When I was playing, I remember watching every inspirational video that was offered on the internet. One of the quotes that stuck with me was an athlete saying, “somewhere, someplace there is a person that is practicing while you are not, and when you face that person face to face he will beat you.” He was so dedicated and driven that he worked out constantly. This attitude helped shape my collegiate career. I completely changed my lifestyle and adopted numerous diets. I kept a mental graph in my head that compared overall improvement to time. If I didn’t improve that day, it was a failure. I always had to try and get better, every day. No one was going to beat me. I wanted to be invincible. Back then, that meant skipping rest days and voluntary 7am workouts in order to have enough energy to work out or practice again that evening. For an entire summer, my fellow 3 time All-American teammate, Brad Sullivan and I would serve and pass to each other.
When practice rolled around, I was amped to apply the gains I thought I had recently acquired. When sprints came around (coach’s favorite), I almost always would try and compete with someone on the team and relish in my hard work. I told myself, “I can’t be tired, I’ve worked so hard, my body is ready for the demands of practice and any game.” Whenever there was a long rally, I would tell myself the same speech. Except it was “I’ve worked way harder than everyone on the other side of the net.” (At times I thought I really was invincible.) Then I would usually demand the ball on the next play from my setter (Middle’s don’t get set nearly enough).
(If you or your players don’t put in as much work off the court, completely understandable. I didn’t expect most of my teammates so follow suit, especially with the diet. It is the hardest habit to change, but probably yields the most results.)
Regardless of the work players put in off the court, they probably still gain some confidence from the blood, sweat, and tears they expended in practice. Mechanics are bound to fall apart (if the player had them to begin with) if practice includes endless sprints, push ups, squats, and burpees. If players don’t immediately hurt themselves during these exercises, there is the off chance that this compensation of mechanics might be worth it for the mental gains in confidence. It really comes down to how powerful the placebo effect is. This will differ player to player based on their personality. For me, the punishments and tough love were rapturous. I remember many interactions with all my coaches, but the tough love approach worked on me the best. The power of the mind is awe-inspiring, but imagine the possibilities of such a hard work ethic with year round periodization, proper biomechanics, and succinct week-to-week microcycles of maintenance in-season.
I leave you with a scene from the movie, Miracle. It was a several months before the winter olympics and the the US hockey team had just been thrown together. It was full of talented college kids around the nation. Hardly anyone knew each other, and everyone was used to being the All-Star within their own team, playing for themselves. They had just lost a match, and the coach is having them sprint on the ice hours past closing time, the lights have turned off, even the assistant coach thinks the players are being pushed too hard. It seems as if hours pass by until one of the players speaks up. He states his name and that he plays for USA. The coach just wanted them to realize they no longer are individuals, rather one cohesive unit.
Granted this is Hollywood, it may or may not have happened. But for this team, fictional or not, it was a necessary process that the coach had to speed up. Consider the risks though, what if one got hurt? What if they developed an overuse injury due to compensation and loss of mechanics? Their olympic dreams are shot. In college, high school, and club, I see the above scene too often. Players are overworked, biomechanically failing, struggling, but continue to sprint because it is expected of them. (Most of the time they are struggling because they have been training the wrong energy system).
Do I regret overworking myself?
No. Part of my mantra was that I wanted to have no regrets. I wanted to know I worked as hard as I could every moment possible. As a player, I knew older players with these regrets, and know many now. I did not want to be that Alum.
I just wish I knew what I know now. I can only imagine the possibilities, all that hard work backed by science and education… Maybe I’m a 4 time All-American instead of 3, maybe that 2010 loss in the National Championship becomes a victory. But I digress, I won’t go down that path of the “What if?” game, it’s a dangerous road. But I can ask current athletes, “will you be OK with having regrets when you finish the 4 best years of life?”
What do you think?
Do mental gains outweigh the risks?
Should players continue to believe hardwork regardless of form/science equals maximum benefits?
Train Smarter to Play Harder
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Volleyball Skills & Conditioning Specialist
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