Thursday, November 13, 2014

Becoming a Champion!

We are the Champions!  The grand culmination of each sports season!  Players and Coaches rush the field in celebration of reaching this elusive goal as the fans go crazy!  There is nothing like the feeling of becoming a champion and yet it is a feeling that very few ever experience.  The reason it is so valuable lies in how rare it is.  Only one team gets the title each year, the unbridled joy from one team is a stark contrast to the pain of the other.  With the end of every sports season comes the reflection of successes and failures.  While the champions are holding up the trophy and celebrating all the other teams are left wondering ‘what it’ and attention quickly shifts to setting goals for next season and the all too familiar "Just wait 'til next year!"

I think Alan Armstrong’s quote sums it up well “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.”  As with everything in life, nothing worth having ever comes easy. While every athlete and coach longs to hold the trophy and be recognized as the best in their sport, the real truth is that very few are willing to put in what’s necessary to reach that level of success.  Every team starts the year with high hopes and expectations of success and everyone ‘works hard’ so what separates champions from everyone else? Further, why do some programs become dynasties and others perennial losers? 

Champions are outliers by the very definition of the word.  In his book of the same name Malcom Gladwell spins a hypothesis of what makes outliers and it is applicable to what makes Champions.   Gladwell postulates that outliers separate not only because the sheer amount of practice they do compared with contemporaries, but the also the type of practice.  While most are satisfied just putting in the required amount of practice, Outliers put in significantly more.  In order to be world class at something, the author leans on the 10,000 hour rule.  In other words it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become world class at some skill or roughly daily practice for 10 years.  What separates the great from the really good is the type of practice.  The ‘Great’ tend to utilize daily deliberate practice.  Instead of just going through the motion of practice for the allotted time, the ‘Great’ focus on improving their weaknesses.  The only way this is possible is through complete awareness of what the weaknesses are!  Therefore, they need a systematic approach of gaging their performance and identifying their strengths and weaknesses and then having a logical plan to improve.  This requires an objective coach(s) to help with the assessment and planning but then comes the hardest part the daily deliberate discipline to make the improvements.  Daily deliberate practice is hard because it is a journey without end; the goal is mastery not a destination.  The determination, grit and energy it takes to maintain this methodical march over several years is what separates the really good from the great and the great from the Champions.  The overall plan must include not only the initial evaluation but then systematic reevaluations to show improvement to help refine the process.   This is one area where the ‘instant gratification’ mentality is very detrimental because there is no short cut. 

Over the years we’ve seen the emergence and evolution of Sports Training or Performance Enhancement.  Following the diffusion of innovation curve we’ve witnesses the early innovators leading the way with new training techniques specific to athletes.  Then, the early adopters spread the ideas to more people and now we’ve reached the early mass phase where every professional team and most colleges have strength and conditioning coaches. Spreading from the professional and collegiate ranks there has been a steady increase in businesses offering a variety of sports training and performance enhancement services.  As with all professions there are the great, the good, the not-so-good and the horrible.  If you are an athlete or the parent of an athlete and your goal is to maximize your athletic abilities how do you decide the right program? 

While the topic of a comprehensive performance enhancement can become exhaustingly complicated here are a few basics to consider.  The first step of deciding on the appropriate coach or trainer starts with research.  Realizing that the human body is amazingly complex, the first question to consider is does this person have the minimum of a four year college degree in Exercise Science, kinesiology or a related scientific field? A good understanding of the science of human movement is a minimal requirement.  Next, what certification does the person have?  While there are a plethora of ‘certifications’ the gold standard for sports training is the CSCS or Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA.   With the right education and certification you then want to look at the person’s overall experience.  How many years have they been working with athletes and at what level?  What results have they been able to get?  Be prepared because this is where you will hear a laundry list of the famous people they have worked with.  While these lists can be impressive there is still more you need to know but we’ll save that for future blog posts.  Stay Tuned…

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