Track Coach

Cerutty’s Dictionary of Success

Former TC editor Kevin McGill was digging through his “archives” recently and found this piece which originally appeared in Modern Athlete and Coach, ca. 1969. Austrailan Percy Cerutty, of course, was the unconventional coach of Herb Elliott and others, This is an edited excerpt from that article with “words of wisdom” from Cerutty for the potential “Übermensch”. Cerutty’s single-minded recipe for success may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Percy Cerutty

There are NOT many ways to the top in athletics, sport or life. Actually, there is only one way, the capitalization on above-average ability. This involves the knowledge of the latest and proven techniques, a dedication to intelligent practice, and finding a teacher, or teachers.

Success is a many-sided thing as life is but the wise youth, or adult, will attempt at the most two serious aims at any one time. He will only diffuse his energy, powers of concentration and ability to succeed big, when he imagines he can participate more seriously in more than one sport at a time, much less waste precious time in social pursuits.

There is not just one key word to success. There are many and they are spread throughout the dictionary. The wise, would-be successful athlete, is advised to study each word, if necessary look up the meaning, and make each word part of his/her intellectual personality. This is something few ever bother to do. Believe me, a big success is no longer wrapped around three words—run-run-run, nor train-train-train. It is the knowledge of advanced techniques, strength, application and tenacity, and as always, a high level of basic intelligence.

Let us begin with a few key words, starting in alphabetical order:

Abjure all distractions and everything that does not help you attain the goal, goals, or big success you may aim at.

Agility—Being agile does not necessarily mean quick to change or find the smart answer. It means to react quickly. It is an essential to a successful life in both the body and the mind.

Assert—Be prepared to exert yourself physically and personality-wise. Being assertive is not necessarily conceit or arrogance. After all, there is not much virtue in hiding one’s light under a bushel.

Avenge defeats by finding a means to defeat your opponents. Never develop the hates or jealousy so common in sport and life. You can win without it. Strength of purpose does not necessarily spell hatred, other than a hatred of self when one is weak.

Avid—Be avid for knowledge—for success with a capital “S.” Never be half-hearted. If it is worth attempting do it with all your heart and soul. Otherwise leave it alone. Any other attitude is the path to mediocrity and nonentity.

Believe in yourself, in your innate abilities, and develop them. In the end you win, or at least win out over your own weaknesses. To believe in yourself is not conceit—it is intelligent. But do it, don’t just talk about it.

Braggadocio never got anyone anywhere. Be conservative in speech but liberal and expansive in action.

Commit yourself to your ends and your goals irrevocably. Burn your bridges. You can rest a while, but not for long. When we are committed, quitting becomes impossible.

Composure—If possible, retain it on all occasions. Let the other fellow lose his over you. Elliott, amongst his other gifts, was always composed before his races. He never wasted nervous energy worrying or fretting. Neither need you.

Confide in very few. Keep your inner aims to yourself. Talk dissipates nervous energy. Keep aloof before the races.

Courage—We are born with spirit, or courage and can only husband it or add to it. It is best to forget about it. Just give your best always. No one can do more.

Discipline isn’t just disciplining others, which is easy, but disciplining ourselves. The last is perhaps the hardest thing anyone attempts.

Disparage—Never disparage opposition, treat opponents lightly, or with condescension. Nature has a “funny” way of working. Just as ‘miracles” can occur for us, so they can occur against us. How often is that the underdog wins and the rejected stone becomes the corner-stone of the arch. Be preoccupied in giving your best and don’t spend time to disparage your opponents. As a winner you don’t need to.

Elated—Never be over-elated. Success is normal for a person who has earned it. Accept your successes modestly, but as your right, because you have earned them. After all, because no one can take them from you, so there is really no need to comment or celebrate.

Emotion—This, above all is the factor that releases your fullest potential and triggers off the superior performance. Never suppress your emotions. Merely control them. Best of all, let your emotions work inside you. This means no “prima donna” outbursts in public.

Energy—The force that makes the Universe possible. So, develop energy, both mental and physical to the highest degree. Don’t waste it but retain it inside yourself until you go into action. Never be profligate with your nervous energy and waste it on sycophants, no-hopers, and those who will gather around you.

Envious—Do not be envious of the success of others. Be too busy making others envious of your performances.

Excel—Aim to excel. Never be merely just a participant or just another starter. “Excel” is one of the most valuable key words. Make it part of you.

Expect to be successful some day in something somewhere. Expectation is the first step in realization.

Fraternize—One of the worst things in the world. Never fraternize with failures and no-hopers, nor waste time talking with nonentities. Too much fraternizing can be exhausting and reduce you to the level of the people you fraternize with. Be a loner.

Heterodox—This is the opposite of orthodox. Never be afraid to be different, but not different just to be conspicuous, as the “idiot” class often make themselves. Seek the truth. It is often different from orthodoxy.

Humility—Humility, properly understood, is a wonderful gift. It is vastly different from servility and crawling and the opposite of conceit. Humility arises in us when we can truly appreciate the wonder and vastness of nature and the deed of the truly greats who have lived before us.

Ignore—Learn to ignore the criticisms, jealousies and unfair attacks that are directed to the successful. Ignore, other than the polite acceptance, all eulogies, honors and congratulations. Take it all in your stride including the hates and jealousies that may be expressed by others.

Inertia—This is something most of us suffer from at times. It means we don’t get off our tails and start doing. It is another name for alibis, excuses or reasons why we didn’t.

Infallible—No one is infallible. So, learn to appraise what you are taught and advised to do. Learn by trial and error, called “experience,” to use your judgment. Reflection and analysis is the opposite of unqualified acceptance in sport, as in life. On the other hand, do not rush to tell someone with a lot more experience just how wrong they are. It has happened to me.

Innate—Everyone has innate abilities. They may be trifling in the beginning, but they will be there. Develop yours to the highest degree. Don’t worry about the other fellows. Your job, usually a full time one, is to develop yours.

Jealousy—Perhaps nine-tenths of all human emotion is based on jealousy. Learn to live with it, accept it, but do not respond to it. In a word, live above it. Your job is to make others jealous at your successes.

Kindness—It is not necessarily a sign of weakness to be kind and thoughtful to others, especially to the young and children.

Lapses—We all have lapses when aiming at perfection achieved only by a few. Do not worry over an occasional lapse of form or ability.

Leisure—Something the advancing man, the up-and-coming champion, knows little or nothing about because he is too busy achieving his ends. Like happiness, it is only a concept in ordinary people’s minds and something “top” men never think about because they are too busy achieving.

Mad—Be prepared to be deemed “quite mad.” On the notice board at Portsea [the location of Cerutty’s famous training camp] there has been a statement for many years. It reads: “To be great you don’t have to be mad, but it definitely helps.” Anyone who has ever accomplished the “impossible” has been deemed mad to even try. In the old days they used to burn them at the stake. Today they set world records or win medals at the Olympic Games. So, be “mad” enough to give it “a go.” You will be in good company.

Melancholy—All the “great ones, and even the lesser great ones, for that matter, know what it is to become dispirited at times. Ride these moods, they soon pass away. Never make a serious decision when depressed, as no one knows what is best when down in the dumps. All the Saints knew about the “dark night of the soul.” So do all great athletes.

Miracles—It is the name given to the inexplicable. Miracles still happen but you still have to earn and deserve yours. Be expectant, work and to your amazement one can happen to you.

Monastic—I usually associated with the Middle Ages but if you want to be a great you will have to live a monastic life, cutting yourself off from the trivial and frivolous. It is living a life similar to my philosophy of the Stotan, a word coined from Stoic and Spartan.

Motives—Another word for incentives. Without motives we soon come to a standstill. Don’t talk about “retiring,” something great minds never do. Find worthwhile motives or incentives and you find the spirit that will take you to the top in something, someday, somewhere.

Nausea—It is the sick feeling all feel under great stress, whether physical or mental. In time, with experience, learning that we can succeed, and as we become stronger, nausea, as nerves play little part in our make-up. You will outgrow it, as we do most things that hamper us in life.

Opponent—The name given to the person who stands in the way of your achievement. Give nothing away to him, not even your best wishes when he has successfully defeated you. Set your will to beat your opponents. If they are worthy of their name they are “hellbent” to defeat you. So, grab your place on the team, the medal or championship you are after. Don’t love your opponents, beat them.

Obsession—A super-state of enthusiasm and determination to succeed. It is fine to suffer from an obsession, but be careful what you become obsessed about. Obsessions of the wrong sort can land you in trouble, but an obsession to achieve and excel can land you on the Olympic team.

Participant—Never be satisfied to be a participant or just a competitor. Many boast to me that they ran in some championship or another. I always say, “Wonderful! But where did you finish?” Never be just a participant but one who excels and, if possible, wins.

Training ca.1959 at Cerutty’s camp at Portsea, a coastal town 70 miles from Melbourne. Cerutty is in the lead.

Persistence—Persistence with intelligent work results in the so-called “miracles.”

Perfection—Most people believe perfection cannot be attained and put it out of their minds. It can be attained. We have in the world, perfect poems, perfect arias, and perfect pieces of sculpture. Ever seen the Venus de Milo in the Louvre? Never cease striving for what your goal is in sport or life. Even to be 99 per cent perfect will put you way out in front of those who never try.

Reflection—A valuable acquisition to the personality. A little reflection at this moment will prove the truth of what I say, not only as to this word, but all words in this series. However, the power to reflect is not just “day-dreaming.” There is a marked distinction here as, amongst other things, reflection is one of the bases of creativity.

Resoluteness—Another of the factors that makes for greatness and champions. Never confuse it with stupid stubbornness.

Rigidity—The opposite of relaxation. Too many have rigidity of the mind as well as the musculature. It is also the opposite of resilience, the ability to give and take. Rigidity of the mind probably prevents success more than any other single factor. It is not “strength” of mind but often just pure ignorance.

Silence—It is said to be “golden” and so it is on occasion, but it is never in the face of injustice to oneself and especially to others. All the “greats” throughout history have raised their voice against cruelty and injustice when the occasion demanded it, cost them what it may.

Spasmodic—The efforts of the lesser ones are seen to be spasmodic with sudden bursts of enthusiasm. Those destined to be great are never spasmodic in their training, studies of whatever else they do. Consistency is the opposite of spasmodic.

Spirit—Spirit transcends even willpower. It is the factor above all other factors behind the will to win. Spirit makes the achievement of the “impossible” possible. Those with good endowment can never be enslaved nor, in the end, beaten. Spirit is intangible. You either have got it in a high degree or you haven’t. Be grateful if you have.

Stimulants—Something the intelligent and well-trained never need.

Success—That’s the word we are after. There is nothing greater we can achieve in life. Its opposite is failure, a word erased from my dictionary for many years. All can achieve success in something sometimes, somewhere. Success comes in various dimensions according to our gifts and work/power. Never accept failure but think of it as temporary non-success.

Talents—We all have some talent and nobody has the lot. Discover yours and work on it. Concern yourself with your own talents and let others find and develop theirs.

Tidal breathing—The name I gave to full lung aeration, seldom, if ever, observed in any athlete. Most use only one-quarter of their full lung capacity as I have proved scientifically. Tidal breathing is mastered first in slow-motion walking. It can never be mastered in running, but can be adapted to it. It is a vital factor and will prove decisive in the world records to be, even down to sheer sprints.

Tigerish—The quality that makes for determination. The “sooner-die-than-quit” ferocity vented on oneself. Through the tigerish quality we can call on our reserves and exhaust ourselves to the limit. Without it athletes tend to permit themselves to be beaten.

Undaunted—This is what we must be when the forces, or powers, are stacked against us. In the end we can “win out” be being undaunted.

Vacant—The place at the very top. It can be waiting for you to occupy it but you have to achieve it. There are no vacant places for failures and no-hopers, except in the outside, looking in.

Valuable—The only really valuable thing in life is your own self-respect. Gold medals can be stolen, records broken, but no one can steal your own self-respect from you.

Vision—Something we must have if we are to get anywhere worthwhile in life. Vision is the ability to look ahead and appraise our possibilities. Without it we are like a good automobile that doesn’t work because the starter is missing.

Vitals—Another name for “guts” and intestinal fortitude which is a vital constituent in any big success. Our “vitals” are our abdominals plus a good heart. Philosophically it is “vital” that we do our uttermost to succeed in what we seriously attempt in life. Everyone should look upon success in something as vital.

Patience—Like perfection, it is slightly out of alphabetical order for a good reason. People do not realize that patience can accomplish more “miracles” than all the rest of the words in the dictionary put together. This is why it has been placed last on the list. It is similar to persistence, only slightly different in nature and quality.