There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. — Beverly Sills


Tight on time? Stick with the 3 Key Takeaways and The Basics. These will provide your athletes with a solid foundation for understanding shortcuts.

Have more time? Share the TrueSport Talk and discuss how an Olympic athlete can relate to this lesson.

Extra time? Continue on through to Tips & Applications for more valuable information to share with your group.

Looking for more? Explore the Downloads & Additional Resources, which offer additional conversation starters and fun physical activities to support each lesson.

3 Key Takeaways

The Basics

Shortcut: A route that is shorter or more direct than the one usually taken, or a way of saving time and effort in doing something. Every day in life we face temptations of possible shortcuts and opportunities to get somewhere with less effort. Efficiency will certainly make the journey easier, but make no mistake—anything worthwhile takes diligence and hard work. If you want to be a writer you must write. If you want to be a successful athlete, you must train. Sometimes athletes may take shortcuts like skipping a tough practice, taking medications that are not prescribed to them, or they may not give 100% in a workout. They may even turn to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to try and add muscle quicker or recover faster. Typically, athletes who live ethically with solid values will make the appropriate decision not to take shortcuts and recognize that they do not have to ‘cheat you’ to beat you’. When an athlete is faced with the decision of whether to take a shortcut or not, it’s helpful to think through the six steps of the Decision-Making Model:

Decision Making Model

TrueSport Talk

Watch this TrueSport talk with Peter Vanderkaay or read the lesson aloud


Swimmer Peter Vanderkaay knows better than most that shortcuts are not the way to success (or the way to winning two Olympic gold medals).

One of the biggest traps an athlete can fall into is taking a shortcut like missing practice, taking medications or supplements not prescribed by a doctor or trainer, or not giving 100 percent when given the chance in a game or practice.

Athletes in most sports and at all levels usually have one competition on their calendars that is bigger than the rest, be it a local race or the Olympics. Peter says that when there is temptation to take shortcuts, it’s important to remember these long-term goals and how much we want to perform well at them.

He has seen many teammates and opponents alike slack off in practice by taking shortcuts, or not completing a workout. While it might have felt nice to quit early in the moment, in the end it hurt them at the big events because they didn’t put in the time at practice.

As Peter’s coach puts it: training is taking your paycheck and putting it in the bank. If you do this every time, at the end of the season you’ll have enough saved up to buy yourself something nice (or perform well). If you spend that money throughout the year by taking shortcuts at practice, you aren’t going to have anything left in your bank when you need it most.

TrueSport Talk Questions

1. What was the main point you took away from the lesson?

2. What are some shortcuts athletes might take in your sport?

3. Can you think of a time when you took a shortcut that ended up costing you in some way later?

Tips & Applications

Quick Tools for Decision Making

Teenagers are very oriented towards ‘the now’ and tend to be more reactionary than judicious when it comes to decision-making. Scientists have discovered that a human brain reaches maximum size during the teenage years (ages 12-14), yet development of the brain continues for approximately ten more years.

Since an adolescent’s brain is “under construction,” it’s worth noting that their choices and behaviors during this critical time can “fine tune” the brain. These three decision-making exercises can help shape their minds and future decisions:

Spotlight Test: Before making a decision, imagine a beam of light shining on you that allows the important people in your life to observe your actions. Would you still make the same choices?

Role Model Test: A role model is someone you know and trust to do the right thing, like a parent, sibling, teacher, coach, or friend. Before you make a decision, ask yourself what your role model would do in the same situation. Would you still make the same choice?

Pause First: When faced with a tough decision, it’s important to pause and think about the consequences before reacting to the situation. Often the mere presence of time offers an opportunity to ponder all possibilities, evaluate the emotional influence, consider your reputation, and make a wise choice.

The Red Flags of Dietary Supplements

Although millions of Americans use vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements, they may not know that supplements are NOT reviewed, approved, or tested by the Food and Drug Administration before being sold.

Just because a product claims to be natural does not make it safe to use. Some supplement companies make claims about their products that are unproven or false, and many products may contain ingredients that are not listed on the label. To be safe, always check a supplement’s label for additional info and beware of these common ‘red flags’:

  • Products that advertise to be anabolic (muscle building). These might list ingredients that end in -ol, -idiol, or -stene, or have numbers in their name
  • Products that advertise to be anabolic (muscle building). These might list ingredients that end in -ol, -idiol, or -stene, or have numbers in their name
  • Products that promise to quickly provide large amounts of energy
  • Products that list proprietary blends, as the ingredients and/or quantities may be unclear or left off altogether
  • Claims to treat diseases (cancer, arthritis) or prevent the common cold and enhance the immune system
  • Claims to be safe simply because they have been used for thousands of years or are considered to be ‘traditional medicines’

Side Effects of Energy Drinks

Energy drinks might seem like a simple way to give the body a boost of energy. However, these ‘boosts’ are far from natural or healthy and can do significant damage to the body.

They often have a high concentration of stimulants as well as novel ingredients that have not been proven safe, are possibly prohibited in competitions where drug testing takes place, and that could possibly result in a positive anti-doping test.

They also come with several nasty side effects, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Aggressiveness
  • Increased risk of stroke, heart attack, cardiac arrhythmia, and sudden death

Downloads & Additional Resources:

Lesson Companion (PDF)
Printable version of the online lesson: Away from the computer or internet access? Print out and use this handout that’s identical to the online lesson.

Chalk Talk (PDF)
15-minute activity: Understand your athletes’ attitudes about taking shortcuts by leading a discussion with these conversation starters.

Activity (PDF)
Energy Drink Label-Reading Activity. 15 minute activity: See how well your athletes know how to read an energy drink’s nutrition label and identify its hidden dangers.

Activity (PDF)
Shortcut Scenarios Activity. 15-20 minute activity: Have your athletes act out and discuss these three shortcut-related scenarios

Review Handout (PDF)
10 minute quiz: Test your athletes’ knowledge of decision making, shortcuts, energy drinks, and PEDs. (answers included)

TrueSport Certificate (PDF)
Lesson Certificate: Celebrate your groups’ completion of the Shortcuts lesson with this special certificate.

Parent Handout (PDF)
Handout: Learn about the importance of avoiding shortcuts and how to incorporate those lessons into everyday life.

Athlete Handout (PDF)
Handout: Have your athletes learn about the importance of avoiding shortcuts and incorporate those learnings into their everyday life.

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