Paying the price: What it costs to be a champion

How far would you go to become a champion? Would you do what’s necessary to succeed, or would you let the temptation of comfortable living get the better of you?

The thought of becoming a champion is easy, but getting there is not. In this post, I want to talk about ‘paying the price’ to become a champion, and why it’s important if you want to succeed.

What I mean by ‘paying the price’

I first learned the term ‘paying the price’ from a man named David Galbraith – sports psychologist to some of our nations top athletes and Olympians.

It’s a term I’ve come to know well over the years, having continually applied the philosophy to my everyday mindset.

In his book Unleashing Greatness: In Sports and Life Through the Pathway of Courage, Galbraith has this to say about paying the price:

“On the one hand, it tells you that all you have to do is to keep paying the price and you will be successful in achieving whatever it is that you are hunting; while on the other, it suggests that you either pay the price or you will not achieve your dream. There is no grey area when it comes to achieving your Impossible Dream; you either do or you do not!”. 

Paying the price isn’t a literal term. It’s not about spending money on things, although that is sometimes part of it. It’s about the sacrifices you need to make in order to get to where you want to be.

Paying the price is spending every waking moment towards your end goal. It’s waking up at early hours to fit in training sessions before work. It’s eating the right food. It’s saying no to your friends who want you to go partying on a Friday night because you’ve got training the next day.

It’s about knowing that your goal (i.e. being a champion) is now the most important thing in your life if you want it to become a reality. You need to learn to eliminate the distractions in your life, and be real with yourself – this is what paying the price is all about.

Why is paying the price important

It’s important to understand the level of dedication required to becoming a champion. It’s not an easy path to follow. You often hear trainers say, “If it were easy, everyone would be a champion.”

If you’re serious about your sport, and you have big goals, then it’s time to ask yourself whether you’re paying the price, and dedicating yourself to the cause day in, day out.

Galbraith says once you decide to ‘pay the price’ and dedicate fully to the ‘Impossible Dream’ (i.e. becoming a world champion), then you no longer fall into the ‘normal’ group of people. You must understand that, in order to achieve big, your life has to reflect that goal as well. He sums this up by saying:

“Many athletes also complain about being unbalanced. If they have a dream of being the best in the world, or even one of the best in their province, then there will be a related cost that they must pay. They need to accept that their life will be unbalanced when compared to ‘normal’ people…”

Over the years, I’ve seen some very talented fighters who have dreams of being a champion, only to fall short because they weren’t prepared to pay the price.

I hate seeing this, because I believe every single human being has the potential for greatness. It’s hard to watch talent go out the door when you know all it takes is understanding and acceptance of the hard work that’s required. As Galbraith says, you either do it or you don’t.

This is why paying the price is so important. Once you accept and embrace the hardship, you’re less likely to fall off track and, in fact, you become even more dedicated to what you’re doing. Galbraith even says:

“You start to evolve a deep sense of commitment to your dream and an even deeper belief that it will occur. This increasing belief and sense of certainty results in you paying a greater and greater price, investing more and more of what is needed (usually time), and in the end sacrificing whatever it takes.”

What paying the price looks like

There are different ways you may pay the price in order to become a champion, from the monetary cost of fighting and training, to the cost of relationships.

Monetary costs
Travelling to and from fights costs money. Gym memberships cost money. The right food and supplements cost money. Getting training equipment and covering any costs associated with fighting (tape, Thai oil, etc) – that all costs money.

It’s hard to make money from fighting, and so it’s normal to dig into your own pocket for things. The journey to championship status won’t necessarily bring in a lot of coin, so be prepared to live a humble life for as long as it takes.

Relationship costs
I know fighters who have lost friends and spouses because of the amount of time they’ve spent doing what they do. When I first started Muaythai, I grew distant from my friends because I was so busy with training and fighting. My dedication took over because I was so focused on my goals.

It can be a selfish existence, and as a result, it puts a strain on your relationships. Deep commitment to a goal can sometimes be a double-edged sword (results vs social interaction), and the potential loss of relationships is a very real outcome and, unfortunately, a part of your journey to success.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was in his body building prime, he committed himself so deeply to his sport that he missed his father’s funeral. Here’s a video of him in his early days, explaining how he focussed on training:


Personally, I don’t think I could miss my father’s funeral, or the funeral of anyone close to me. But Arnie’s video shows just how committed he was, and how far he’d go to become a world champion.

Don’t get me wrong – not all relationships are doomed. More often than not, fighters find themselves ‘grouping’ with other fighters and like-minded individuals, so in a way things work out. Just accept this as a part of the journey and move on.

Physical costs
As an athlete, injury is pretty much unavoidable. Sometimes those injuries are severe, and worse case scenario, they put you out for life.

Then there are the long-term effects of injury, like brain damage for instance. As a fighter, you’re willing to put your body on the line to do what you love most, even if that means permanent damage.

When it comes to paying the price physically, you understand it’s a necessary risk in order to get ahead. If you want to become a champion, but you’re worried you might get injured, then you should consider whether the sport is for you. If you embrace the risks, severe as they may be, then it shows just how dedicated you are.

Are you really paying the price?

If you have big goals and dreams, and you want to achieve them, first ask yourself, “Am I really paying the price?”.

Galbraith suggests tallying up the hours you spent the previous week working towards your goal. This could include training, recovery, etc.

If you only spent four hours last week towards your goal or dream, then it’s likely you’re not gonna achieve that goal any time soon. Reflecting on the work you put in is important, and requires you to be very honest with yourself.

Whenever I feel like I might be going off track, I always ask, “Is how I’m living reflective of my end goal? If not, what do I need to do to change that?”.

Keeping yourself in check and being honest with yourself is key to knowing whether you’re paying the price, and whether you’re actually progressing.


If you’re already paying the price to become a champion, give yourself a pat on the back. Now keep going!

If your goal is to become a champion, but you’re not quite sure if you’re paying the price, look objectively at what you’re doing. Look at how you spend your time during each day, and be honest with yourself.

You may feel ‘bad’ or ‘guilty’ that you haven’t spent much time towards your goal, but that’s OK. If you get this feeling, at least you know that you need to put more work in, and then go from there.

Look at what you can sacrifice, and ask yourself, “Will this (i.e. playing video games, worrying about what my girlfriend/boyfriend thinks) help me achieve my dream? Or is it a distraction?”.

Finally, once you accept that your life will be an abnormal, unbalanced one, and you’re prepared to pay whatever price there is, it won’t be long before your dream of being a champion becomes a reality.



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