Athletics: How to Become a Champion

by Percy Cerutty, The Sportsmans Book Club, London 1961

Percy Wells Cerutty was one of the world’s leading athletics coaches in the 1950s and 1960s. He was described as ‘Australia’s most enigmatic, pioneering and controversial athletics coach.


Very often we tend to “feel” the new is wrong because we have been grooved by tradition, the accepted, the orthodox. Heterodoxy always causes emotional and intellectual indigestion. Never reject a new idea, thought, suggestion or concept merely because it is new and we “feel” it to be wrong.

You, as an athlete, can march confidently into the future: the “unknown.” Superior performances will rest, more than ever, in the future developments than in the outmoded techniques, training schedules and ideas of the past. The coach who relies solely upon what has gone before can never build the record-breakers of the future.

So, if you would coach great athletes, be content with a limited few- the limited few, who will seek you out. And you, the athlete, will know you have at least some of the seeds of real greatness in you when you instinctively reject the “popular”: and are attracted to the teacher rejected by, or, put better, not accepted to, the many. The great coach must be heterodox. Often he is deemed “a crank.” More often he is in conflict with authority, officialdom. He rarely enjoys in his best and formative years the recognition that may be later accorded to him, as it invariably is if he is a truly great teacher.

Just as a coach must not be tempted to make too optimistic predictions as to the athlete who rises too quickly in a sudden burst of spectacular performance, so must the athlete not be too ready to accept all that may be presented to him as a sure and certain formula to world-class athletic performance. There just isn’t any.

I myself offer nothing but the paraphrased words of a great war-time leader: blood, tears, sweat and suffering. That is the formula to any and all great achievement, at least in the athletic world. I know of no other.

Indeed, the evolution of any sport and athletics generally is the story of the rejection of the orthodox and the finding of new concepts and methods; the most recent and successful being the technique in the shot-put of O’Brien, the throwing of the javelin by the Spaniard and the eight foot high jump of the gymnast. These latter two, marked improvements in results aimed for, are rejected merely because they are heterodox in technique. If throwing the javelin further or jumping higher is an objective, it is ridiculous to impose restrictions as to technique and limitations upon the advanced experimenter and superior performance. This is the attitude of the conservative, the traditionalist, of he who is in opposition at all times to the experimentalist and innovator.

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