Check your ego at the door if you want results. I often tell my athletes that ego and pride are separate. The ego runs your mouth “How much do you bench?” while your pride pumps the heart. The heart being often represented in verbal communication and in symbol as a heart. Passion is what keeps the athlete alive and progressing towards success.
The big reason young athletes get confused is because they often compare themselves to idols or peers, who may be physically more mature or altogether have a different physiological make up. Hence, our all too common “How much do you bench?” philosophy of prioritization.
The second reason, the key to success, is the competitiveness. In sport, it’s competitive. Why would we not take training into a competitive perspective. Athletes like to “chirp” but, regardless of the actual truth, the pissing contest begins. I love to hear that “My buddy Johnny benches four plates a side.” Cause Johnny is a liar. Johnny is a YouTube gym fail waiting to happen. Enter the problem - the bar was just set at four plates - 405 lbs. on a bench press. Now I have an athlete who weighs 165 lbs. who’s measure of success is somewhere in the ballpark of 405 lbs. Personally, I’ve seen a handful of people bench press that weight.
One of the big tell-tale signs of an athlete who struggles with the ego versus pride complex is their attitude during training sessions that may not require “being the man”. Running drills, they’re usually the first to goof off. The goofing off creates a distraction during a time when they are vulnerable because they struggle with a drill. They joke around to gain the crowd (other athletes they may be training with) confidence that atlas they found approval in being funny. But - and mostly subconsciously - what they have done is turned everyone’s blind eye to the fact that they weren’t perfect, or they weren’t the best.
This, as a coach, is a great time to help build your athlete back up. The ego took a blow and their pride isn’t strong enough yet in their young career to fight back and be humble about their shortcomings.
Most of the time youth athletes assume that the biggest and strongest athletes are going to be the best. According to history, very rarely are the giants the most skilled athlete on the ice, on the field, or on the court. Some sports are tailored to larger frames, but you don’t see 320 lb offensive linemen in the NBA. Michael Jordan probably didn’t bench press 405. Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, didn’t bench press 405. Tiger Woods didn’t bench press 405, but he did hurt his shoulder doing bench press and attributes the heavy lifting to his injury and decline in his game. Rinaldo and Messi would become a messi situation under a 405 lb bar. I could go on with dominant figures in sport that didn’t bench press 405. Sid “The Kid” does not bench 405 either.
So, to understand the athlete, we truly have to look at what they’re after and that’s performance. Strength and conditioning are a critical part of building an athlete and their performance, but it’s not how big can you go, it’s how well you can execute.
What is the key? Well as I said before, ego runs the mouth and pride exists in the heart. It’s knowing deep down that you have put in the time to learn, the time to prepare, and the time to develop executable movement patterns. Movement quality is the key to success. But you never hear, Johnny has great hip mobility and performs perfect squat form. No no no, he’s Johnny Bench.
Does size help? Sure, it does. That’s only part of the equation. When thinking about big huge players at the professional level there are a few standouts. Dustin Byfuglien is a massive frame, he’s also a decent mover for his size. Is Zeno Chara the most agile? Not even close! He has some advantages, but guys like Niklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermeyer amassed plenty of accolades on the way. When you think Chara you think “He’s huge”, when you think of a guy like Lidstrom you think of “Wow can he skate”. It’s not often you get a huge athlete who is a naturally gifted mover and his quality of movements are exceptional, but when you do, you smack yourself in the face to see if you’re dreaming.
This brings me to a reference from Nick Grantham’s book “The Strength and Conditioning Bible”, which is a great resource for youth athletes and anyone who wants to train like an athlete. This excerpt is a great story about progress.
“Milo was a great wrestler; his strength and fitness levels were legendary… To become the greatest wrestler in Greece (he won six Olympic titles) he had to train. Legend has it that as a young child he would carry a newborn calf to and from the pasture every day. He did this day after day, week after week, month after month. The calf became a fully-grown ox overtime, and as the calf grew the load Milo increased progressively.” (Grantham, 2015)
The moral of the story, progress takes time. Milo didn’t try to carry a full-grown ox. He worked his way up a little by little. His movement quality could progress with the load and he could achieve greater result.
A lot of the time, young athletes and older athletes, go beyond their movement quality capabilities to satisfy their ego. We’re all a victim. Heck, when you’re looking to get better you want to push right? We’re so number driven in the world of results that we don’t care how we do it as long as that number keeps getting bigger. Movement quality is hard to satisfy because it’s hard to quantify. There’s no real “hey that squat looked like a 10 out of 10,” although as coaches we know what looks good and what doesn’t. The athlete doesn’t hear that. They don’t go home tell mom and dad “I had a perfect squat today.” You’ve never heard the girlfriend or grandparents squeeze into a conversation about how well Tim’s lateral transitions were during an exercise.
Social media itself promotes ridiculous trends of what it actually looks like when an athlete trains. Yes, Crosby, I’m sure your squats on the exercise ball were an everyday part of your training regimen and Reebok could have done that shoot any day. To be fair, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Andy O’Brien and the guy is damn smart and a damn good trainer. He’s evaluating the risk versus reward of athletic benefit every time. Reebok, on the other hand, and the agents, well they want it to look cool because cool sells. That stuff fires me up. One day I’ll write an article on evaluating risk versus reward and it will go viral and it will change the coaching world. (Stop laughing).
The key is to always ensure the quality of your movements when training. This will keep you progressing, instead of regressing because of injury or overload. Remember, weight changes everything. Do yourself a favour and follow the pursuit of progress, not perfection. Success is a series of progression that leads to a complete goal, it’s not immediate. Don’t skip steps. Be honest with yourself and your capacity. And above all train smart, train with your heart.
Grantham, N. (2015). The strength and conditioning bible: How to train like an athlete. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA.