X is a composite of the best athletes that I have coached. When I say ‘athletes’, I mean sportspeople who are training for their sport. They play their sport, they train for their sport and they train generally; that makes them an athlete. Someone who plays sport and just goes to the practices and games is a ‘sportsperson’, not an athlete.
It comes as a surprise to most people that being an athlete is an extremely rare phenomenon. Being an athlete is not restricted to people who are professionals or high-level amateurs, it is a mark of commitment, not just talent. Indeed, there are many high level sportspeople who aren’t really athletes. Most sports do not actually provide a structure so that their participants CAN be athletes. Most are participatory focused, their idea of ‘development’ usually consists of special ‘camps’ or representative teams, where the most naturally gifted players (or ones with the money to attend) can spend a few days at a nice facility. By the time that I meet X, usually they have already attended several ‘camps’, sometimes in multiple sports.
They get to wear new shirts when they attended these camps. That indicates that they are elite, and new shorts too; and they get a water bottle that has a cool logo on it. Yes, going to a camp is a big deal and evidence of attendance is collected like merit badges.
X no longer attends development camps. X has many trophies and an entire wardrobe consisting of shirts and shorts from development camps and squads that they have previously attended and been ‘selected’ for. Those clothes now just work their way through the regular rotation while real work is done; far from anything calling itself a camp or development squad.
In the past, X’s parents were told that X has talent and might have a big future. They were told there’s a coach coming to a camp soon who’s really good and worked with all the best players. X should definitely attend. X also needs to work on _______ and ______ and ______. The coach is vague on both the problems, and how these could be improved or solved; over-used maxims about how, ‘they’ve got to wanna do it’ are plenty. Importantly, these vague deficiencies that X has will be relied upon in the future to reason why X did not succeed and ‘take the next step’.
Its important to lay the groundwork for both success and failure.
X has visited the sports chiro. He was told that apparently he’s got this thing, can’t remember the name of it, anyway he has to wear these orthotics. X is also allergic to _______. The initial early picture of X is that he is naturally good at his sport, identified as such (as if being dominant is difficult to identify) but there hasn’t been anything done to make any improvements. With the knowledge that X is good at their sport the next move has been to continue to do the sport over and over, any problems are treated with the consultancy of a specialist who can put a label on a problem. Solving any problem that couldn’t be over come with just going around it is not on the table.
It takes a period of time and some great detail of explanation to X and X’s parents what training for their sport actually is. Eventually it makes sense that doing the sport over and over was not helping X get better and that they need to adapt to a much higher level of general athleticism and efficiency in the skills that make up their sporting task: along the way addressing any fundamental inefficiencies and pathologies in the process.
When X is in the off-season of his sport, X spends around 12 hours per week training. This is a mixture inside and outside the gym.
Quickly it ceases to occur to X that spending less than 12 or so hours per week on preparation for the sport that they are dedicated to would be consistent with being ‘heaps keen’. X has 168 hours in the week just like everyone else. X spends around 55-60 hours sleeping, works or studies around 55 hours per week, then there’s a bit of travel time here and there, that can be 8-14 hours per week. Actual training time is in effect quite small by comparison. When X is questioned why their peers cannot come up with even 6-8 hours per week to train in the off season, X is incredulous. “I don’t know; its not actually that much time is it?”
Because X trains, X quickly gets better. Their peers do not make a link better training and competitiveness so they do not mimic the behavior. X’s peers think X is lucky. They use the same language they would use to describe a lottery winner. They also usually think that X is superior as a player and so mistakenly think that their continued progress is a result of the original competitive advantage.
X’s peers also disregard that serious athletes, ones much more dedicated than X, train much longer and harder than X. X only seems superior by comparison to their immediate competition; a competition also not made up by athletes. They disregard that there are people out there in the world who combine high level sports with serious high-level academics and professions. There are Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Architects and Scientists who seem to be able to combine 8+ hours a week of training with all of their academic requirements.
X sometimes succeeds, sometimes fails. X has both gone far, and also failed to meet goals. But X has given themselves a better chance by at first allowing themselves to be a part of a plan, and then making that plan their own. Stressing to X that both the planning and the skills within that planning need to be efficient, has given X the best chance to take care of themselves as they participate in whatever organizational sporting model awaits in the future.
Fundamental though, is that X makes time for the sport that they say that they are ‘heaps keen’ on. Funnily enough though, those words never pass X’s lips, they’re already doing it. The only ones that ever say ‘heaps keen’ are the ones who in fact in reality are not: ‘heaps keen’ is the mating call of Coach Pete rolling his eyes.