker room and reached the football field, Jason would enter his body and take over. Suddenly the hotheaded, penalty-prone, easy-to-provoke Bo Jackson transformed into a relentless, cold, and disciplined destroyer on the football field.

Channeling a “different” identity helped him focus every ounce of his talent and skill, and enabled him to show up on the field, without any emotional issues interfering with his performance.

Just like Clark Kent would sometimes go into a phone booth to transform into Superman, Bo Jackson did the same thing when he transformed into his Alter Ego, Jason.

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

Athlete Mindset How To Feel Like A Winner

When we’ve discussed this concept with our athletes, so many are relieved to know that you don’t have to rework your identity from the inside out and uncover your deepest thoughts and beliefs about yourself; instead, you can pick an aspirational athlete to model, and think, feel and act as if you were them instead. Through experience and exposure, your true identity can rewire itself, and your need for an Alter Ego will dissipate. But for now, it’s a great start, and something you can adopt immediately.

In the Master Your Mental Game Mini-Course, your third and final exercise is creating your Alter Ego (adapted from Todd Herman’s book of the same name) with the framework we’ve provided in your resource book. Your first step in creating your unstoppable and powerful alter ego is to decide on the attributes your persona embodies. Perhaps, it models an athlete you look up to for their mindset, grit, and toughness, or alternately, it’s a combination of different inspirations. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to choose a name for your ego and write an origins story that explains how they became who they are. Then, you’ll create the triggers that will help you transform/transition into your Alter Ego, and explore the personal mantras, actions, and routines that help you stay in that persona during competition. Thankfully as an athlete, you most likely have triggers at your disposal — like putting on your boots, changing into your gym gear, or clipping into the pedals. All you’ll need to tap into is your creative juices and lean into your imagination.

 

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Master Your Mental Game Mini-Course | Athletes Authority

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Discover the mindset strategies of the World’s Greatest Athletes so you can turn your mind into a weapon of performance.

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We’ll use your email address to send you our information before the call. We also respect your privacy like it’s our own. We will never sell, distribute or divulge your information to anyone, ever.

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Monique Le Mottee

Athletic Physiotherapist & Rehab Coach

Qualifications:

  • Bachelors of Physiotherapy
  • Masters of Strength & Conditioning 

This may not be a PC thing to say, but when Lachlan and I met Mon, we were immediately in love. She got the role as an intern before she left the interview (which we never do).

We knew Mon would be an amazing fit from the get go — her passion for sports is infectious and she’s a dynamic young physiotherapist keen to combine her skills as a strength and conditioning coach. It’s the 1-2-3 combination we look for in our staff and any athletic facility can only dream of in a hire.

Since starting with us, we’ve had to put a pause on the amount of positive feedback we receive about her — it’s clogging my desk space.

You’ll see Mon on the gym floor, keeping our athletes tuned in the physio clinic and out on the pitch with the Mac Uni AFL team as their Head of Performance.

Justin Richardson

Athletic Physiotherapist & Rehab Coach

Qualifications:

  • Bachelors of Physiotherapy
  • Masters of Strength & Conditioning (undertaking) 

Justin has developed a passion for sports performance, finding his greatest interest in bridging the gap between traditional hands-on physiotherapy and the guidance and care required to get an athlete back to sport and performing at their best.

Having worked with the Cronulla Sharks and South Sydney Rabbitohs, he has a deep understanding of the requirements to succeed at a high level of sport and is committed to providing you with the expertise to help you get back to doing what you love.

Alan Robinson

Lead Sports Physiotherapist

Qualifications:

  • Bachelors of Applied Science (Physiotherapy)
  • Masters of Sports Physiotherapy

Alan is a titled APA Sports & Exercise Physiotherapist who has spent his whole career living and breathing sports rehabilitation.

His career as a physiotherapist has seen him work with the NSW Waratahs and the Sydney Blue Sox, managing injuries that range from the acute-stage to end-stage rehabilitation. His philosophy aims to address long term athletic development and bring high-performance rehabilitation to athletes.

His work has been in close proximity to rehabilitation coaches, strength & power coaches, head coaches and high-performance managers, making him an asset on your journey to rehabilitation and back to full health.

Tom Longworth

Sports Doctor

Qualifications:

  • Bachelors of Medicine
  • Post Graduate Diploma of Sport & Exercise Medicine

Dr Tom Longworth became a registrar of the Australasian College of Sports and Exercise Physicians in 2016 and is currently in his 3rd year of specialist training. He completed his medical degree with the University of Newcastle in 2010 and has had 5 years of experience in Emergency and intensive care medicine across Australia since graduating.

He has a wide variety of experience working with elite sports people, currently assistant medical officer at The Sydney Roosters Rugby League Club, team doctor for the Sydney FC Youth League and Head Doctor of the World Champion Jillaroos (Australian Women’s Rugby League Team). Other sports coverage includes the Sydney 7s rugby union, Australian school boy rugby union, Bledisloe Cup and National Rowing regattas as well as voluntary work abroad with the Surfing Doctors’ Association.

Dr Longworth has recently completed his postgraduate diploma in Sports and Exercise Medicine through the University of Bath (UK). He has published research relating to stem cell treatment for knee osteoarthritis and is currently investigating concussion incidence in the NRL, as well as conducting a trial on shin splint management.

Tom currently sees our athletes out of his home base at Eastern Suburbs Sports Medicine Centre.

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Lachlan Wilmot

DIRECTOR OF COACHING & PERFORMANCE

Qualifications:

  • Bachelors of Exercise and Sport Science
  • Honors in Rate of Force Development in Team Sport Athletes

Lachlan began his professional sports coaching career as the second ever employee at the GWS Giants in 2010-11 season prior to entering the AFL in 2012. Over 7 seasons, Lachlan grew a team of talented young men into back-to-back preliminary finals contenders. As the head of strength and power, his role was to turn teenagers into physically dominant men, developing their strength, power, speed and most importantly, their resistance to injury.

In 2018, Lachlan’s success afforded him the opportunity to shift codes, having been offered the role of High Performance Manager for the NRL’s Parramatta Eels.

In as little as one rebuild season, he had taken the wooden spooners of 2018 to the finals in 2019, where they inflicted the greatest defeat of the Brisbane Broncos in NRL history. By 2019, it was time for Lachlan to go ‘all-in’ on his other baby, Athletes Authority.

Now, Lachlan leads the performance program, designing the programs for all the athletes here. He works closely with the sports medicine team, just like he did in pro sport, to help athletes achieve more and reach new heights with their athletic careers.

Karl Goodman

FOUNDER & DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

Karl began his career in coaching as a Personal Trainer back in 2007. After competing for NSW as a Baseballer, and then competing at an elite standard as a cyclist throughout university,  Karl received the opportunity to work with Gordon Rugby in the Shute Shield competition. From there, he found a way to marry his passion in sports and competition with coaching; selling his investment property to start Athletes Authority in early 2016.

Starting from humble beginnings, the facility vision was taken to another level when Lachlan and Karl partnered up in 2017 and Athletes Authority was incorporated. It was no longer just a gym training athletes; Athletes Authority was committed to becoming a brand athletes worldwide could rely on for quality coaching, advice and service.