Recently I was able to give a small presentation at the CSU winter throws camp for coaches and athletes. When Coach Bedard was asking me about what I wanted to speak about, I had several ideas of things and Lord knows I have opinions on many others. He told me to be real and talk about my experiences and what I’ve learned.
So what have I learned? Well, read everything, nothing is perfect, there are great people who will come into your life and people you wished not, don’t throw away throwing shoes because they have a hole (that hole might be slightly smaller than the current shoes when you’re in a bind), lots of stuff. But more and more I wanted to take all this experience/knowledge/observation and make it into something constructive to share.
So, I talked about what I thought it took to be A Champion (based off observations and experience.) So what makes a champion, I asked myself and here is the discussion I had with the kids.
Are Champions born or are they made?
Born: Sure we’ve all known the people who are genetic gifts from the gods. They have the perfect build, naturally faster, naturally stronger, and naturally pick up movements with ease. Some of us may even have some of these traits, but does that really make a champion?
Made: Hard work, long hours of dedicated/meticulous practice, being a student of your sport, executing the right mental game to achieve your peak performance. But can hard work overcome other obstacles to make you a champion?
I think it takes a nice combination of both. I’ve seen people with all the talent in the world lack the work ethic and finally find their wall. On the other hand, there are athletes that have done more than anyone would have ever given them credit off hard work and their can do attitude.
Four Main Areas of Being A Champion:
Physical- strength, speed, nutrition, agility, etc.
Genetics- good to ideal build for your sport
Technical- Efficient movements
Mental- Being able to execute when the time is needed
Physical and Genetics are self explanatory. You need to be optimally physically. You need to be as fast, as strong, as agile, as whatever as your event demands. And genetics, you either have them or not and this can makes things easier or harder depending.
Technical: As many of you know, I am a very strong advocate of technique and training. But what kind of training am I talking about? I read an article called Expert Training (K. Anders Ericsson et. all) and it spoke about deliberate training. This is something I naturally moved into as I got older, but it was nice to reaffirm things and make ideas clearer.
In this article is explained there are two types of learning: Improving the skills you already have and Extending reach and range of your skills. This means practice is not only about tightening up the things are you already do well, but getting better at the things that give you troubles.
It had a good point talking about how people learn. When you first start out, there is a lot of growth very quickly, but eventually the leaps stop happening. Why is that? Well, with many people the learning curve is just learning the movement and they will get so far with okay technique. However, in order to keep growing, you must keep extending the range of your knowledge and technique not simply staying comfortable or just getting stronger physically.
This requires tremendous concentration and focus. The difference I see with the Adam Nelsons, Aretha Hills, Kibwe Johnsons (can I put my name in there too?) is the focus and concentration they have when they are training/competing. It’s not just quantity, it’s quality of training. I ask people when they’re training, “What are you working on?” If you don’t know, you’re not getting better. You’re just getting more comfortable with your same technique.
To grow you must not only improve your skills you have, such as reps, but also extend your reach and range meaning learning and actually getting more accurate. What are the inefficiencies you could improve on? Ignoring your problems don’t make them go away.
Talking during practice on other things, not thinking about your throwing, going to training with no goal in mind are all signs you’re not getting the most out of your practice. I go to every practice knowing what I’m working on, testing my limits, eliminating weaknesses and strengthening strengths. I know the number of throws I will take, at what intensity, what weights, and how it works into my overall season plan… Do you?
The biggest offenders I see with young/inexperience athletes are the excuses and what I call band-aids. The excuses are a kid tries something and doesn’t get it. So, instead of keeping up the effort,the effort goes into excuses for why they can’t do it. There is no try, you do it or you don’t. And then what I like to call putting a band-aid on cancer. When there is a problem in your technique, some people will put a temporary fix instead of addressing the real issue. (example an under rotator may just move around in the circle to overcompensate instead of learner how to not under rotate.)
Practice isn’t about throwing far. It’s about throwing right. Test yourself and your boundaries every day. That’s the only way to get better.
Mental: The other area I think is important to a champion is the mental frame of mind, or you’ll hear mental toughness. I get a lot of questions from younger athletes about how to prepare for competitions. Well it starts during training.
The top athletes are focused at competitions and compete well when the time is right. This isn’t an accident. They have the mind of a champion. They compete to win, not afraid of losing. They are willing to push their boundaries, but stay mindful of capabilities. They set clear expectations of what they want to get out of themselves and do it. Every practice, every competition you should know what you want to do.
Goal setting is huge. I like the quote, “Goals without a plan are just a wish.” Champions make things happen. If they are missing something, they find it. If their technique is off they correct it. I’ve never seen an excuse win a medal. They spend their mental energy looking for solutions, not making up excuses.
I see athletes who don’t train hard get upset with losing. I don’t think you’ve earned your anger until you’ve given all you can and then find it lacking. But champions get over perceived failures quickly. Everything can be a learning opportunity, even the occasional butt whooping. If there is a bad first throw, it doesn’t affect the second throw. Champions come back from previous bad practices or meets ready to go.
Champions take responsibility. It’s easy to point fingers, but ultimately you must take responsibility for your actions. Instead of pointing blame, find solutions. I had a kid complain once that his coach didn’t motivate him enough… I told him to motivate himself. If you don’t like your coach, change coaches, but at the end of the day take responsibility for all your choices.
Practice your focus just like your technique in training. Do you talk the entire time? Are you more worried about things outside practice than throwing? Practice mental games such as meet scenarios, visualization, positive self talk. I thought Kibwe and Crystal wrote a great article talking about swag.
So, what do you think? Are champions made or are they born champions? Can anyone be a champion? Whatever the answer, there’s no one way of doing it, but there certainly are similar characteristics between them.