Earn winning: Why competition success starts in practice

While practices inevitably vary across sports, levels, and seasons, most practices include at least some conditioning exercises. And, while you can debate the merits of certain drills and certain philosophies, most coaches and athletes agree that cardio has some place in their practice plan. Therefore, cardio conditioning is a great universal experience for us to look at and study. For argument’s sake, let’s examine wind sprints, a common conditioning drill in athletic practice.

“Why do we run wind sprints?”

I ask this question of young athletes all the time. Their answers are what you would probably expect and usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Punishment: “Our coach is mad at us,” or “We got in trouble.”
  • Conditioning: “So we get don’t get so tired during games.”

So, wind sprints are either punishment (reactive) or conditioning (preventative)? What a terrible message we are giving to young people about drills! In my opinion, not only can this message decrease motivation and true accountability, it also entirely misses the point. Thinking of practices in this way doesn’t connect hard work with winning or accomplishment at all.

How do we shift perspectives?

I believe athletes can to be taught how to think about pain and sacrifice in a much more positive way, which is why there are three reasons I hate the above answers:

#1: TOWARD vs. AWAY goals

Sure, we want our athletes to be in better shape, but most athletes don’t see running as a ‘toward’ goal, as in an action that leads them toward getting in shape and, therefore, towards winning. Most athletes see it as an avoidance, or an “away”, goal (e.g. to avoid getting tired during games). It’s a small but significant difference in thinking that can have a great impact on athletes’ acceptance of the task. Would you rather WIN or “not be tired”? I know which goal makes me want to take action! There is nothing wrong with “away” goals in general, but when given a choice, “toward” goals are much more positive and lasting. And it’s an easy mental switch to teach them:

 

#2: EXTRINSIC vs. INTRINSIC goals

It comes down to ownership. You might say, “I can’t tell my athletes to take ownership of running. If they were in charge, they’d never do it.” My answer to that is either, “Get different athletes,” OR “Teach them the WHY of running so they can provide their own motivation!” Here are some questions to ask yourself or your athletes:
  • Do they want to win? Probably. If so, being in shape at the end of the game is pretty critical to winning. Again, a “toward” goal with a very specific reward: winning.
  • Do they like being a part of a team? Pain and sacrifice are critical to strong team development. In fact, according to studies in Psychological Science, “people who face discomfort report greater feelings of trust and connectedness and exhibit greater cooperation.”1
  • Do they like feeling pride? (Hint: most people do!) Have them run for doing something right. Use it as a reward! And don’t tell me this won’t work, because I’ve used it and it does.

#3: Running isn’t the point

I know many coaches enforce rules by using running as the punishment (not a fan by the way, but I’ll save that for another post). But the real purpose of physical pain should be for one reason: to build toughness. Physical and mental toughness is built, it’s earned, and yes, it’s hard, but it should be purposeful.
 
[Tweet "The purpose of pain is to build physical and mental toughness. #practicemakesperfect"]
 
This brings me to a concept we teach called “Earn Winning”, which, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of performing wind sprints.

Why does this matter?

To “Earn Winning” means that, through pain and sacrifice, we start to believe that we are capable of winning. Then we start to believe that we DESERVE winning. And, lo and behold, at the end of a close game the team that believes they deserve the win is going to be the one to pull through mentally when their opponent isn’t so sure that all the pain is worth it. So much of what we do as coaches and athletes is not for our bodies. We know how to kick a ball or tackle an opponent; we know how to shoot a layup or set a volleyball. Once learned, you don’t forget these skills. Admittedly, some skill work is about refining and improving, but most of it is just repetition. So why do we do it?
 
It’s confidence and it’s sacrifice; we have to constantly remind ourselves that we have prepared ourselves enough to Earn Winning. Mental training itself requires the same thing: you don’t have to do it. Technically, your brain will still be there on game day. But…  
  • if you believe you have sacrificed by working on mental toughness, you have earned winning.
  • if you’ve followed a structured program that improves mental fitness, you have earned winning.
  • if you’ve visualized and put positive messages into your brain, you believe that you deserve to win, and that belief is more powerful than anything else, you have earned winning.
Earn winning by preparing your body and your mind to believe it’s all possible.
If you’d like to start to Earn Winning by learning more about our popular training, Competition Mastery™, click here.   Edmonds, S. Lynn. "Comrades in Suffering", Psychology Today. Mar/Apr2015, Vol. 48 Issue 2, p12-12.
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