Is there a better feeling as an athlete than to step on the field of play complete confident that you have done everything you can to be successful that day? That you have outworked your opponent and earned the right to dominate the confrontation? Preparation is the real differentiator, because it is a process we can control.
If we place technical proficiency as the foundation of our professional/elite development model, then we can always measure our progression and execution independent of opponent or scheme. Process is a term often used in many walks of life as an alternative to results-based modeling. As an athlete, we understand that ultimately we will be judged on the outcome of our competition. That is exactly why developing a good technical process is so important. In the event something is not going as planned; we have a checklist to determine how to best proceed. This withholds the sensation of panic or anxiety; we have a system, we know what is required, by making minor changes we can dramatically change the outcome.
We can measure process and progression without repeating the same situation with the same opponent in place. In a competition setting, measuring the outcome falls short as the number of external influences is too great to quantify. American football has 22 players on the field at any given time. On any regular series during a game, the outcome of the play can be determined by any of the interactions between all 22 players, either as matched pairs or as part of a system (think zone coverage, or Tom Brady stepping up in the pocket to avoid the rush). It could be determined by scheme, or whether the 1st or 3rd team opponent was on the field for that series. The referee can make a bad call, the headsets might stop working…the only thing an individual can determine is how they react to the situation and apply the process they have for success.
That is why it is so important as development coaches to emphasize the detailed technique we are using to execute the play, and the process we go through in order to put ourselves in an advantageous position. A sloppy jab step may be effective against a third team backup and result in an open jumper. Is that the boundary of our expectation for ourselves and our athletes? To be great, that movement needs to be automatic regardless of opponent. Foundational technique, particularly footwork in movement sports, gives us a base to deviate from if the situation requires. It gives us the confidence and understanding to know when to make adjustments and what adjustments need to be made.
A quality player can execute the scheme, with an understanding of their opponents, without having to think about how to execute their technique. It is a rote movement, allowing our athlete to increase his ability to read and react.
Greasing the Groove
Pavel Tsatsouline, the famous Russian kettlebell guru, coined the phrase “greasing the groove.” Pavel Tsatsouline YouTube To paraphrase – continuous ‘perfect’ practice (focused effort) over time will result in a lesser energy spend to execute the same movement. This model of efficient movement was designed to explain strength development through movement pattern and perfect execution over overexertion. The same rules apply for foundational technical development. The key is consistency: not every rep will be full speed or into live contact. Executing the play with perfect focus and form will 'grease the groove.'
I immediately think of details in walk-through or shoot arounds.
Having a Plan
A crucial aspect of athlete development is having a plan in place to lean on. Routines in preparation develop consistency, consistency breeds confidence, confidence enables high performance. As a community of 'free thinkers', Americans have a tendency to eschew routines; they do not allow for creativity or the expansion of the soul. In the case of developing a skillset, we must create the maximum amount of quality opportunities we can do improve on our craft.
Below is a sample weekly routine for a professional football player in season. The following can be integrated within a facility schedule.
Preparation – Sample Game Week
Off day: Come into building
Focus on two core concepts from prior game (15 min) - Areas of opportunity for you as an individual
Watch at minimum 2 opponent game (or cut up) - Tendencies, tells, favorite moves, etc.
Have an idea of how you will win your individual matchup before you walk in on Wednesday
Pre-meetings: Group Film Study
Walk through techniques versus opponents core looks (kinesthetic learning part of meetings)
Individual Routine – Pre-practice (Developing one's own routine is a crucial part of taking ownership of your career)
Squeeze as many catches/blocks/drops/etc. as possible during down time at practice
Out of live practice - walking through plays, making calls, communicating.
Post Practice Work-Ons – specific to daily focus
Strength/Mobility issues, technical work
Film Study at home
Pre-meetings: Group Film Study (specific area)
Individual Routine – Pre-practice
Pre-practice script walk-through
Full speed routes, runs – finishing every play
Perfect technique and finish during walk/jog through
Splits/Alignment, Pad Level, Steps, Hand Placement
Backups should be lining up and walking through initial steps, making calls, communicating. Take advantage of the opportunity
Post practice - Extra weight room/field work
Clear up any issues from week/film discussion
Attention to detail in walk-through
Walk off the field on Saturday feeling supremely confident that as individuals we have earned the right to outplay our opponent!
Taking confidence in the process, pride in preparation, is a hidden weapon for elite athletes. There is always someone willing to do a bit more; often times they are the ones left standing at the end.
Train to Win!