Shortly after getting involved in training elite level athletes, I soon realized that my marker for training success was not whether my clients were the best at their sport, but rather if they were achieving their potential individually. What made me come to this realization was that many of the top big-name athletes that I have come across were actually under-achieving. This was also the impetus for why I created a holistic system for assessing athletes to see if they were actually firing on all cylinders.
As I tell all of my clients when we get started together, the only difference between where they are now and where they can be in the future is the weak links that are holding them back. Take for example an athlete from any given sport who is gifted with incredible speed. Most people sit back and marvel at their sprint and drill times, while I ponder if there is still more in the tank. Sure, they may have great speed, but what is their diet like? If they got stronger or moved better, could they be even faster???
This often puzzles athletes when I assess them and turn to tell them, “Good news, you stink!” What I mean is that if they are someone who achieving a high level of success in their given sport, but yet score poorly on any given test, it only shows that much more room for improvement. They have actually been successful in spite of themselves. An example I often give is of an athlete that I had come in who was a national champion in two sports at one of the top colleges in the nation. He had blinding speed and a physique that looked like it was carved by Michelangelo. His score on his Functional Movement Screen? A lowly 12 out of 21. I have had grandmothers score higher than that. Imagine if he could take all of his horsepower, skill and athleticism and combined that with efficient movement skills, where he was unencumbered by his own immobility and instability. It’s scary to think about the possibilities.
Then again, if you start to venture into the philosophical outreaches of the topic of potential, the web you fall into could be endless. I remember a great commercial a few years back that showed Larry Bird working in Home Depot. What if Larry never picked up a basketball? The game may have never seen one of its greatest legends ever grace the court. In his great book “Outliers” author Malcolm Gladwell investigates the intricate series of circumstances that align that allow one person to reach greatness while others barely achieve mediocrity.
Now add in the factor of desire. I have clients that could be better, but the price of the sacrifices they would have to get there (stricter diet, less partying, more training time, etc.), do not justify the rewards they would achieve in their eyes. Even though I can see their potential, it is fruitless if I want to achieve it more than they do. How many athletes stop short of greatness because they didn’t have the fortitude and diligence to push through the tough times? Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. What if MJ decided that rejection meant basketball wasn’t meant for him and he gave up the sport? The game as we know would have been changed forever.
Want to keep going? Well, we can’t discuss potential and achievement without discussing expectations. As the famous saying goes ”Whether you think you can do it or if you don’t, you’re probably right.” If you don’t think you can be a scoring champion, MVP or a starter on the varsity team, your chances of accomplishing those feats are slim at best. Derek Jeter, a sure first-ballot Hall of Fame baseball player has achieved what many players can only dream of in his career. He is the leader or in the top 3 in almost all statistical categories for one of the most storied teams in sports history, the NY Yankees. He has won 5 World Series titles, including 4 in his first 5 years in the league. When he was asked recently to reflect on his remarkable stat line and if he had accomplished all that he wanted as a Yankee, he answered with an emphatic NO. “As long as Yogi is out there with ten rings (Referring to Yankee legend Yogi Berra who won an unmatched 10 World Series in his career), we all have something to shoot for.” For a kid that grew up rooting for and dreaming of one day playing for the Yankees, Derek could have easily closed his storybook tale when he put on the pinstripes for the first time. The difference is, he only was getting started.
What is the difference between a dream and a goal? A goal is just a dream with a plan to get there. Remember the kid’s party game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”? If you try to pin the tail on the donkey blindfolded and you actually hit it, you’re pretty shocked and more likely pretty lucky. If you read a book on how to best pin the tail, tracked the donkey’s tendencies, mapped out the steps leading up to the donkey and walked the path dozens of times per day everyday leading up to the party, you would expect nothing less than to hit the bulls eye and you now are actually extremely frustrated if you don’t achieve perfection. See the difference in the paradigm?
With consistent preparation you earn the right to expect great results. This was expressed eloquently by Lou Holtz in his book “Winning Everyday”. Lou is a legendary college football coach, motivational speaker and TV analyst. Coach Holtz tells the tale of how he had the opportunity to golf with someone he highly respected, one of the top TV golf commentators of all time. After watching Holtz go into a tirade after blowing a shot, he turned to the coach and said, “I have watched all the best play this game and I have watched you play and you’re not good enough to get mad.”
If anything sums it all up, it is that statement. For an athlete to get to their absolute end of the road, I can’t get any better, complete potential, they have to be able to say that they have maximized every element of the mental, physiological and skill components of their sport. Only at that point can we say they are at their top peak. Out of all of the thousands of athletes I have had the chance to work with, guess how many hit that mark? 0.
NONE? Yep. Sure, I have I had the good fortune of working with State, National and World Champions. They have been the best at their position, in their state, league or sport, but they weren’t their best. That’s what makes this fun. It is a never ending journey and you can always get better. So what’s holding you back???