Written by Greg Robins
There are few, if any, absolutes in strength and conditioning. Science can explain why some athletes continually out perform their opponents. However, science cannot explain why our expectations are continually surpassed by a plethora of athletes every season.
Allow me to share some experiences from my time inside weight rooms across the North East where I have coached athletes from the professional, to the most amateur levels. I have found the most successful athletes are the product of the following:
“Science and Attitude”
The right blend of intelligent training and proper mentality will produce the elite athlete.
Here are some common observations:
Every great athlete has a great base.
The first definition of “foundation” in the dictionary is: the basis, or groundwork of anything. A foundation will serve to benefit ANY sport. Let’s look at the 4 base qualities of great athletes:
The first is one that can determine sport success without the intervention of any structured strength and conditioning program.
An athlete will reach high levels of competition with enough mastery of the skills associated with their competition. While this statement’s validity holds more weight with certain sports (and/or positions within a sport) it is still enough to make most athletes reach a very high level of competition.
The next is a characteristic of those who I call “fast learners”. Their rapid improvement is no surprise. Furthermore, the improvement of this quality can have surprising carry over to sport success.
If a person moves well the learning curve, or improvement curve, for both preparation techniques and sport skills will be vastly improved. This characteristic may not be enough to reach a high level alone, but it will set the groundwork for that. For example, youth athletes who play a variety of sports growing up are much more likely to succeed than those with early specialization. While this is not always true, I have seen enough youth athletes to put my money on the three sport athlete making the switch to specialization than the 16 year old who has played the same sport every season since he was 12.
Moreover, movement quality will keep athletes healthy. This cannot be overlooked in any effort to improve performance. Improving performance while sacrificing health is asinine.
As a strength and conditioning coach improving this quality will be paramount to an athlete’s success both with your efforts and their efforts on the field. Shockingly, it is an often-skipped step in the preparation of athletes at even the highest levels, under the tutelage of some of the most noted coaches in the field.
Next, is a quality similar to the last; or to say, it can be a large predictor of potential. Additionally, its improvement can also take a skillful, or well functioning athlete, to the next level.
The athlete with a tremendous base of work capacity is also placed in a better position to succeed. These folks fall on the opposite end of the spectrum from those who have developed a great skill foundation.
We have all seen the athlete who works harder than everyone else. Their efforts may have never been guided by the knowledge of an educated coach. That being said, the product of his consistent “hustle,” both on the field, the road, and in the gym, leave him with the capability to produce a relentless amount of effort. This athlete has put him self in a fantastic position for the qualified preparation coach, or skill coach to intervene.
Because of their large pool of energy to draw from they can aggressively train to improve a number of performance qualities. Likewise, they can turn a larger focus to the improvement of their skill set, while maintaining an already impressive work base.
Lastly, we have a quality that separates many from the pack.
To me efficiency is where I place qualities like power output, reactiveness, and strength. Great athletes are efficient in using their ability. Whether this is because they have large levels of strength to pull from as a base, or the well ability to call upon the utmost potential of their body quickly. Either way it makes them dangerous.
These four areas are common in some capacity to all of the best athletes I have worked with. The very best will hold high levels of each, while others will hold high levels of one or more. Again, dependent on the sport in question a high level of one may garner greater results for a given athlete. The science would tell us this too. The functional, more efficient, properly conditioned (for their sport), and skillful athlete will succeed continually without getting hurt.
I firmly believe that with those four areas in check, one can make a tremendous impact in their sport. Furthermore, the job of the preparation and skill coach is to identify which areas need improvement in order to give an athlete the best chance to climb the ranks, and record boards. Also of note is that these areas are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they build upon each other (with skill sometimes being an outlier – dependent on the sport).
The next few are the ones that take athletes over the hump and make them a player to truly appreciate.
Great athletes COMPETE.
Competition is a beautiful, beautiful thing. It is also not for everyone. Although, those who have the edge to want to better themselves, and better others will fight for a way to do so. This can give the well-prepared athlete with fewer skills the edge. This can give the skillful athlete with an empty tank the courage to keep grinding.
I have seen some truly admirable returns from injury, gutsy underdog performances, and remarkable feats from unsuspecting sources. Each one was the product of more hard work than anyone, including myself, will probably ever know.
Great athletes RESPECT THE PROCESS.
The truly noteworthy athletes take pride in everything they do, or are asked to do. This includes the less exciting exercises, the soft-tissue work, and the warm ups. Not to mention the drills, the bullpens, the video analysis, etc.
Hell, this goes for more than just athletes I can’t even get excited about a general fitness client’s PR when I visibly watch them half ass the warm up, or socialize with other clients during that time who are busy respecting each part of the training process.
Great athletes make SACRIFICES.
Great athletes don’t lose sight of what they have sought out to do. They miss things they want to attend, abstain from things they know will not be productive, and have lost a lot – to gain what they want most. They would like to do a lot of things they chose not to do, but they look back at the journey and are thankful for the lessons it has taught them.
I am thankful for the opportunity to work with so many great individuals. My efforts to help them, both in studying the training process, the sports, and the people who are successful at both of them has made be a better person and coach. The elite athlete will have the attitude of a champion and the training to compliment it.
Science and attitude, you need both to succeed.