GETTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT: Summer is here. What do you need to do to make this year a championship one? As an athlete, how do you motivate yourself to lift the level of your training? As a coach, what can you do to make this season a winning one in every sense of the word. As a parent, what role should you play to insure that your child maintains his/her motivation and has a championship season? The start of a new season is exciting and filled with so much hope and promise. This month's edition of Competitive Advantage's Mental Toughness Newsletter will address how to take this excitement and begin to channel it into peak performance.
"So you really want to impress the coach? Here's how!"
"Taking your training to the next level" As I watched the first week of practice come to an end, I couldn't help but think about that small group of athletes that I had heard grumbling and mumbling almost daily. The coaches were too hard. It was too hot out! They were too tired and hurting too much to do the wind-sprints at the end of practice. They hated the coaches' drills. They wanted to rest. My word! The season hadn't even started and they were already complaining! Obviously these athletes didn't even have a clue about what a winning attitude was.
It made me think about a question I frequently ask athletes about their training and life: Do you know what road you're on? Imagine that you've been traveling along a road and it suddenly forks left and right. You're standing at the crossroads and you now have an important decision to make. Which road will you take? Imagine that if you took the left fork, you'd end up in "La La Land", a wondrous place where all your minimal efforts will reward you with supreme mediocrity. Should you decide to take the right fork, you'd end up in the Champion's Zone, a place where you will realize your goals and have to contend with a terrible amount of success. Every day in practice, school, work and life you are confronted with this same choice point over and over again. Exactly what do these choices look like?
You have a tough decision to make about staying up late and partying with your friends or going to bed early so you can make an early morning workout. If you party hardy with your buds and blow the work-out off, then you've just chosen the left fork, to "La La Land." If you back down from sprints at the end of practice with the reasoning that the coach isn't looking and it won't hurt anyone, you've just chosen the left fork. If you actively avoid working on your weaknesses and just practice what you're good at, then you've chosen the left fork.
However, if you go to bed early and forget your friends for that evening because it's critical for you to be rested for the next morning's workout, then you've taken the right fork. If you go even harder when your body is begging you to stop, then you've just chosen the right fork. If you continually work on your weaknesses because you understand that you can't really get stronger as an athlete without doing this, then you've taken the right road.
When you continuously find yourself at this crossroads as your new season begins, understand one thing. Choose the left fork enough times and you'll go absolutely nowhere fast as an athlete and a person. Make a habit of choosing the right fork over and over again and you'll turn all your dreams into a reality.
Obviously you and I know which road of the two is the easiest to take. It doesn't take much will power, character or discipline to choose the left fork. It's easy to skip practice, cheat on drills or break the training diet. Similarly, it's quite clear that the right fork is by far the more difficult one. So a question may readily pop into your mind. Why bother sacrificing, hurting, pushing your body beyond its limits and passing up on the opportunities to hang out with your buds? Why would anyone in their right mind consistently take the right road given all the hardship, effort and sacrifice that it entails? Simple answer! You have to want to. You have to have an important reason to. You have to have what I call a "Big Enough WHY." A "Big Enough Why" is an emotionally compelling reason to do the right thing. It's a goal or dream that is important enough to you, that you not only don't mind sweating, hurting and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, but you choose to. Do you have a big enough "WHY?" Do you have a dream or goal that is important to you? Are you just going through the motions when you work out, or are you going someplace special? If you want to get much more out of your training, if you really want to improve the quality of your workouts, then your efforts need to be closely connected with your "big enough why" each and every day.
In other words, you have to channel your daily efforts in a specific direction. Motivation is all about having this direction.
This means that you have to know how what you're doing today in practice will help you move closer to that goal of yours in the future. In a sense this means that you have to take responsibility for your training. You can't just leave it up to the coaches. Complaining about having to run extra sprints or putting out a half-hearted effort in practice is not taking responsibility for your training.
Many elite athletes credit their success to being able to bring their big goal into practice with them on a daily basis. In this way, when they're confronted with that crossroad and trying to decide whether to ease up and take the left fork or to go for it and take the more difficult right one, the decision becomes easy. In fact, one of the main reasons that athletes fail to reach their goals is because they don't do this. They don't keep that "big why" with them every day. They lose sight of it. Without having an awareness of why you are out there, you might make the mistake of trading what you want the most, your "big enough why" for what you may want right now, (to rest, to back down from the pain, etc.).
So what can you do to stay motivated and lift the level of your training? Develop a "big enough why." Have an important goal for yourself this season. One that really means something to you and that you can get excited about. Make sure the goal belongs to you and no one else. Write that "big why" down on a piece of paper and post it in your room in a highly visible place. Look at it often and let yourself daydream about what it will be like when you achieve it. It's important that you keep it fresh in your mind and keeping it posted will accomplish this. When you go to practice ask yourself, "what small piece can I work on today that will help me move just a little bit closer to my "big why." Understand that every day is an important day to train, especially those really bad ones! Each time you get out there, you're potentially moving in the right direction. Continuously remind yourself about that crossroad and ask yourself whether you're taking the right road. When you climb into bed at night, mentally rehearse successfully working towards that goal.
Motivation is mostly something that you generate from within. It's fueled by your love and passion for the sport and your "big enough why." Don't let yourself just go through the motions when you train. Too many athletes make that mistake and train as if they were "clock watchers." They just put their time in and not much else. To really excel in your sport and to take your training to the next level you have to invest not just your time and effort, but also your heart. Start off on the right foot by committing yourself to that "big why" and then going for it every day!
Parents & Motivation: What's your role?
Two weeks ago I was in the middle of a tennis match when I was distracted by a rather loud, incredibly annoying voice coming from 10 courts away. When I looked over, I saw a father giving his 12-year old son what looked to be a tennis lesson. The boy was up for a tennis camp for the entire week and it seems that Dad decided to also make the trip so he could spend some quality time with his son and give him a little extra "instruction." I guess the 7 plus hours a day the boy was already getting at the camp wasn't quiteenough. Perhaps the boy wasn't motivated enough. As I listened and watched this father angrily gesture at his son, I wondered if he had any inkling of the damage that he was doing. His tone was impatient and abusive, as if he couldn't understand why his son was unable to do exactly what he was asking. I wonder if somehow he thought his frustration would somehow motivate his boy to do better. A minor point here. As a teaching pro with 22 years experience what Dad was saying did not exactly constitute high quality instruction. To put it quite bluntly, Dad did not know what he was talking about. But even if he did, it wouldn't have mattered. The way that he was interacting with his boy was more of the issue. He was pushing, prodding, demeaning and bottom line, emotionally abusing his son. Is this motivation? The irony of all this is that dear old Dad probably had no awareness at all of the harm that he was doing. Here he had taken a whole week off from work to have a special bonding experience with little Johnny. He was being a good Dad. And I bet his heart was in the right place too. I'm sure he really wanted his young son to grow up happy, with a passionate love for the sport and some talent as a tennis player. Unfortunately he was going about this completely wrong! I've seen this scenario played out too many times before to not see the handwriting on the wall. Little Johnny is going to get so fed up with Dad's "help" that he's going to begin to hate both tennis and Dad. Soon he'll quit tennis and have nothing to do with Dad. Do you really want to motivate your child to reach his/her potential as an athlete? Do you really want them to go "all the way", or at least as far as possible? If your answer to these questions is a resounding "yes" and you're truly serious about giving your child as big a motivational boost as possible, then read the following very carefully.
Pushing your child towards certain athletic goals that they may or may not have will backfire in your face! It is not your job to motivate your child-athlete. It is not your job to push or pressure them. Doing this will only kill their love for the sport and cause them to ultimately lose respect for you. In later years they will not gratefully thank you in their Nike commercial.
Your children's motivation to participate and excel in a sport is something that should come from within them, not you. They should compete because they want to. They should practice because they want to. They should have their own reasons and own goals. They should pursue their own dreams. I don't mean to be harsh here, but when it comes to your child's sport, your dreams don't count. They are not important to this picture. Your child's sport is not a chance for you to work out your own frustrated athletic career or to relive a championship one. You've had your chance, whether it was fair or not, and now it's their turn. I'm not saying that you shouldn't take an active interest in their sport.
I'm not telling you that you shouldn't provide them with all the opportunities possible to excel. I'm not saying that you shouldn't chauffer them around to games and practices. Nor am I saying that you shouldn't throw, kick, or bat a ball around with them. If they really want you to, you should do all of this. What I am saying is that their love and interest in the sport should be your guide for how much that you do, not your love and interest. Remember, this is their sport, not yours. The pushing and outside motivation should come from the coach. Your primary role as far as motivation goes is to support and love your children unconditionally, regardless of how fast they run, how far they hit the ball or how many points they score. If you really want to motivate your children, then you will also be smart enough to not pay them, bribe them, or offer material incentives for certain levels of effort or performance. Offering these kinds of extrinsic sources of motivation will distract them from what's really important in their performance, interfere with them doing their best and ultimately will serve as a de-motivator! A father was excited that his Little League progeny was lighting opposing pitchers up for a .575 average. Dad, however, wanted to motivate his future Major Leaguer to do even better so he offered him this motivating incentive package. "For every home run that you hit I'll pay you $5.00. Get a triple and you'll make $3.00, a double and I'll pay you $2.00, and every time you single I'll give you a buck!" His inspired son then proceeded to begin to think too much about getting a hit, started trying too hard and slipped into a hitting slump that saw his batting average drop below .200 before the season ended. Remember, this is your child's sport. Offering payments and bribes for performance is selfish because it's ultimately done for you, the parent, not for your son or daughter. Playing and loving the sport is all the "payment" a child needs. Love, encourage and support them, but leave the pushing and motivating to the coach. Driving your children mercilessly like that tennis father will get you some success in the beginning. Your child will reluctantly get good at his sport. However, ultimately you will have to pay a huge price for your pushing and what it may cost you is your relationship with your child later in life. Try to keep in mind that long after the gloves, bats, racquets, balls and other paraphernalia of youth sports are put away, when your child has grown and left home, hopefully by then you will still be able to maintain a rich, loving relationship with them and your future grandchildren. Freaking out because they are not practicing hard enough or playing up to your standards of excellence seems to pale in importance when compared to this.
As the start of our spring season has arrived, I feel that its immensely important to remind our parents and families to keep perspective about the tr...