The competitive season is over…
Are you wanting to improve on your performances?
This week, we release our three keys to improvement for next year…. and for a lifetime
From the time I was about nine years old, I was always reading about my passions. As a 7th grade trumpet player, I bought a book with pictures of the embouchure of every member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. If you want a taste of this, I’m sure The Art of Brass Playing by Phil Farkas (French horn player) is still out there somewhere. Another famous text that appeared under the Christmas tree around 10th grade and has since lived on in the lore of inside family jokes is Trumpet Pedagogy, the Bible (and it is about that long) of trumpet playing knowledge, theories, and practices.
Through junior high and high school, I read books on weightlifting principles, basketball drills, and the defensive and offensive sets involved in the sport. When I went to college, my sport became running (I was also a music major, so yes, I brought The Art of Brass Playing along on the journey to Concordia College and Bemidji State as well), and I started consuming every possible book on endurance training methodologies. I was blessed to have a coach who encouraged my drive to learn about the “why” of everything. He, unlike many coaches, fostered understanding by being approachable and responding to challenging questions athletes would bring about on this topic instead of simply posturing a dogmatic stance of “it’s my way or the highway, kid,” or defending his position with the always helpful response of “you are just uncoachable.” (Side note, I’ve always found it ironic when a coach, when asked to give a reason or purpose for the workout, will say, “you are uncoachable.” Umm…..ok?)
Jack Daniels, Owen Anderson, Steve Magnus – you name it. In the words of Ron Burgundy, “I have many leatherbound books,” and in my case, they are all large texts on sports physiology and running. Obviously, the obsession with skiing has taken a somewhat similar path; my Master’s thesis in exercise science is of aptly titled: “Determining the relationship between upper and lower body strength/mass ratios on double pole performance in cross country skiing on flats and at incline using absolute, standard ratio, and allometric scaling.” (Plug – we are looking for participants for the study, which will now take place in the winter of 2021-2022….email, facebook, or call me directly to join!)
All of this is setup for the main point I am going to now make: improving sport performance ultimately comes down to how well you can listen to your own body.
Essentially, in reading and studying sports physiology and different training approaches and methods from various coaches, teams, and athletes (all of whom have seen success), what you come to realize is that there are very, very few scientific principles that we actually know…or at least are pretty sure we think we know. Actually, you could probably make a pretty good case that there is really only one principle we know: when the body is stressed and then given a period of adequate rest, it will adapt (which is the building block of improved performance). All of the different strains and ideas on training are variations of this fundamental principle.
Because of this, what really must be known in order to improve is to correctly stress and rest the body. But, since every person is different, and because there are many different types of stresses, and every environment, situation, stage of life, etc. is going to elicit different levels of stresses ….ahh…because we all handle stress and rest differently (get the picture?), there can’t possibly be a one-size fits all training plan that will work for everyone.
Now, that last sentence is not a revelation to most people. I understand that. However, given that, I find it strange that most athletes and coach relationships don’t hover around the basic principle of – and here is the unique take – teaching the athlete to be their own best coach.
An athlete needs to be equipped with some basic sports training concepts (this is where reading about how the body works – physiology – comes in), exposure to historic trends in training (what various coaches, teams, and athletes have tried (Daniels, Anderson, Magnuss, Salazar, etc.,), and perhaps most importantly, the ability to apply those concepts to their own intrinsic analyzation of how their own training stresses and rest periods are impacting their goal of improving performance.
Looking back on my college experience, I never ran at an NCAA meet, and often our teams were unable to be competitive for top 5 or even 7 in the conference. Outsiders might look in and say, “Well, the coach is to blame…he must not be a very good coach.” Those on the inside, like me, can now look back and realize it is just the opposite. Garrick Larson, the head cross country and track coach at Concordia College during my career there, taught me many training principles. More importantly, like I already stated, he fostered critical conversation around those concepts so I really understood the ‘rules’ of how the body worked instead of just “good” or “bad” training approaches (how many athletes today are ok….er…NEED a coach to tell them every step of the way “what to do.” That’s not good.) But most importantly, he scaffolded his athletes – or at least me – to become a fully capable student of the sport: someone who could take that objective knowledge and apply it on an individual level because of a strong ability to intrinsically listen to what was happening…and be ok if the conclusion didn’t “match” the textbook.
Who cares if the textbook says to NOT do ‘this’ or to ALWAYS do “that?” Let’s explore what works for you and when we find it, go do our best. There was never a problem with “going to the well,” so to speak, to see what the limit was. Garrick himself was curious about this in his own athletic endeavors, setting an example to his athletes that exploring the limits of the human body was part of being an athlete. His embracing of that principle, as well as the idea that a an athlete shouldn’t necessarily be someone who is a robot coming to a coach asking, “what is the workout today,” and mindlessly completing it like a faithful soldier, but rather someone who certainly, if they desire, have access to the grand battle plan as well, are two traits I couldn’t be more thankful existed in my collegiate mentor.
Coach Larson gave me the most important gift any coach can give an athlete. It’s the same gift a parent hopes to give their children:
…..the ability to be not needed.
So, heed advice from all sources, learn from others’ experiences, drink deeply from good books, and, perhaps most importantly, learn to listen, observe, and critically think about what your own body is trying to tell you as well. If you can synthesize all of these components together, I can’t guarantee that you will quickly arrive where you desire, but I can assure you that you are heading in the right direction.