I want to talk about starting positions. Not athletic starting positions, two-point or 3 points start athletic set positions. No. I want to talk about our starting positions from when we decide to take action. Action on anything. Our physical performance, state of mind, finances,2 3, or 5-year plans. What are the circumstances from which we initiate change?
It strikes me that improving our performance, especially from an athletic standpoint treads the line between continuous improvement or being wasteful with our efficiency. Searching for any small development, we can force too much upon ourselves trying to change too many things at once.
Injury / Illness:
I recently fell foul to a small soft tissue injury, a mild hamstring tear to be precise. Never done one of those before, it almost felt like a badge of honour foolishly. It did, however, mean I couldn’t play the remainder of a social rugby 7’s tournament. Given how some boys came off after having not played full-contact rugby for seven years – I think I was pretty lucky. I digress. Ultimately I got the injury because I wasn’t fit enough or strong enough for the demands imposed upon me at the moment. I ran out of talent! After 48 hours, normal walking had nearly resumed. Very quickly, my thoughts turned to “how do I stop this from happening again, and why did it happen?. Time to get fixed for good. That way, I will remain fit and robust well into my late thirties, and I can embody being a high-level performance coach.
So far, so good. I have been using an excellent template from the rugby strength coach – Kier Wenham-Flatt. While I do not intend to return to playing rugby any time soon, the programme has served an excellent structure for my overall training and consistency. My thought process went something like this…” ok I’m broken now – I need to fix myself – so consistency is crucial. The programme entailed just three sessions a week, specifically on my posterior chain muscle groups and preparing to run. What ended up happening was my focus and attention heightened. I was in the gym with a specific goal. This led to overall more time in the gym, which inevitably ended up meaning I gave attention to other areas of weakness such as flexibility and movement control. The quality of my care was sharper, coupled with being in a positive environment, meant I wanted to train more. I became a product of the environment. The question that screams out to me and I’m sure it does to others is why now? Why have I waited for the setback of an injury to force my hand and govern higher levels of intrinsic motivation? Why did I wait to become a victim of circumstance? What if I had acted like this from a position of strength rather than diagnosis.
Acting from a position of strength or power, we attain new confidence, and this higher level becomes our new normal. We gain momentum. Physically we may push a lactate curve higher and to the right or overcome a new PB under the squat bar. In the office, our new formed habits lead to better productivity and ability to embrace healthy confrontation. Overall you have to be grateful for minor setbacks like this as they are an enforced re-set button. Keep your eyes open, your awareness high to what is occurring as you embark on your road to recovery. There are lovely little gifts that can help you to a higher level of performance, health and happiness. One must be open to reflection. Look how changes can initiate but not in reaction to an event instead as a result of positive change in the identity of who you want to become.
It’s not to say I was in bad shape before this minor injury. Perhaps my body was performing in the category of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Therefore changing things that are not broken is indeed wasteful. So, how to reconcile the two? Is this a case of continuous improvement Vs being content. With physical performance, it seems clear to me that we can always tap into more. Mental energy and growth mindset would benefit from less restlessness and striving for the gratification of milestone achievement. The two, however, are too intertwined for this sort of segregation.
Continuous improvement is, of course, a type of change, an evolution of sorts so if ain’t broke, ask, what else? From James Kers book on the All Blacks – Legacy, 15 lessons in Leadership. Lesson number two is Adapt; When you’re at the top of your game – change your game. Stay ahead of the curve to anticipate and execute your objectives before an unplanned set back can halt your progression. Adapting has served the All Blacks well since 2010 they have a win percentage of 92%. They are indeed the conductors of their potential. Sir Alex Ferguson also shared this trait. He had an understanding of when things needed shaking up and would overhaul the squad to keep ahead of title challengers.
Therefore it seems timing is essential. Reacting to events once they happen generally is healthy behaviour in everyday life. You wouldn’t spend money on upgrading your car if it still seemed to work fine and got you from A to B safely. Do you call the plumber to come and fit new pipework just because it seemed like a good idea? No. You are not expending stress on improving how you perform until you need to could be seen as balancing your resources wisely. We can’t always be on, 100%, primed ready for action all the time. This would lead to overuse and eventually, burnout. However, in high performance, we are not looking to achieve the every day, not looking to reach for normal. Normal is underwhelming.
Jurgen Klopp understood this when he first arrived at Liverpool. The first pre-season he wanted to take players to a new level. At first, players were braking. Soft tissue injuries were commonplace, and people were questioning his training methods having the players run so hard and far in most sessions. At Liverpool now, this is the new norm. Klopp’s Liverpool has some of the highest stats for meters ran during games and top speeds. It is no coincidence that they are one of Europe’s top teams. They play very fast and are incredibly tricky to breakdown once an opponent has possession on the fact they work incredibly hard off the ball to close down space. Those early years meant some players were going to brake initially. Part of the long term vision, everybody at the club was on board. It merely wouldn’t have worked otherwise without the level of trust required.
In Strenght and Conditioning, terms overreaching, and overtraining are used to describe the following. Overreaching is intentionally taking an individual or team to a place beyond their current capacities. The coach in charge understands that they will inherit some maladaptation in the short term only to fully compensate later in the year. Overtraining is unintentional maladaptation. Pushing players or team beyond their current capacities was not part of the plan. The balance between stimulus and recovery has been heavily imbalanced toward the stimulus. This can lead to severe injury or illness and require extended time off to recover physically and mentally.
Awareness and Responsibility:
Clearly, we do not have to employ such tactics as Jurgen to help us stay ahead of our own performance curve. However, the examples of the All Blacks and Liverpool strike the right tone in how it can pay off to have higher levels of awareness and responsibility than you previously did. Not in comparison to competitors or external cues, but just enough to ask yourself how have you grown and anticipated and planned for the next set back. Of course, we cannot avoid and control all of life’s injustices, but we can adapt, evolve and grow from a position of strength rather than perceived weakness. Dr Joe Dizpenza said it beautifully “the quantum field does not respond to what we want but to who we are being”.
Strategies you can employ now to heighten your awareness and responsibility include:
Write down your own GROW model. This model of thinking comes from Sir John Whitmore. Goals,Reality,Options,Will. What is the goal? What is your current reality? What options or obstacles do you have for those goals? And do you have the true will to get there? A useful model to get clarity on where you have been and how you want to change your current reality.
Journal: Take just 5 minutes in the evening to highlight what you have done following your GROW model for that day, week or month.
Calender your progress. Habit formation is challenging yet extremely rewarding. However, what we don’t measure we cannot improve. Use a large calendar at home to visually track the days where you accomplish your new habit. Again, in line with your GROW model and the change you are keeping ahead off, preventing or responding. Mark with an X. The challenge is to never miss twice in a row. Occasionally life will happen, and it won’t be possible to get done what you set out. The goal here is never to miss twice. That way, your accountability and consistency remain in check.
Callender marking is spoken about in James Clear- Atomic Habits. An excellent book, I strongly recommend.
You will note in that last point I have mentioned responding to an event. While I believe I am more of an advocate of trying to stay ahead and continual improvement, there is nothing wrong with responding. I encourage you to respond rather than react. Responding takes the form of having choice and control over your actions. Reacting takes on less control and less choice.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on here. I hope you can take something away from them. Apply the tools next time you have found yourself either the victim of circumstance or conductor of your potential.
With Force and Grace,