We, as human beings, always want more. Satisfaction, it seems, is hard to come by. There is an old story about a man who told himself that if he completed the task of cleaning all the dishes, he would allow himself to have a slice of peach pie. After all the scrubbing was done and the dishes were complete, he ate that piece of pie and wondered to himself “what’s next?” He did not allow himself to savor the present moment as his mind went immediately to the next task at hand. We do not truly experience the wonderful things that occur during our day to day life. I, myself, fall victim to this constantly. In a world where achievement is seen as obtaining things, appreciation is our ability to get pleasure from those things. One incredible way to do this is to start a gratitude journal.
Now I know most of you out there may think I am crazy but the research supporting this journaling method is crazy! If there were a magic pill that allowed individuals higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy, would you take it? How about if that same pill guaranteed lower levels of depression and stress, made you more likely to help others, led you to exercise more often, and helped you make progress toward your goals? I would hope the answer to those questions was a resounding YES!
Now here is how you get those benefits in only 60 seconds of your time. Every evening, when you are ready to go to bed, do the following two things:
DEBUNKING THE 10,000 HOUR RULE
I have to admit, the first time I read about the 10,000 hour approach to mastery, I was impressed. Basically, the approach, or rule, is that an individual who deliberately practices a task for 10,000 hours will achieve mastery. There are incredible examples of this. Everything from the Beatles working around the clock performing in less than savory "gentlemen's clubs" in Amsterdam to Bill Gates programming computers as a high school kid. These masters all got their 10,000 hours of practice in before anyone ever knew their name. They got their practice in when nobody was watching.
I believed this was the way to achieve mastery. To drop everything else that could possibly be a distraction and focus on the task at hand. But then I read about Donald Thomas and Stefan Holm. Both of these men were World Champion long jumpers. For Holm, he had a 20 year love affair with the sport and had incredible technique. For Thomas, he entered the sport on a friendly bet and after only 8 months of training, stumbled his way to a championship. The stories of these two men intertwined In 2007. Holm took second place at the World Championships in Japan. The man who beat him was Donald Thomas. For Holm, he had well over 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (he believes he has taken more high jumps than any other human being ever!). For Thomas, he would have been lucky to hit 1000 hours. To be honest, it was probably closer to 500 hours (Thomas preferred shooting hoops at track practice over taking high jumps). So how does this happen?
To say genetics are not a factor would be misleading. They absolutely do. And to say that deliberate practice is not important would also be a lie. Deliberate practice is an important component of achieving peak performance. For the above example, it is why Holm continually improved his jump height each season whereas Thomas never improved after he burst on the scene. There is a certain skill set that when combined with deliberate practice and wholly immersing yourself in an activity will lead to an increase in performance. It is not saying your child will or will not become a World Champ. It is saying that your child will improve.
I run into too much sport specialization in my line of work as a strength and conditioning coach. Kids are quitting sports and focusing on only one sport. Sometimes the reasons are valid, other times they can be quite ridiculous. There needs to be a balance between genetics and deliberate practice. Donald Thomas grew up playing a wide variety of explosive sports. He dunked basketballs at ease. This made his transition into the high jump a little easier. Afterall, the guy had been running and jumping his whole life. How hard could it be jumping over a bar? For others like Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Luck, the training they received from playing other sports helped them become the professional athlete they are today. The skills they developed playing a sport like soccer transferred into the sport they currently get paid to play.
When you learn a wide variety of skills growing up, you are much more likely to learn a new sport skill in a shorter amount of time. You don't need 10,000 hours of practice playing baseball when you are playing football in the fall and using the winter time to improve strength & conditioning. There is no better way to improve your genetic make-up then through strength and conditioning. The body is born with different muscle fibers. Some of these fibers are slow-twitch. Think marathon runners. Some are fast twitch. Think Usain Bolt. Some fibers are intermediate. These fibers have both fast-twitch and slow-twitch capabilities. These fibers are malleable. If you train fast and explosive, those fibers will take on fast-twitch characteristics. If you train slow (this is all you runners out there), the intermediate fibers will take on slow-twitch characteristics. For a sport like football or wrestling, you want to be predominantly fast-twitch. This means you want to work in short spurts of high intensity. It does not mean running 1 or 2 miles for training. The opposite would be true for cross country runners. Slow, and longer duration is the area that they should be training in. All while boosting strength in the process.
There are many factors that go into achieving mastery. The most important thing you can do as an athlete is to embrace the challenges a new sport may bring. Embrace the challenge of lifting 5 additional pounds in the weight-room. You will never know your limitations unless you are constantly bumping up against them.
As my hometown gets ready for a big football game this weekend, the town is showing a tremendous amount of support for these young athletes. There is something about high school football that can unite a town and show solidarity. It reminded me of a story I read a few years ago about another small Lehigh Valley town who defied logic and outlived the rest of America.
In Malcolm Gladwell's National Bestseller Outliers, the opening chapter is about the small town of Roseto in Eastern Pennsylvania. In the early 1960s, two doctors got together for dinner and began talking. One of them had their practice set up in Roseto and over the course of the conversation, he told the other doctor something crazy: Virtually no one under the age of 65 showed any signs of heart disease. They began exploring.
The first thing they looked at was diet. This was quickly thrown out the window as most inhabitants were cooking with lard and there diet consisted of over 40% fat! The next factor was exercise. To put it simply, these were not the type to wake-up early for a yoga class or a go out for an after work jog. They looked at the region of Italy that most of the Roseto inhabitants originated from. It was another dead end. What they found out was that it was the town itself that kept these people outliving everyone!
This was a town that visited one another regularly. They cooked for each other. They spent time with their family, often times having three generations under one roof. They discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and spent time supporting those who have been experiencing a stretch of bad luck. The result of all this: minimal suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. These doctors unlocked the mysterious and magical benefits of people stopping to talk to one another and to take care of their own.
As the Saucon Valley Panthers get ready to take on the Lehighton Indians, I wish the boys luck. Their success is benefiting the people of this town more than you could imagine!
A few years ago, as I was coaching high school football, I began experimenting with barefoot training. In between double sessions, I would jog the football field with no shoes on. The guys I coached with gave me a little shit (and probably a few kids) but I wasn't too worried about that because it felt great on my feet and my mood improved greatly. The effect it had on my energy level was tremendous. Later, I learned this is because of a reaction your body has with the earth when barefoot. It is known as grounding and you can find more info by clicking here. Beyond those wonderful benefits of grounding, there are other factors to take into consideration when going barefoot.
All of this came after reading Born to Run and I felt like channeling my inner Tarahumara. Minimalist footwear is on the rise and has been able to show some positive benefits towards athletic achievement. The foot receives a large amount of sensory input. Of the body's 206 bones, 28 of them are found in one foot (if you have two feet, that's 56 bones which equals roughly 25% of all the bones in your body). The foot also has 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 tendons. As you can see, there is tremendous value in training the foot and having strong feet. The body is a kinetic chain. A weakness in the foot can cause issue in the ankle. An injured ankle can cause knee pain which can cause hip pain which can cause back or spine issues and so on.
Like everything else in life, there is a progression to strengthening and improving the quality of your feet. One thing you can do to improve the fascia is by placing a tennis ball on the ground and using your foot to roll the ball around. Make 10-20 circles on the base of the arch with the ball. It will almost massage the foot. For some, the bottom of the foot may be a very tender spot. That is ok. Relieve some of the pressure and continue on. Over time, this will improve. Make sure to breathe through any difficult spots. The next step is to do some basic things with no shoes on. Get to a yoga class (side note, that is where I am heading if I get this post done sometime soon), walk around the house with no shoes, perform your exercise warmup barefoot, etc. The important thing is to not do too much too soon. Gradually work your way to more and more barefoot work. There is nothing wrong with weight training barefoot, just be careful not to drop a plate on your foot!
A few years ago I read a crazy story. I heard about a college runner who had flat feet. His coach begin implementing some minimalist shoes and encouraged the runners to do some activities barefoot. What occurred was this mans foot shrunk. He had increased the strength in his feet. His arch became more pronounced. Needless to say, he needed to buy new footwear for his next competition!
Adriaan de Groot: It is evident that experience is the foundation of the superior achievement of the masters
I had a relaxing weekend that allowed me some free time to watch a little football. As I was watching the Notre Dame v. Pittsburgh game, I noticed something that happened very early in that game. Notre Dame had the football, quarterback Deshone Kizer (who happens to be a redshirt Freshmen with 7 starts under his belt) drops back to pass, and get blindsided by the boundary corner who came untouched on the blitz. His experience prevented him from "feeling" this pressure. After taking that hit, I bet he will be much more aware when that situation arises again.
In a game like baseball, pitching machines are used often for batters to get extra reps in at the cage. Recently, there has been a change of thought in regards to using pitching machines. At the major league level, a baseball takes takes 400 milliseconds to reach home plate. A person's reaction time is 200 milliseconds. That leaves only 200 milliseconds of time for the batter to figure out what the heck kind of pitch if being thrown at him. BUT, the batter is able to take in the full view. He is able to look at the pitcher standing on the mound. He can watch the pitcher windup. He can view the pictures arm action right. He can watch the hand before the ball is thrown. All of these acts are used by the batter to help identify what pitch will be thrown. When you use a pitching machine, you lose almost all of that sensory information. It is just you and a Jugs machine. The ball comes out of the same spot every time. There is no variance from the throwing machine in regards to pitch type. It makes me wonder how much those machines help in game situations.
In all sports, simulation is a huge part of practice. I am sure Notre Dame "walked-through" that play at some point during game preparation. I am sure that Deshone has seen that play a few times over the course of his playing career. What he did not see is that specific player perform the blitz at full speed. Taking in the full view of each play or pitch is an important component to achieving mastery in your given sport. Beyond skill training, practice should put players in tough situations where they don't have time to think and just react. Unfortunately for Deshone Kizer, the only way to see some things is during competition. Lucky for him and the Irish, he stayed healthy and went on to account for 6 TDs in the victory.
As I write this, there is a student on the Missouri campus who is refusing to eat until the president is removed, There has been racial taunts and abuse that has been neglected. There has been swastikas written on bathroom walls with fecal matter. There is still social unrest after what happened in Ferguson, Missouri last year. The football team has threatened to boycott the remaining games unless change is made at the University. The coach is standing by his players.
Coach Gary Pinkel has put Missouri football on the map. He's led the team to bowl wins, has coached over 25 NFL Draft picks, 7 of them being first rounders, and didn't leave the school at the first opportunity of a "better job". He decided to stay and stand by his players. When he sat in the living room of his current players during recruiting and told them he would be there for the players 4 year career, he wasn't lying. He has stood by his players side. It is good to see he is doing it once.
After looking at his twitter account from yesterday, I guess a picture does say a 1000 words!
Thinking about an action is the sign of a novice in sports, or a key to transforming an expert back into an amateur
We have all experienced this as an athlete or have watched it occur to one of the athletes we coach. The moment in time when the stress is high. The game is on the line. The brain begins to kick into overdrive. I remember growing up, throwing darts in the basement of my parents house. Not to brag or anything, but I have won ALLLLOOOTTTTT of dart games down there. But I would get into a few games that came down to the wire. I needed to hit score some points or else I would lose. I began to think instead of throw. More often then not, those shots would never go well.
I've watched athletes that I have trained begin to think about a lift. Or think about a sports skill. And the rep would then deteriorate. They no longer trust their training. They revert back to being an amateur.
When you first learn a new skill, there is slow, conscious, and deliberate thought put into each and every repetition. Over time, with more practice, the thought process begins to speed up. And then, it becomes fast, unconscious, perceptual processing. These perceptual skills are developed through practice. These are the skills that separate the Tom Brady's from the Johnny Manziel's. It almost becomes thinking without thinking. It is unconscious thought.
Where does the problem start? When the unconscious thought becomes conscious. It occurs when the tennis pro begins thinking about their serve. Or the golfer starts thinking about making the putt. Or a young Chris trying to score 3 points shooting darts in the basement.
Next time you approach a pressure packed situation, keep this study in mind: University of Chicago psychologist showed that a golfer can overcome pressure induced choking in putting- what some people refer to as "paralysis by analysis" or overthinking- by singing to oneself, and thus preoccupying the higher conscious areas of the brain. So pick your song out and now and begin to practice singing that song like you're Justin Timberlake at the CMA's!
Hope you all have a great weekend!
What a crazy weekend. Somehow, we managed to pull it all off. Thursday night was a rehearsal dinner for one of my closest friends wedding. Then Friday was the wedding and celebration which seemed to last all day and night. All this was great until the alarm went off at 6:00 am Saturday morning. We had a trip to Boston planned and it started with the Boston College v. Virginia Tech football game which happened to kickoff at 12:30. Needless to say, it was a rough ride to the stadium. But, after a great weekend of eating good food, walking the Freedom Trail, and hiking, we arrived home at 8:00 pm on Monday night. The next morning I realized one thing: sitting down in a car for 5+ can leave you a broken down mess. Which got me thinking...
People all over the world spend a majority of their lives sitting on their butts. It starts from a very young age. Children now spend 4.5 to 6 hours of their time at school sitting down. As you age, and progress through the educational system, nothing really changes. You get yourself a degree and move on to the wonderful world of working. Some of these jobs might require you to sit down for 6, 7, or even 8+ hours a day! Combine that with all the sitting that goes on at home and our bodies are taking a beating throughout the day.
I don't think this is rocket science: THE HUMAN BODY IS MADE TO MOVE! If you idle it, it will begin to crumble at every level. The moment you sit, a large portion of your muscles in the lower body "turn off". You know the old saying, "If you don't use it, you lose it"? This is exactly what happens and muscles will weaken. Then they will stiffen. Because of this, the joint that is surrounded by these muscles will be effected. With the joint malpositioned, it will lead to compensation at other joints. Then the joint can compress the nerves that are close by (sciatica anyone???). And the cycle can continue all the way throughout the body! Combine that with some studies that concluded that sitting for extended periods of time throughout the day (6-8 hours) can lead to higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc.
So how do you fix it?
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!