Environment and resources differ for everyone. That’s just the way it is. But rarely is it the team with the best resources that dominates. However, we’re often told that the dominating force in sport, or the organisation that produces the most talented athletes, do the best to create the most positive environment, in which to flourish and then win. This emphasises that it is not the resources that you have at your disposal, but how you use those resources that matters most.
Matthew Syed, in his sports psychology book, “Bounce”, talks about how growing up in England, he and his peers became some of the most dominant table tennis players in not just the country, but Europe as a whole. They did this despite only having access to sub-par facilities. Having one beaten up table in an old shed, that left barely enough room for two people to have a game, he and his mates developed a distinctive defensive style. This style, that was then honed by their coaches in school, enabled them to be very difficult to beat and led to them competing against the best, on the world stage.
A major point to note here, is that they didn’t simply decide not to bother because of the disparity of resources between them and other kids. They decided to do what they could with what they had, and from my experience, this is a common characteristic of people that reach their goals.
It is never going to be perfect. Just start and endeavour to do the best that you can. Effort is a massive contributor to success. We must be willing to go the extra mile. However, it would be more beneficial to be willing to go the extra mile but then not have to. This is when the value of experience comes in and why it often is a better strategy, to seek out the help of someone that has been there and done that. This is where a coach comes in.
Often, if we endeavour to do our best but receive no guidance, we may end up doubling down on our efforts, in areas that really won’t make a whole pile of difference to our success at all. Sure, we may receive some early improvements, as we start to work harder than before, but then unfortunately, our progress may begin to taper off or plateau. If we continue in the same vein, it may become apparent that we’re going the long way around to reaching our goals. After all, there is no one route to achieving any outcome. Many roads lead to Rome, as they say. However, some roads are definitely shorter than others.
A coach is often someone that has been down those same roads. Maybe they even paved them! As a result, what their experience typically brings, is not only a familiarity with the process, but a knowledge of what roads are likely to lead to dead-ends. They know exactly what not to do, which can be just as effective as knowing the quickest route. This can be invaluable in avoiding periods of stagnation and lack of growth. If we can optimize our growth, then hopefully we can optimize our peak. But in order to do so, we often have to be willing to relinquish a little power, let go of our ego and be self-aware enough to understand that we can’t know it all. Sometimes, if we want to reach our potential, we need to seek guidance first.
Often such guides have a knack for making the complex very, very simple. They know what works and what doesn’t, they know what’s the most important, and they know how to keep the main thing, the main thing. Often, those of lesser experience can get distracted by shiny new toys and methods along the way. They succumb to consumer marketing, believing that each new piece of equipment or sports technology is an absolute essential, as part of their new and improved coaching process. They tend to over-value the importance of new trends and gimmicks, and sometimes miss the forest for the trees.
In contrast, the experienced coach has refined their process over many years. They know that the most important thing is not what equipment is at their disposal, but how they use it that matters most. They understand that the most important thing in any coaching process is their ability to coach. Usually, the more successful the coach, the greater their ability to achieve the greatest outcome with the least.
This was never more apparent to me than when the first COVID-enforced lockdown hit. As myself and my co-workers scrambled to figure out just how much gym equipment we could manage to bring home, the most experienced trainer walked in, picked up a solitary kettlebell and walked out. If that doesn’t tell you something about the value of experience then I don’t know what will.
So, as newer and more advanced pieces of training equipment and sports technology are developed and marketed, I ask you to remember one question.
Will this help me to improve my process, or is it just a distraction?
If the answer is that it will take attention away from the more important variables, then I’d stay away from it. If it will aid you to improve your current process then by all means, invest.
The same goes for those of you that are looking to get back into your training this new year. Remember, nothing is ever ideal. The most important thing that you can do is to start. So, if you’ve been putting off your training because you’re waiting to invest in that new piece of equipment, or that new gym membership or whatever other new gimmick is on the market, then maybe have a think about what’s really important. Is it really going to make a difference towards your ability to adhere to a program? Or is it just a distraction?
After all, there is a difference between a “nice to have” and a “need to have”.