Winning Depends on the Little Things
Please read the few paragraphs in the caption below before reading any further in this tip…
That piece of paper has been hanging in a cubby in the mudroom of my parent’s house since 1997. It was written by Daniel Chambliss in 1988, and it was included in my training folder I was given as a freshman at Burke Mountain Academy in the fall of 1997. It’s the only piece of that training folder that I have left, but in my opinion it’s possibly the most important.
Nothing has changed from the time that was written by Chambliss in 1988 until today. The turn of the century didn’t bring catastrophe as many predicted, nor did it bring anything extra spectacular or earth shattering by way of human performance. Yes, we have seen athletes do things that had not yet been done; Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Serena Williams, Wade Van Nierkerk, Bode Miller, The Cubs, Peyton Manning, Lindsey Vonn, and Tiger Woods just to name a few. Athletes have not changed, we are still humans with 23 pairs of chromosomes, and sport is still played on the same planet with the same gravitational pull of 9.8m/s that it was before the turn of the century.
Just as it was thought that nobody would ever break the 4 min mile mark until we saw with our own eyes Roger Bannister run a 3:59 in 1954. Maybe not my eyes ;) That feat was then followed by many others afterwards and it currently sits at 3:43. Athletes are always improving, always honing their skills and finding new ways to be successful on the big stage, just as athletes have done for hundreds of years before them. So what is it that makes an athlete great? What is it that makes any human great at anything for that matter?
With over a decade spent as a trainer and coach I have had the opportunity to work with well over a thousand clients and athletes, and I can say with complete confidence, just as Chambliss did, that the greats all have one thing in common…They all do the little things. They all do the little things and they do them consistently. As Chambliss said the little things are not necessarily the most complicated or intricate of tasks reserved only for the gifted. Typically they are the more boring or “mundane” of skills that an athlete may encounter, but they are skills that must be mastered in order to even consider greatness. This is where average performers fall short. Those who are average do what the majority of people do and therefore nothing great ever really happens. The irony in this is that we all want to be great, and we all have the opportunity to get there, but yet we choose not to take the steps needed to do it.
Do you realize that we all have a choice? We can choose to fit in with the masses and do what’s “normal," or we can choose to do something different, something more, something great. It doesn’t matter if it’s athletics, academics, weight loss, or chess, the human body retains the ability to develop and master skills through life thanks to a biological phenomenon called myelination. But yet so few actually make that choice and then remain accountable to it. If you want to be great you must do the little things needed for success and you must do them with a feverish incessance that does not quit. You must not make excuses for why you are not what you truly want to be. You must not make excuses at all, as they only ever sound good to the person giving them anyway. Above all else, you must master the mundane.
Every week I have the opportunity to work with over a hundred different athletes, primarily high-schoolers and I am so grateful to be able to do this. It’s tough love however, as every day I battle with some of these athletes who simply do not want to do what is needed to be great. These individuals are mostly just lazy, overly entitled, a bit spoiled and lacking accountability. Many of them have more god given talent than their teammates but care not to utilize it to their fullest potential. They don't give their all, they don't listen or take direction well, they show up late, roll their eyes at you, they really hate it when you try to actually coach them, they always have an excuse and they generally would rather not be in the gym to start with...
It’s not that they are all this way, as many do in fact have the right mindset and come each day ready to work, ready to make changes and train their bodies to do something great. These are the athletes that I would give the shirt off my back to, the ones I spend hours studying and programming for, the athletes who are like I once was...
But more so now than when I started in this profession I see athletes who lack the ability to “see red” and the drive needed to do whatever it takes to be successful. It’s sad, and frustrating as I want it so bad for them. Are we raising them this way?Are we teaching them that just showing up is enough? Are we holding them accountable? Are we teaching them how to learn from failure, or are we teaching them to run from it? Parents and coaches please take a minute to ask yourself these questions…Many times I also see these weaknesses with our adult clients and athletes who want so bad to have that body back they had in college, or to be able to move and feel better every day. But it seems they just can’t seem to make the time to fully commit, to really do whatever is needed to achieve their goals. You can look at it two ways; not having enough time, or not making being truly awesome a priority…
As you’ve now learned, there’s more that’s needed from the athlete than just showing up if they are to be successful, and if they are to accomplish something truly great. What’s needed is mostly in the hands of the athlete, as the coach can only do so much. This is where most humans fail. This is where we fall short and come up with excuses as to why they can’t do it. That’s why extraordinary is not ordinary; those who are extraordinary do the “extra” needed to be great.
The extraordinary are different in that they are most times alone in this process, a maverick among their peers and their teammates. Most athletes and humans will not take these steps, the little steps that take time and sacrifice, commitment and discipline. Mavericks who understand the process and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there, even though those around them are not.
Early this basketball season a new athlete on the men’s varsity team came to me at a pre-season conditioning camp one night complaining of being really tight and wanting some stretches to help him. I spent some time with him after our session and gave him some things to implement into his daily routine that would without a doubt help. I knew
that the chances of him actually doing it were slim to none with slim walking out the door. I spent the time anyway cause that's what I do, hopeful that maybe this was an athlete that would do the little things...The following week school was cancelled so we didn’t have training at the school's performance center. I told coach to tell his team they were welcome to come to my facility in town and we would spend time as a team going through a good soft tissue and mobility session. He relayed this to the entire team. That afternoon just one athlete showed up for a non mandated session. It was the same athlete who complained of tightness the week before! We had a great session, spending a lot of time on his breathing patterns which we determined to be a huge culprit in his tightness. Not to mention sleeping on a couch, going to bed too late and being chronically dehydrated. When he left I gave him homework in the form of mobility, some basic stretches and breathing exercises and told him to report to me the next week. The next week I was damn near brought to tears when I asked him how things were going and he handed me his notebook with his "homework" written down. See pic below.
He didn’t just do the exercises he wrote down every time he did it, including the middle of the night when he couldn't sleep. He said writing it down kept him accountable to doing it. Upon further review of the notebook I found where he had names of NBA players he emulates and had notes of everything they did well that he also wanted to do well.
This sophomore in high-school was doing something extra, he was doing the little things, and he was determined to master the mundane. Although he might not fully understand at this stage in his life those little things will pay off big for him someday...The little things are like playing with Legos; although each piece may be small in nature and not too significant, when you stack them together and on top of each other they grow and get bigger and stronger and allow you to stack even more on top of that. You are building a foundation. Find the little things that can help you reach your goals and continually master them, build a strong foundation and then relentlessly master them. Because winning depends on these little things.