23 Sep In search of the secret
We spend so much time searching for solutions top to bottom, looking for hacks in the system, while, in the meantime, we often ignore the very foundations. Don’t get me wrong, I totally get that basics are hard – not easy, simple – not sexy, and most of all they don’t bring quick results. It’s the phenomenon of constant searching for something special, something different in order to discover a shortcut and speed up the process. This is true regardless of the field: sport, business, health, education, etc.
Have you ever found yourself thinking whether you should eat white rice with your fish and vegetables because it will add extra carbs to your system, and the excessive amount of simple carbs will make you fat? Yet, at the same time, you forget to eat your two apples, two tomatoes and a handful of nuts that day. Oh yes, and the past weekend you had a couple of beers with a burger and fries, some nachos with your Saturday’s movie (but only one), some chocolate during your office break (you just had to cope with stress somehow), went to the bakery just a couple of times this week because you have to eat something with your coffee, and this list just goes on and on. When you start a conversation about nutrition with people that are not in any way connected with sport or health science, their key points include the latest research they found on things like: too much fruit is not good for you because of sugar spikes (first of all: this is not true, secondly: I never heard someone got sick from eating too many apples), or vegetables are much better than fruit, and that’s why they like to eat lots of vegetables with their meal, while the actual weekly ratio between vegetables and the rest of the food they consume is one to fifteen. Well, you get my point.
The same applies to exercise. Oh, and this is where people really love to go deep and academic. I studied sports science, but in some conversations, I struggle to keep up with all the information people extract from today’s online information abundance. They analyse the work of different fitness coaches from the local gym, and discuss why eight repetitions are better than twelve, they are stressing about whether we should take ninety seconds or two minutes between repetitions, why simple running is very bad for their currently healthy knees (and that’s why they don’t run); they are capable of explaining their lumbar spine problems in L4-L5-S1 segments (in detail). Meanwhile, they often forget to mention that they had been on vacation for almost a month and didn’t exercise at all (except swimming 100 m per day), while overeating and drinking regularly. Also, they forget to mention that the incredible training programme they do with their fitness coach has not been that consistent lately due to their hectic life/work schedule. In fact, if we summed up all their days in the last six months, and converted it into an average week, the ratio between their training days and no workout days would be one to six.
What I am saying is: just nail the basics, be consistent, and you’ll be fine!
The thing is, expertise and extra information do matter, but they are not crucial, especially if we are not talking about professional sport. There are exercises that might help us be slightly more effective and efficient, or workouts that might fit better with our personality, but what matters the most is that we put in the work, and get better at whatever we are trying to do.
In professional sport things are a little different. Margins are smaller, details make a difference, science and expertise are needed. However, we don’t want to let those margins appear smaller than they actually are, and forget about the fundamentals.
A player hires a new coach to get something different, something s/he feels s/he’s missing: “there has to be something else that I wasn’t told or taught, and that might be exactly what I need to climb another hill towards my goal”. That is absolutely legitimate, understandable and a very common line of thinking from players struggling with their performance. The only problem is that they are on the wrong track here. It’s not wrong in a sense that you won’t get that new information you were looking for, it’s wrong because this alone will not make you a better player in general.
It’s in the human nature to look for easier and faster solutions, and that’s why you think that there has to be something that others from the top do, and you don’t. Actually, you are right, they are doing something different, but you won’t find it in the direction you are looking at. Success is a path you have to walk alone in your mind to get where you want to be. It`s completely fine to have role models and look up to someone but you and only you have to pave that road for yourself.
The real problem lies inside of you and it reflects in your attitude, your feeling, your consistency, your focus, your motivation, how much quality work you are putting in every day. Those are the basic principles that most of the time will give us the answer to the question of why a player is underperforming. I’m not saying that a good new strategy tip, technical correction or training method won’t help, but many times the players think of it as the key solution, whereas they forget about where the real problem lies. If you successfully follow the most important principles, you will most likely find the solution by yourself. Within you.
My job as a coach is to create an environment that will help you find that solution faster. Also, my job is to make sure that the player complies with each of the basic principles for most of the time, and, if changes need to be made, my job is to work together with the player on reaching the level of commitment that will lead towards actually making those changes.
In fifteen years of my coaching career at all levels of the game, from the world’s best professionals to juniors, from Melbourne to London and Paris, while sharing the court with some of the best coaching minds in the game, I realised that we are all doing nearly the same thing. Yes, there are variations, different styles, little bit more of this or that, but in general all the best coaches in the world, including some others, are using the methods from the same workbook. They only add their own flair to them.
“Does that mean the details don’t matter? Of course not. But no one has a secret to success. No one is doing something that much different than the rest. We’re playing in the margins, fiddling with the final couple percent. My point is not to negate the role of coaches or experts in any area. But to get us to stop searching for some magic workout, formula, or routine. Instead, worry about putting in the work.” (S. Magness)
Or as explained by John L. Parker in his classic book Once a Runner:
“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks, as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes.”