This past summer brought us Olympic champions like Gabby Douglas, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps, and the like. Many watched in awe over the sheer greatness of their performances. It was an awesome spectacle.
Professional athletes like Derrick Rose, Roger Federer, Drew Brees, and Derek Jeter also conjure up feelings of respect and admiration as their performances consistently rise to the top. I mean these athletes aren’t just good at what they do…they are great.
However, as spectators, it is difficult to really grasp how athletes of this caliber attain the type of skill set that sets them apart from their peers. Sure, we can admire the end results of their work…but without seeing what goes into this end result—the path these athletes travel—it’s most difficult to comprehend, especially for athletes in the earlier stages of their “game.”
This became undeniably evident for me during a presentation I gave to a group of 70 or so high school boys volleyball players a couple years back. I really enjoy talking with athletes, especially the whole program, and had asked the coach if I might come back in a week to do a quick follow-up. Their varsity team that year was on the verge of a possible state berth and I wanted to do a little extra. I hoped it would help these athletes accomplish the goals they had set; give them a very important piece to the puzzle of becoming the best one can be.
I also felt that a follow-up might assist in creating a better, more advanced training environment; one that laid solid foundations for younger players in the program, likely building more successes on into the future.
Now I cover a great deal of information in my presentation, everything from several very inspirational and emotional stories to a highlight of how athletes should focus when they practice. In fact, even though subtle, that second piece is an essential part of the presentation, as it gives athletes some well-found direction.
The presentation went well with all players showing a positive interest in the stories I told and discussion we had. Based on their reactions, participation in activities, and answers to questions I gave, they seemed to have a sound grasp of the important concepts I highlighted.
Coming back a week later, I took the varsity team (thinking their age and maturity would help greatly with what I was about to do) off to the side right before their practice and asked them two very specific questions…with a plan to ask a third.
First, I wanted them to think back about their training the past week and tell me if they remembered performing any of their skills at the very highest level. To the point where (as soon as they made contact with the ball) they could feel their body position absolutely correct, their movements “perfectly” executed, and the ball going precisely where they intended. Basically…it all just felt exactly right.
Much to my surprise, all raised their hands in agreement that, yes, they had accomplished this, at least on some of their skills.
However, the much more important question I had yet to ask. It was one that would indicate whether they truly understood the explanation and examples I gave on that important focus piece I cited earlier, and, more importantly, were actually able to apply it in training.
Part II of Great Athletes Use a Special “Type” of Training coming tomorrow, don’t miss it!!!
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