Monday, September 26, 2011

Gifts are for Birthdays

I hate to be Mr. Negative on a Monday morning, but I need to question a word that we hear probably everyday, especially in the athletics world.


I now cringe when I hear it.  Similar to the evil 1950's teacher scratching the chalkboard at school, which you now must visualize and it probably made you clench your teeth in imaginary pain.  My apologies.  However lets think about how the we and the media use the word gifted.

What are gifts?  Something you receive without compensation.  We then look at our elite of the world, and see them as very gifted.  Sure Kobe Bryant was gifted with his height and probably a couple more fast twitch muscle fibers than the rest of us, but to say his game is a gift?   Ludicrous.

If you ever meet Kobe, I dare you to tell him his game was just a gift.  His jump shot?  Yeah, it was carried down from his father in that jump shot DNA strand scientists just discovered. Oh his ability to control his body to get the defender off balance, yeah that was his Christmas present from 1999.  The real gift is that his Dad was a professional basketball player, and he had the opportunity to watch and emulate for his entire childhood.  That was the real gift.

When we see the elite perform, we forget about all the time they've spent working incredibly hard on their craft.  The countless hours of deliberate practice and how much many of these people have sacrificed to be able to perform at the highest level.  So please give them there credit.  Their skill is not a gift from the DNA God's.  Yes they might have a couple advantages when it comes to genetics, but I bet we could find thousands who had those same genetic gifts who didn't end up in the elite.

This classic Jordan commercial sums up my thoughts completely.  Choose your words wisely and all but eliminate the word gifted when describing elite performers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Watch What You Say... Someone's Always Listening

This past summer I had a great group of athletes training with me.  We got after it in the weight room and learned movement skills on the field.  Since I work with young high school athletes usually 14-17 years of age, I never REALLY know how much they take in or how much they absorb.  I try my hardest to communicate in a way were it empowers them to learn the skill and apply it rather than me barking orders so they will comply.

I was taken back when multiple athletes of mine came up to me during our workouts or when school started to tell me that they noticed themselves and teammates not "staying in the tunnel," a cue I stole from Lee Taft.  One even picked on me when there was a teacher-student soccer game and I changed direction rather inefficiently.  He yelled "Coach, your shoulders got high, stay in the tunnel."  I couldn't help but smile like a proud father.  I was completely in shock that already after just weeks of training some of my athletes are noticing and applying the concepts I've been teaching.  I just imagine what they will be like by juniors and seniors with 2-3 years of training under their belt.

I'm not writing this so I look like some great coach.  I wrote about this because I think we under estimate how much our young athletes (high school and younger) want to learn these concepts and apply it to their sport.  I've caught myself, and seen other coaches, just demonstrating the drill and never explaining the principle behind it.  I've realized briefly teaching the principles behind what I do leads to a deeper engagement into the drills.  They also tend to notice the concepts on other athletes and teammates, and can pick out inefficient or efficient ways of performing skills.

Don't cheat your athletes and allow them to learn with you!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Grit..... The Underlying Variable of Excellence

Angela Lee Duckworth presented about the topic of grit, and it's relationship to experts in different fields.  She has found a way to measure this and studied it in military setting, the national spelling bee, schools, and other areas.  Below is her presentation that made me question what we teach and communicate to our youth.  We talk about discipline, self control, and education, but many do not teach or find ways to communicate grit.  Grit being loosely defined as perseverance, diligence, and the ability to push through challenges and obstacles.

Here is an article in the New York Times about Duckworth's work in the school systems.

How do you communicate grit?  How could you improve your grit score?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Finding the Edge with Practice

In youth sport leagues, teaching skills is usually coached by demonstrating, then simply expecting the kids to benefit from repetition. What about the kid who is athletically underdeveloped and the basic skill you expect everyone to perform is too hard for them? What about when the drill is too easy for the 8 year old "stud" athlete?

Either way it's wasting valuable practice time.

The edge is when we find that spot that is just a little out of reach, and we can quickly make adjustments to get there. Some have called it deliberate practice, deep practice, or meaningful practice. If it's too easy, little progress is made and the brain can quickly fill up with ideas and thoughts that hard work isn't necessary because everything comes easy to me. Fixed mindset. If it's too hard the brain can shut down with frustration.

Maybe better practice was what Shaq needed?

Finding this edge is an art. Every skill and exercise can be different for each kid. After recently teaching some young athletes the skill of jumping and landing, we quickly realized breaking down the skill is MUCH, MUCH harder than making it complex. Narrowing the focus to one aspect of the skill and building from there is necessary for laying a successful foundation for growth. Keeping the kids engaged by asking questions about how they are performing and how there peers or the coach is performing allows them to be apart of the process and continues the ignition to expand the skill.

The amazing part after breaking these skills down to the very basics and giving success, we saw nothing but smiles and a desire to keep staying at their edge. We even had a couple kids say, "I don't think I'm at my edge." So we progressed them.

There is no reason we can't have a young child understand this concept and apply it to other skills like music, math, science, etc. Understanding how they can get the most out of their practice time makes learning fun and engaging, rather than something they're told to do.

If you're in the San Diego area, Encinitas/North County, I am working with a company called Brain Highways to teach young kids, ages 6-8 and 9-12, this ability to find their edge by using 8 fundamental movement and sports skills. The class starts October 5th on Wednesday evenings. To sign up visit this link,, or shoot me an email @

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Defining Hard Work in Real Terms

It's funny how we label people and athletes hard workers without ever defining the term. Is it because they spend long hours every day? Are they constantly engaged or just inefficient? If someone plays hard in a game but doesn't practice hard, is that a hard worker? I got to thinking about how we really define this vague and overused term. I also feel hard work alone will never get someone results. Being a creative and critical thinker, combined with hard work, make a vicious duo.

I think it's time we start to set a couple criteria for the term hard worker and see where this goes.

-One word that should always be included with hard work is diligence. The act of persevering to me is the main characteristics of hard work. When you hit a struggle, obstacle or challenge and break through to find a solution, no matter what that is hard work. (This is where we see a lot of kids who put in a lot of sweat but never challenge themselves. They are just spinning at the wheels. They're not hard workers, they just want to appear to be.)

-One who tries devotes most of their time (60-80%) to master the basics of their craft. Do the common things uncommonly. Do some research on this guy you might have heard of.... Jerry Rice.

-One who commits. Mastery comes over time. Overnight success is a flat out lie. Grow up Peter Pan and stop watching fantasy movies. Then go read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

-One who spends purposeful extra time in areas of indirect usefulness, but often will come around to serve them in the long term. If you're a coach, it's probably useful to read self help books like The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Though there are no anatomy or corrective exercises in the appendix, but it might be the reason you aren't connecting with your athletes.

-One word.... preparation. People appreciate and pay for preparation. Do your homework in advance and make it look good. People appreciate when you can answer the question they have before they've asked it. No one pays to see you wing it unless your one hell of a musician.

One thing about "hard workers" is that they don't even know they're working hard. It's just how they go about everything. They are completely present and mindful in any skill or job they engage in. This is a learnable (made up word on spot) skill that we should look to improve daily, and TEACH to our youth.

These are some of my criteria. What would you add?