"What the hell am I doing right now?"
Did that question ever cross your mind? You're doing a certain task or exercise for probably the 100th time in your life. All of a sudden, you go: "Wait a minute! I have no idea why I'm doing this". The weirdest part is that you've accomplished that specific task so many times in the past without ever questioning yourself. You kind of went through the motions by having a vague idea of what skill that drill was suppose to improve. But this time, it's different. The sting of curiosity is now upon you.
Too often, as athletes, we blindly rely on our coaches or mentors to show us the way. We follow their advice, planning and vision. The same applies to our jobs. Our bosses are showing us the way and we take for granted that their decision is in the company’s or team’s best interest. After all, it makes perfect sense. They are the ones with the impressive background, the Olympic medals or the many decades of experience. With such a track record, only a fool would doubt them, right? Well... maybe not.
The downside of trust is blindness.
By investing so much trust into our coaches or bosses, we gradually slip into autopilot mode. We train, we eat, we sleep. Repeat. You know the song if you’re an athlete. On the other hand, if you’re an employee, it may look something like this: long hours, impossible deadlines and soreness from constantly working in front of a computer. Every day resemble the previous one. It's a whirlwind. Our coaches and mentors are calling the shots, and we do our best to keep up and to meet the expectations. But, by heavily relying on our superiors’ wisdom, we quiet the nagging voice in our mind - the one that asks quietly ‘why am I doing this?’. We stop looking for ways to improve on our own. We take comfort in repeating ourselves that, in the end, things will work out just fine because we're training and working hard.
But what if I told you that with the right mindset, all of this hard work can actually yield greater results? In other words, for the same amount of blood, sweat and tears, you could get better results than your teammates. This blog post has nothing to do with a brand new communication tool or a magical supplement that turns you into a Wolverine-like athlete who recovers a hundred times faster while becoming crazy strong without any form of resistance training (although that would be awesome!). Instead, I want you to consider adopting a mindset that has the power of improving your workouts in a way that not even the greatest coach could. This specific mindset also has the potential to increase your efficiency at work while boosting your indispensability levels through the roof. The following blog post mainly targets athletes that are striving for gold, but it contains valuable tips for anyone seeking to have a positive impact on their workplace or their personal endeavors.
Enter the student mindset
"Knowledge is power"
We've all heard that cliché. However, besides its simplicity, this phrase is incredibly powerful. It reminds us that our greatest asset is our mind. Unfortunately, we neglect to train our mind to serve our goals. Indeed, as athletes, we spend hundreds of hours in developing our physical, technical and tactical abilities. All this training has a very well-defined goal: gain a competitive edge on our opponents (or ourselves). We are so dedicated to this format of training that we missed the elephant in the room. Along the way, we stopped asking fundamental questions such as. "Is this the best method to improve? What aspect should I prioritize? What is today's training purpose?"
Don't get me wrong, I know well enough that it is way more comfortable to mindlessly go with the flow and to keep on rehearsing a familiar set of skills in order to finally go home and enjoy that well-needed rest (I see you Netflix addicts!). Having played football for more than 10 years, I am perfectly aware that keeping quiet is sometimes the wisest thing to do (burpees, anyone?). I'm not saying you should constantly question every aspect of your training and be a pain in the ass for every one of your teammates or your coach. All I'm preaching for is for a little bit of curiosity.
Knowing that coaches are quite busy and need to focus on the many aspects of training, your questions might not always be welcomed during practice time. Sometimes, you could even be afraid of asking questions. Luckily, there are ways to improve without the help of your coaches! Indeed, you can learn all kinds of things on your own, but where to start?
"Learn how to see" - Leonardo Da Vinci
The first step in your journey requires you to "rinse your eyes". It is necessary that you break free from the "auto-pilot trap" in order to comprehend what are the changes that need to be made. The key is to apply more scrutiny to your day-to-day training. Try to see things from a different angle, to notice a detail that was previously veiled. The deeper you analyse, the richer your understanding of the task becomes. In doing so, you'll be able to identify the key elements of performance for your sport.
Evaluate, then react
A critical process in increasing your "athletic knowledge" is to evaluate where you stand right now, today. I suggest you to use a good old-fashioned "Pros & Cons" type of list. What are your strengths? What are you known for? What aspect of your game do you master the most? That first column will also serve as a reminder of your abilities in moments of doubt. Next up are your flaws. Since athletes are usually pretty hard on themselves, the second column should fill up pretty easily! Note that, while this part of the process might be hard to face, it is essential that you remain honest. Make the effort to identify the aspects that need a little touch-up and remember that realizing what needs to change is always the first step. The clearer the picture you brush, the more you can take action to bridge the gap between you and your competitors. If, on the other hand, you are throning on top of the rankings in your sport, you need to work even harder. You didn't get there by chance and you know perfectly than your opponents are all aiming for the top spot. Your spot. To defend it, you must make sure to widen the gap between you and the pack. Keep searching for marginal gains while making sure that every aspect of your lifestyle are tailored on your performance goals. Now's not the time to cruise.
Train with purpose
Being a student of your sport not only means that you are aware of who came before you, but it also means that you are efficiently learning about the present to influence your future. To do so, you need to seize every learning opportunity you encounter. Every drill, every practice and every tournament/meet is a fantastic time to reflect on your performance. Approach those moments positively and, as soon as they are done, think back on how you could improve. Revisiting your memories not only enhance your visualization skills, but it also builds the habit of self-actualization. The better you are at learning from your previous experiences, the faster you can hone a new skill. Also, during your daily training, you should be aware of the purpose of each drill in order to accomplish them effectively and potentiate your gains.
A good way to practice mindful training is to have a clear mental picture of what you should be accomplishing with every exercise. Make sure that the image you pick is simple and powerful. For example, when I work on power exercises or weightlifting derivatives with my athletes, I will often use the “lightning” or the “atomic bomb” cue to remind them the importance of movement velocity or explosivity (Fun fact: I often mimic both of these images when cueing isn’t enough, it’s priceless acting). All this to say that, even if the bar is not moving fast because you’re using a heavy load, as long as you have the intention of moving explosively good things will happen. In brief, don't waste any reps in mindless training. Time (and intention) is of the essence.
If mindless training is not a good idea, mindless reading isn't any better. I challenge you to pick at least one aspect in this blog and put it into action. Today. Why wait when you know you could benefit from that change right away?
Make it count.
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