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Building a Foundation for Athletic Success

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

As a performance coach my life revolves around developing athletes both young and old who will dominate in whatever sport or physical activity they encounter. We spend hours each week researching the latest science, reading books and listening to podcasts from “experts” in the field, we experiment with new training techniques and intensities, tweaking and revising programs, developing new exercises, and monitoring and measuring all that we do so that we can have data to help us make more informed decisions in the future. It’s fun really, in a #geeksquad kind of way. This is what all of our athletes have come to know and expect of us, a relentless pursuit of a “best way” of training them, the secret recipe for success.

What people may not realize is that the secret really isn’t all that exciting, and to be honest it’s really not a secret at all. The recipe for success lies mostly in your ability to master the small things, “master the mundane” as author Allistair McCaw of "The Seven Keys to Being a Great Coach" writes in his book. So often people are looking for the fast track to success and forget that in order to achieve greatness you must first master the basics. It’s really that simple.

In “The Gold Mine Effect” author Rasmus Ankersen talks about elite performers having accumulated more hours of “self practice” than those more average performers. He uses the example of the Brazilian soccer dynasty and the young athletes playing in the streets for hours each day. By the time they have reached their early teens they may have accumulated over 10,000 hrs of football practice. A big reason for this fast track is due to the time spent playing in the streets where they are refining their football skills on their own or without structured practices with coaches and teams.

For many of these young athletes, primarily boys, it’s either work hard at refining their skills and become an elite soccer player or live a life of poverty and for many commit to gang life of the city. If we all approached our performance and training with this mindset we would all see impressive changes and results.

If you cannot master the foundational pieces of your performance you cannot expect greatness in any form. Laying the foundation for success is what will keep you forging ahead through the setbacks that are sure to come up. For example, when working with sprinters or teaching speed to athletes I find that most athletes were not taught the foundational patterns needed to help them be truly successful and improve in this discipline. Most are not even aware of how speed happens, and what the body is doing during the act of sprinting. This is vital to their success. So often athlete's, parents or coaches just want to jump ahead to the final product, running the full event or at top speed when they have yet to master the basics of even the start. If you cannot set up and get out of the blocks or the starting position correctly there is no need to practice running the full race. As I tell my athletes, you cannot expect to do something well at high speed if you have not yet mastered doing it well slow…You cannot rush greatness, or results, it will always come back to bite you in the ass if you do.

We see this rush with resistance training so often, and the unfortunate outcome is almost always injury or decreased performance. Adding load to poor movement patterns and prematurely in training can lead to problems in both movement efficiency and the body’s ability to function and perform at it’s true potential. If you cannot squat with your own body weight safely and effectively there is no need to be adding a loaded bar to one’s back.

I am always reminded of Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid and his teachings with Daniel-son.

“Must first learn stand then learn fly, major rule Danielson.”

Mr. Miyagi teaches the basics and then requires that they be mastered before anything more complex be layered on to the process, which at times is quite frustrating for Daniel. The movie is scripted around this mindset, and in the end the monotony pays off for Daniel as he wins the karate tournament.

The baseball player who each week, consistently takes 500 focused swings driving the ball up the middle, off the tee, will have 26,000 swings by the end of the year. The guy who takes 100 swings per week will have 5,200 at years end. The foundation the first athlete creates is far stronger, as he took 80% more than the second athlete. The first athlete will be more prepared. It’s simple, and success is that simple. If you want to be a better athlete you must build a foundation, just takes time, hard work and a relentless mindset and approach.

When it comes to your fitness you must ask yourself if you have created a strong foundation, and if you are doing the small things exceptionally well in your quest for better fitness and performance? The most basic forms of performance enhancement such as sleep, hydration and nutrition should come first. The next step would be to cut out the inhibitors such as sweets, staying up late, alcohol consumption or processed foods. Are you doing these things exceptionally well on a daily basis? If not there’s no need to add another day of training, or start taking some new supplement to help you reach your fitness goals as it will quite simply not be the vehicle you need for success. You must do the simple things. You must master the simple things. If you are relentless in this approach you will see the results you want, I promise you that.

As we come up on the new year take a second to find some little things that you can do better. Little things that will get you closer to your goals. Little things that you will do daily and will pay off big. Most likely this will mean sacrifice somewhere along the way, but this is all part of the process and you must understand that you will almost always need to sacrifice somewhere in your life to get the results you want. Nothing great will happen without an equally great amount of effort put in to achieve it…So now ask yourself how bad do you want it? And what are you willing to do to achieve it?

Coach Guyer

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