When it comes to sportsmanship and respecting one’s opponents, Sam Kendricks is raising the bar – both literally and figuratively. Here, the US pole vaulter shares his thoughts on what it takes to become the consummate sportsperson.
My father is a student of the sport and we’ve worked together for many years. He didn’t pole vault, but was a Marine and a decorated cross-country runner in Mississippi during his time in high school and college.
When we were practising the sport together and making big decisions, I learned from him to shut up and listen. He always has good advice for me, since he understands my body and my needs. You might learn more if you aren’t thinking about something else to say.
Take your pride out of the equation
In terms of what you actually get from the sport, you’ll find in the very beginning that the money isn’t that great. You’re doing a lot of hustling for little financial gain, just in order to compete with the best. If you come onto the circuit expecting to win, you’ll lose just about every time. It’s not your pride that’s going to propel you to higher levels. Get rid of your pride and look at your sport objectively, or else you’ll just be limiting yourself for years and years.
Respect your competitors
Sportsmanship comes down to a need to thrive, rather than a need to win. Among the top 10 individuals in our event, we understand that it’s about who’s the best on that day and that it might be any one of us. Realise that you have great competitors, because if you accept that you’re not the best all of the time, you’ll make more friends and people will like you.
Earn the respect of your competitors outside of competition
Strive to beat your competitors in ways they wouldn’t expect. This will earn you their respect. It may not necessarily be in competition, but in knowing what video games they like to play, for example. I became best friends with Polish pole vaulter Paweł Wojciekowski because I needed something from him and he needed something from me, and I beat him to the punch. I brought him a video game from the US that he couldn’t get in Poland and he brought me something for my therapy that I couldn’t get in the US. We’ve been friends ever since.
Surround yourself with supportive people
I’m not talking about guys that lace up their spikes with you, rather your partner or a great physiotherapist. Having a partner is good for young athletes. If you’re beholden to other people, it will help you tremendously. Young athletes come onto the scene thinking they’ve accomplished so much and have overcome so many things. That’s just naive. If you think you’ve already come through the hardest trials, you’re going to realise there are much harder trials to come. Everybody has overcome something – you can learn from your competitors.