Updated: Dec 31, 2018
It’s 4th and 4 on the goaline, your team is down by 4 with :02 seconds left to go in the national championship game. “Alright here we go guys, Right Axle 125 Pick on 1” The star quarterback says in the huddle, glancing at all the men, trying to confirm in them the belief that they were going to score on this play, like they have all year long. The ball is snapped, the Quarterback drops back and sees a wide-open Wide Receiver. He riffles the ball to him, the lights flash, the Quarterback knows he just made a perfect pass, to his stud wide receiver who hasn’t dropped a ball all year. He can already see himself holding the trophy and his parents and family telling them how proud of him they are. Except that’s not how any of it went. As the perfectly spiraled ball sailed through the air to the wide-open receiver, the receiver put up his hands and it went straight through them. It looked like slow motion, the same play had worked all year long and now in the championship game the ball hit the ground and the team lost.
What’s the point of this story? Don’t teams win and lose like this all time? The goal of any competition is to win, there’s no if’s, ands, or buts about it, you can learn a lot and gain a lot from the process, but that doesn’t change what the goal of playing that game is.
Knowing this we want to investigate how to win more of these games. To a disgruntled fan, the wide receiver “dropped the ball like he always does. Thinking this way gives us nothing to work with, it takes control out of our hands and just means that every time we throw him the ball, he’ll drop it and watching this athlete from the previous games and practices we know this isn’t true. To a sports announcer the wide receiver “is just not clutch”. Once again knowing this, what control does this give us? Every time we need to win a game we just don’t throw to this guy? There’s no growth in this, that doesn’t seem like the winning formula. And once again, we have seen in previous games this same wide receiver makes clutch plays consistently, so this cant be the problem. To the wide receiver coach, the wide receiver coach dropped the ball because he didn’t stay after practice to catch those extra 100 balls, like he said. This solution gives us some control, the wide receiver could have stayed after and caught the 100 balls, but this same wide receiver had caught everything all year long, he led the conference and team in catches, this doesn’t really seem like the issue.
There’s a lot of pointed out issues by people here about why the wide receiver dropped the ball, but if you investigate it most of them don’t make sense. The wide receiver has no issue catching a football, he’s done it plenty of times before, this wide receiver has no issue making big time plays, he has done it plenty of times before. So why did the wide receiver drop the ball? Let’s take a deeper look into the wide receiver himself, as a human, not an athlete. The national championship game took place during finals, this wide receiver was good at football, but struggled in school. He was on a full ride scholarship, but if his grades drop below a certain point, he loses this scholarship and if he loses this scholarship there’s no way, he can afford school. To add onto this stress, this wide receivers’ girlfriend also has finals this week and has been stressed and has been putting a lot of that stress on him, even threatening to break up with him if he doesn’t pay her more attention and spend less time with football. Finally, to add on top of all of this, he was an only child, so when he moved out to go to college, his parents were alone in the house and they started fighting. He knew it wasn’t going well but found out last week that his parents were thinking about splitting up. Trying to keep everything together and thinking his coaches only cared about his football skills, he kept all this inside of him, threw on the mask. This mask was able to survive Quarter 1 through Quarter 3 but when it came down to the added pressure of a fourth quarter game winning drive, something he usually handles very well, his mask broke and he wasn’t the same player. Catching those extra balls wasn’t going to help him with this, mentally envisioning this game (like he has 1,000’s of times before, wasn’t going to help him), what he needed was to have a coach take a step back from football see something was wrong in life and to help him through this. Taking the pressure off him about finals, his GF and family, sharing with him a similar story, giving him some advice and assuring him it’ll all work itself out, is what would have allowed this wide receiver to free up his mind and do what he has always done, catch that game winning touchdown.
This long-winded story is very important because its what MOST coaches in every sport do. They have strength coaches focus on making an athlete bigger, faster, stronger. They have their position coaches focus on making them better technically in their sport. But that’s about as far as they go. I believe these two factors are very important, I’m a Strength and Conditioning coach for petes sake. However, they are only ½ of the pie, its why the biggest and strongest don’t always win. An athlete needs to be thought of as a human; and broken down into 4 parts of their lives:
"EVERY SINGLE COACH IN THE WORLD LOOKS TO FIND AND DEVELOP
The physical aspect of an athlete is how big, how tall, how fast, how explosive an athlete is. All other aspects equal, the better physically the athlete is, the better the athlete will be. Don’t get me wrong, this is 100% needed in an athlete. In the NFL you can’t have a Running back that runs a 5.2 second 40, no matter how mentally tough, tactically sound and healthy this athlete is, the physical restraints will not allow this athlete to succeed. However, this is probably the most focused on, and probably the most overrated aspect of an athlete and I’ll explain why I believe that to be true. EVERY SINGLE COACH IN THE WORLD LOOKS TO FIND AND DEVELOP PHYSICAL QUALITIES. Yes, there are better ways to do this than other ways. Cross-fit isn’t the answer for an NFL athlete (sorry to break someone’s heart out there) but once you get passed this and you have a program in place that’s getting results where do you go from there? Every single person has a genetic physical ceiling, most everyday people aren’t even close to that ceiling but as soon as you get up in level of competition the closer and closer you get to that ceiling. Once you reach it where do you go? Do you keep banging your head against the wall, keep having your athletes try and improve 5 pounds on their already monstrous 600 lb. squat. Is this really going to help them become a better athlete on the field (which most coaches forget is the goal of training an athlete) I think not. Once again, I’m a strength coach, you NEED to have this in place, a lot of places don’t even have this simple aspect in place, but once you do, you need to find more ways to improve. Not having a good strength program will not allow you to compete at the top of your level, having a good strength program ALLOWS you to do this, but all it allows you to do is compete, not dominate, not have an advantage, just compete. Just competing and not reaching for the next level is what mediocre teams, people and companies do. There must be more to the puzzle.
“NOBODY gives a shit about your numbers, they care about what you
look like on the field.”
Now that we understand the physical component to an athlete, we understand this allows them the potential to display
talent. The tactical component is the transfer of these skills from the weight room/track to the field. It describes the skill aspect that an athlete requires. A defensive lineman working a pass rush move, a wide receiver catching a football, a quarterback throwing a level 2 ball. It doesn’t matter how strong or fast a defensive lineman is, if he runs with his hands down an offensive lineman will bury him.
If a wide receiver is always open because he’s so fast but has never worked the tactical component of catching a football, he’s going to drop most of these balls. Physical traits allow an athlete the potential, tactical traits allow the showing of this potential. This is something that’s becoming more known in the world of sports. It used to just be the sports coaching wanting the strength coach to get their athletes bigger, faster, stronger. Now sports coaches know this isn’t what really matters what they want now is “get our athletes faster on their routes, stronger against the block” This puts some responsibility on the strength coach. A good strength coach will build up the general physical base and then work on transition these traits to the specific sport and then a sports coach will take over to complete this transition. It should all be well rounded and not separate. For example, a Strength coach should not just work with the athletes on a barbell squat and bench press for 6 months, get their athletes strong and then hand them to the sports coaches. This will lead to questions/arguments of:
“Why are these athletes moving like shit” – Sports coach
“YOU told me to get them bigger and stronger, that’s what I did look at all these numbers” -Strength Coach.
Sorry to break it to you, but NOBODY gives a shit about your numbers, they care about what you look like on the field.
Another advantage to having the tactical component as part of a whole athlete is that there is no genetic ceiling to it. You can always have better technique, always have a better understanding of the sport, it’s something that has continually growth. Therefore, a good strength coach will recognize this and integrate it in their training.
Hearing this most people would be like “ok, so we have the whole athlete, he has the potential to display great abilities and the ability to show them, what more do we need?” but think back to our earlier example, that athlete had both tactical and physical components and still dropped the ball. Think to that practice field hero, the one that had every physical ability ever, that beautiful looking human that caught every ball in practice, but when he got his time to shine during the game, he looked like a shell of himself? What about him? He has both physical and tactical components why isn’t he succeeding if we have every aspect of an athlete?
“Everything is born twice, first in the mind then by the body”
This is where the last two aspects come into play. The mental aspect is everything that goes on in the mind of an athlete, during the game, during the practice, their belief in the team, in the play, in their individual abilities and that athlete’s ability to deal with and process these things. This is a key aspect of any athlete’s development, if this aspect is ignored, physical and tactical abilities will be wasted. Unfortunately, you see this all the time, an unreal athlete just can’t make the plays because there is a mental roadblock in his way, maybe he thinks he sucks, maybe he thinks his coach sucks, maybe he thinks the play sucks or maybe he thinks his team sucks. All these attitudes will diminish this athlete’s ability to perform on the field. Physical qualities give the athlete the potential, tactical qualities give the athletes the ability to show this potential, mental qualities are what keys the athlete on when, how or if they should display the abilities, they are able to. This is a huge part of athletics, a Quarterback has the potential and ability to show a level one or level two ball all day long (physical and tactical components) but the ability to determine what ball he should throw on a post route, is likely the difference between an interception or a touchdown. To go along with this the mental aspect can be broken down even further, that same Quarterback is a vet and knows very well that based off the coverage he needs to throw a level two ball in that situation, however now it’s the 4th Quarter and extra pressure is on him. If his mental abilities haven’t been trained for this moment, that extra pressure can slow him down just enough to allow the safety covering over top, to come down on the post and make a big interception. There are literally hundreds of thousands of processes that go on in every second of a sports play, everything else equal, what makes the difference between an elite level athlete and a novice is the ability to process this information. Knowing this we can start to see why the physical and tactical abilities only tell a part of the story. Continuing to get a wide receiver faster and having him catch more balls, while ignoring this concept will not lead to winning results. Yes, you could say catching balls and getting an athlete faster would help with the mental side of things, it increases their confidence and thus is useful and I’d agree with you. However, this is such a small part of the pie and there’s so many better ways to attack it. Instead of having that athlete run straight sprints with no context, place a mental task on them (have them process a coverage while running these sprints), add context to the sprint (it’s the fourth quarter, we need 20 yards to win the game). Another key component is to spend time visualizing with your athletes. “Everything is born twice, first in the mind then by the body” If you want your body to do something, your mind must have seen/thought of you doing that before. I believe there is a genetic cap on this aspect, however I would consider most people (even some elite level athletes) very novices when it comes to this skill, so growth in this aspect will happen much faster. Working on this is simple and provides you a clear-cut advantage over your opponents, both you and your opponent’s athletes are big, strong, fast and tactically sound, but your athletes process faster than their athletes and make better choices and thus you win the game.
“Without Health there is nothing”
They say you save the best for last, but in this case, I saved the most important for last. Health involves every aspect of a human, do they have food, do they have the right food, do they have shelter, do they feel safe, do they feel loved, are they secure financially, do they feel valued, are their principals in place, do they understand why they are doing what they are doing, what are their stress levels like, are they sleeping? Without Health there is nothing. It is the base to the entire athletic pyramid. You can train your athletes to be physical fit, tactically sound, mentally quick, but if they don’t see value in doing what they are doing, if they are struggling at home, if they don’t feel loved, none of the other stuff matters. I wrote this article specifically in this order because it’s the order most coaches train their athletes in. 1st Physically, 2nd Tactically, 3rd Mentally and finally they try and get not just the athlete but the human. Once again, we said this was our base, so why are we training our athletes with the base coming last? Are we trying to set up our athletes to fail? Great coaches start with Health of the athlete 1st, they develop a personal relationship with the athlete, have the athlete buy in to why they are doing what they are doing and build the athlete up from the base. This opens the opportunity of the athlete to open to you about what’s going on at home, what their stress life is like, how they are eating. This allows you to work on the athlete’s base, before trying to build a house on top of sand. It means every time something goes wrong at home, it doesn’t lead to that athlete dropping the game winning touchdown. It means every time an athlete gets hurt, he doesn’t quit, but because he knows you care about him and has a good enough base, he works his way back to get better and help the team. This is a powerful shift in training of athletes, its not sexy, its not hooking up a bunch of bands to a barbell and posting an Instagram about it, it means you as a coach has to have a good enough base yourself to be able to help others and it means you’ll have to wake up everyday and be a leader that is able to help others through their struggles, but once its established you’ve built this athletes base not just for the 4 years you have to train them, but for the rest of their lives. Full potential of an athlete cannot be reached until full potential of the human is reached first.
If you enjoyed this post and have any questions reach out to me on either Instagram (Austin Jochum) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) what should my next blog be about, what questions do you have?