Terry Condon

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On Science & Data in Sport

Where there is a wealth of information, there is a poverty of attention– Herbert Simon.

 

In 2003, award winning non-fiction writer Michael Lewis published ‘Moneyball’. In his book, Lewis tells the tale of Billy Beane, the cash strapped manager of the Oakland A’s who orchestrated the longest winning streak in pro baseball history, pioneering the use of data science and modeling in sport.

Along with others in elite sport, I took a deep interest in the book’s ideas. Digging deeper into literature and history to understand how this new technology can and is impacting outcomes in elite sport, and the opportunities and challenges it creates for leaders, coaches and athletes.

New Technology?

Simply defined, technology is anything that allows us to do more with less. When framed in this manner, technology as a concept in sport has been used for thousands of years.

Greek Olympians of the Ancient era had their training and nutrition planned by physicians, Bill Bowerman of Nike fame created new technology with his waffle shoe sole, and larger racquet heads in tennis changed the game.

Though technology in sport is far from new, Information technology and the skillsets (such as data science) that come with it is still in its infancy in elite sport and for many teams it has yet to understood or used effectively.

The challenge then for leaders of ambitious organisations in sport is how best to respond to the coming tidal wave of technology in a manner which creates a competitive edge without detracting from core objectives.

The highly competitive nature of the sports industry has led to an emerging trend of pro sports teams and professionals relying more and more heavily on data science and data scientists.

In 2002 AC Milan invested millions to design and build the state of the art Milan Lab, a sophisticated science and research facility designed to extract vast quantities of data related to every athlete and predict injury before it occurs.

In 2014 Super Rugby Premiers NSW Waratahs partnered with IBM to combined data science and modeling with a new movement diagnostic tool called Sparta Trac to better manage their athletes.

It seems every year there is there more technology creating more data, so much so that demand for database software as service companies such as Smartabase has exploded and created a whole new industry within the broader sports context.

As a physical performance manager I now access and interpret thousands of data points each tied and tagged to every athlete I am responsible for daily. The crazy thing is many of these advances have been made in the last five years.

Of course, this all makes perfect sense when you consider the rising costs of athlete salaries, match payments and bonuses combined with the inherent risk of injury that comes with increasing exposure to physiological demands at or close to ones limits.

It can only be prudent to try to use whatever means available and legal to find a competitive edge, and attempt to mitigate as much risk as possible to the most valuable assets in any sporting organization, its athletes.

This new technology related data and data science has given rise to a new kind of expertise, and new questions like:

  • What are the implications of data science for elite sport?
  • How is data science and the technology that enables it best used in sport?

This article attempts to answer these questions in order to stimulate intelligent discussion around the subject within teams and among industry professionals.


 The Implications of data science in elite sport:

In his groundbreaking book ‘Good to great’ Jim Collins identified ‘technological sophistication’ as one factor that consistently differentiated the best-performed corporations from their competitors.

Yet Collins is quick to qualify his assertions by explaining that great organisations are rarely early adopters of new technology but carefully considered in choosing what and when with regards to technology.

Collins goes so far as to suggest that the best organisations and the people within them have a healthy disregard for technology, and rarely credit it with any significant influence in overall success.

Collins writes:

“Thoughtless reliance on technology is a liability, not an asset. Yet when linked to a simple, clear and coherent concept rooted in deep understanding – technology is an essential factor in accelerating forward momentum”.

But of what relevance is this in elite sport?

In truth, elite sport is almost a decade behind big business and many other industries when it comes to data science. In many ways big organisations built these tools to improve processes and outcomes by using technology to better describe their environments and variables within them.


Probability & Psychology

Data science in elite sport is the new shiny tool that many of us are currently besotted with. The promise of big data and predictive analytics is that we will be able to accurately forecast the incidence of injury or the suitability of an athlete for selection and intervene proactively to ensure the outcome is a desirable one.

However data science and its findings can only ever really point to correlation, not causation. Yet as humans we find it quite hard to distinguish the two, and our evolutionary instinct is always to take the easy way out by ‘trusting the numbers’.

The problem is, the numbers don’t tell us what is going to happen, they only offer us a closer look at the probabilities of events that MAY occur. Where we get into trouble is in the way we treat the numbers, like gospel.

Daniel Khannemans book ‘Thinking fast and slow’ describes two ‘systems’ we use for decision making; system one and system two. System one is fast, automatic, instinctual and gullible. System two is slow, deliberate and calculative however much more effective in decision making.

As humans we have a tendency to lean on system one because it requires less energy and concentration to do so, allowing us to preserve our reserves for dangerous situations that may require action.

We look to preserve energy because we have evolved to be highly motivated to avoid pain or the possibility of painful situations (like making a bad decision). This instinct is called loss aversion, and up until recently it has been our most important survival mechanism.

The combination of these two very human habits; being lazy in critical thinking and instinctively avoiding pain or situations that might cause pain, mean that we frequently make mistakes when it comes to interpreting and acting on data.

The danger that data science presents is that if we the users are not aware of our own limitations and our inherently human flaws, little can or will be done to mitigate them.

This will cause us to rely too heavily on technology and ignore or overlook information from alternative sources while unconsciously moving away from crucial aspects of our work. Consequently we will actually be more prone to error than we were without this technology.

In the Justice system we can see how the use and the users of data science has evolved in this way, at first it was used effectively and ethically, however more recently these tools are increasingly being utilized in troubling ways that significantly impact peoples lives.

As far back as 1990s the police force used data science to make decisions on where it would deploy its resources based on past trends and new information. Seems like smart use of resources right?

Fast forward to the present and we can see where our evolutionary instincts can lead us; Judges are now using data science to determine whether a felon has been properly rehabilitated and should be released back into society.

If this seems like a good idea to you, it’s probably because you have confused correlations with causation, or you too have fallen victim to your evolutionary instincts. The implications for incarnated people with the certain background experiences and poor socioeconomic status could be damming.

In 2002 Tom Cruise starred in the action drama Minority report, in the movie Cruises character was tasked with arresting people who were allegedly about to commit a crime. Just over ten years later and we are seemingly not far from that reality.

In sport, the dangers are less severe but still worth considering. By mistaking correlation with causation and relying too heavily on technology we may never have experienced the greatness of athletes such as Tom Brady who’s poor showing at the draft almost saw him lost to the game.

Should we fall prey to these flaws as managers, coaches or trainers we are less likely to be aware of those small but crucial observations and interactions that provide additional ‘data’ for decision making.

Possibility and mastery are the very tenets that sport rests upon. Sports stars symbolize what is possible when one sets their mind to task and carries it out with discipline and focus.

American football fans watch Tom Brady not just because of what he has achieved, but because of what he has overcome and who he has become in the process. This is what sport is all about.

By its very nature, the highest achievement occurs outside the bell curve, it is the outliers who defy the odds when people least expect it. Imagine what world we would live in if Roger Bannisters coach felt it necessary to educate him on the odds of his success?

Science can help us explain the world, and the best minds have helped advance humanity through the scientific method, but we must remember that the ultimate scientific instrument is the human mind. It was after all Einstein who said: ‘Look deeply into nature and you will understand everything better’.

Polynesians learned to sail hundreds of years before Columbus famous journey and the invention of instruments like the compass. Using deep observation they understood patterns in the direction, temperature and strength of the wind, the colour, shape and content of waves and water its currents and contents.

So advanced were their methods, that when the Spanish first discovered their culture they simply could not comprehend or accept that such primitive people could be technically superior navigators of wind and waves. As a result the superiority of Polynesian people as sailors was ignored for centuries.


So what does all this mean?

The future of data science and technology in elite sport is dependent on its users, like most tools it can be used wisely by well meaning people, or it can be used poorly by people who fail understand themselves and fall into lazy ways of being.

The tool itself is not good or bad, but the way it is used can result in either.

Now that we have explored the implications of data science, and learned how to be in relation to this new technology. Next we will learn how to use it most effectively.

We will do this by modeling and adapting the combined experiences and methods of a billionaire venture capitalist/tech entrepreneur, with one of the worlds most decorated fighter pilots.


How to use technology and data effectively in sport.

Billionaire investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel is by virtue of his creations and experiences probably THE world expert on the effective use of data & technology. In his recent book ‘Zero to one’ he challenges the fear that computers will cost all people their jobs by describing the fundamental differences between skillsets and abilities of both.

Thiel writes:

 

Computers are far more different from people, than any two people are from each other, computers and humans are good at fundamentally different things.

 

People have intentionality; we form plans and make decisions in complicated situations. Were less good at making sense of enormous amounts of data.

 

Computers are exactly the opposite: they excel at efficient data processing, but they struggle to make basic judgments that would be simple for any human”.

As an example Thiel points to a project Google invested years and millions of dollars in to build a supercomputer capable of scanning millions of thumbnails in YouTube videos to identify a cat with 75% accuracy.

That seems impressive” he writes, “Until you remember that a four year old can do it flawlessly”.

In describing the differences between computers and humans Thiel teaches us how technology and data can be best employed in the sports industry. He also directly shows us, through explaining how Palantir (a cybercrime company he founded in 2004) combines the skills of computers and humans with stunning results.

Thiel’s company has created immense value (15 Billion dollars worth) by producing far superior results when compared to the United States two major security agencies the Central intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA).

The CIA is primarily focused on using human intelligence to solve security problems, they employ a huge network of spies to keep the US safe, whereas the NSA is biased toward computers& technology.

Neither approach is wrong or right but neither approach works as well as Palantirs more hybrid approach.

Palantir merges the gifts of humans and computers to successfully predict where terrorists plant their explosive devices, prosecute high profile insider trading cases and uncover the largest child pornography ring in the world.

Palantir uses software to analyze data the US government tracks, the software crunches the data and flags suspicious activities trained analysts then review. Using this approach, the company played a significant role in finding Osama bin Laden.

Importantly, the computers do not predict or decide anything. The power of the human mind and its contextual understandings is far better suited to this task. In this way, Palantir uses computers to free up people to do what they do best.

Palantir’s example shows us that computers if properly used can create space for humans to do less of what they do badly (crunching data), and more of what they well (planning, deciding and executing well timed actions).

So if computers and humans can partner to produce superior results, how can we know how and when to use each distinct skillset in the context of the rapidly changing, high pressure, high stakes environment that is elite sport?

Enter John Boyd.

Boyd was an Air force fighter pilot who served in the Korean War. Through deep observation and attention, Boyd developed a framework for rapid and effective decision making that ultimately changed the war.

Boyd knew the Americans used bigger, slower fighter planes than their opponents, but he also knew that the US Sabrejets transitioned more quickly between fighting styles than Soviet Mig jets.

This meant that the Americans could perform more maneuvers in less time, allowing them a competitive advantage were they to recognize and exploit this information.

“The adversary that can move through cycles faster gains an inestimable advantage by disrupting his enemies ability to respond effectively” Boyd explained while speaking before the housed armed services committee in 1991.

Among other contributions like helping design superior fighter jets Boyd created a framework to teach and guide effective decision making in dynamic, high pressure combat he called the OODA loop.

The OODA loop is an acronym for the four major principles of the framework he spent several years developing. The four letters stand for four steps: Observe Orient Decide and Act.

  • Observe what is happening and process as much information from as many sources as possible
  • Orient those observations by distinguishing the relevant from the insignificant
  • Decide on a course of action and select one path.
  • Act to execute the decision, while bearing mind this action is not the end since the loop flows continuously.

As in most cases the simplest solutions are often superior. If we look deeper into this framework in the context of what we have already explored, these four steps are eminently instructional and practical:

Observe what is happening and process as much information as possible – Observation is a fundamentally human skill and therefore any task or technology that distracts us from this is to be delegated.

Information processing is best done by computers and associated technology. Therefore, it is advisable to invest in technology and associated expertise that facilitates automatic and efficient processing of data for descriptive analysis.

Orient those observations by distinguishing the relevant from the insignificant – Effective, efficient data processing should allow more space and time for professionals who possess domain specific experience and expertise to determine which information is important to consider.

Decide on a course of action and select one path – Once technology has completed a comprehensive descriptive analysis and skilled professionals have discerned what is relevant, the next task is to use this information to inform a decision.

Unlike dog fighting: In sport there are decisions that can and must be made quickly, and there are decisions, which can be made with less haste. In the past I have written about the importance of effective decision making in an athletes return to play. Though it is worth revisiting briefly here.

There are four ways to make decisions, and all four have their various pros and cons. The following tables summarizes each:

 

Command: Decisions made with no involvement from others.
Pro’s Cons
Very fast way to make decisions. Typically low quality decision because uninformed by anything happening now but on past experience.

 

Command decisions are best suited to scenarios where little or no information is available and time pressure is significant. Making substitutions on game day is one scenario where this is likely to occur at times.

 

Consult: Decision maker invites others to influence them before they choose.
Pro’s Cons
High quality decisionSafer environment for some people to express their opinions (less group mentality)  Can be slower when involving too many people, and without parameters for their involvement.Can be slower if information hard to access or make sense of.

Decisions made via consultation are best suited to scenario’s where many people are involved but some people have more informed and valuable opinions than others. The consulting decision maker has flexibility in whom he/she consults, but still retains autonomy of choice.

Deciding on how to manage an athlete during their return to competition and subsequent exposure to load is one scenario where consultation with experts such as rehab coach, treating physiotherapist and doctor is valuable.

 

Vote: Majority decides after all facts presented.
Pro’s Cons
Fast decision which can be high quality Colleagues who lack ability, experience and work ethic will negatively affect the quality of the decision.

 

Voting to decide is best used as a method where technical expertise is not likely a prerequisite for involvement, time pressure is high and stakes are relatively low. Personally I think this is a lazy mans method and cannot think of any scenarios in using data in elite sport where it would be most appropriate.

 

Consensus: Dialogue until everyone agrees on one decision.
Pro’s Cons
Highest quality decision Very slow process and time cost can be prohibitiveConflict likely, frustration probable. 

Intelligent introverts may withhold valuable information and opinion in the presence of dominant extroverts.

 

Deciding via consensus is most suited to situations that are extremely high stakes, relatively low time pressure and have long term implications. For example: which data should we display, to whom, and how should display it?

These four methods are relevant to interactions between interdependent humans, less so humans and computers. However it is assumed that people responsible for collecting, collating and using technology to analyse data will possess relevant information in any situation where data can be used to balance opinion.

Act to execute the decision – Executing is easy and can be automated, but optimal timing requires a judgment and contextual understanding of scenarios that computers lack, therefore this should always be the job of experienced, attentive and engaged humans.


Evolution, Technological Sophistication & Conclusions.

Darwin was misunderstood by those who claim his theory of evolution championed the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ In actual fact, his findings (and his real opinion) indicated that is more likely the most adaptable or changeable species who survive and thrive in an ever changing world.

Jim Collins, our business researcher observed the same trend in the companies that stood the test of time and consistently outperformed their competitors. Technological sophistication allowed these organisations to avoid fads, see the bigger picture and choose and use technology wisely and well, while adapting and evolving their methods over time.

This article has been my attempt to contribute to a more sophisticated approach to data and science in sport. Or at least to improve awareness and start some intelligent conversations that go deeper than ‘the power of analytics’. I hope to have achieved my aim while also providing some practical and pragmatic information for professionals in elite sport.

If you have anything to add to this conversation please don’t hesitate to contribute by commenting below

The Art & Science of Coaching, Managing and Teaching.

Ever come home from a conference, read a book, had a conversation or listened to a talk where you gained some amazing information and failed dismally to impress your enthusiasm for such information on those who may benefit from it most?

Most times, the more emotionally involved you are with an idea, the less able you are to share it effectively. This is because biology and evolution are actually working against you, causing you to be on your worst  behaviour forcing your ideas on others instead of working with them toward a shared solution to a problem they acknowledge on their own. 

Knowledge that cannot be shared effectively with others (through our deeds or words) is of zero value in todays information age. Those who are able to share specialised information most effectively create the best results, receive more opportunities and achieve more success in general. Fortunately, ancient and modern science can offer us a framework which can help us better teach anyone, anything.

In order to prove myself genuine, I have attempted to use the very principles I wish to share with you to teach this framework. This framework is the result of summarising the content of 5 key resources in 5 key points I believe every information worker should read, understand and act on. Read on if you wish to learn how to help others learn and get more from your head into the heads of others.

Please note, I receive no financial reward for the content I reference below. I simply endorse the authors and their information.

HOW TO TEACH ANYONE ANYTHING: THE PARABLE OF HARRY & THE HUTS

1. Understand Them

Everyone has a set of priorities and these govern how they filter their world. Take the time to discover and communicate in relation to others top priority (Telos) and you will gain their attention.

Harry is a caveman; he has just come back from a long journey east, where he learned from the great tribes of the sea their far superior methods for making huts.  Upon his return, he notices how ugly the huts in his village are in comparison, and how dangerous and inefficient it is to build them. Harry is determined to teach his neighbour Fred the new and improved hut making method, and gradually improve the whole village using this method.

Last time he came back from a trip and tried to teach Fred how to hunt better, he simply shrugged his shoulders with a glazed look on his face. He clearly did not appreciate how superior Harry’s new method was, Harry tried and tried to persuade him to learn but eventually his persistence began to annoy Fred. Not wanting to test the relationship in case Fred got violent (as most cavemen tended to) Harry decided to drop it.

This time, Harry decides to take a special interest in Fred and observe his behavior closely, as he does this he notices that Fred tends to talk a lot about his family, he goes to great lengths to make sure they are always safe and provided for. He notices that Fred’s oldest son is nearly old enough to begin his initiation into adulthood. One day he asks Fred what he plans to teach the boy first. ‘How to build of course!’ Fred says gruffly, without turning around.

2. Make them feel safe

 

Our brains are wired to be on the look out for differences (which are perceived unconsciously as threats), emphasising similarities & common ground opens people up to you and your message. 

‘A wise choice’ says Harry. ‘I plan to do the same with my boy, a man must learn how to use his hands so that he can care and provide for his family’. Fred turns around to face him now, nodding vigorously in agreement. ‘And what would you say a good father should teach his son to build first?’ asks Harry. ‘A hut replies Fred excitedly, what good is a man who cannot put a roof over the heads of his family?’

‘Agreed my friend, a man who cannot shelter those he loves will find it hard to attract a mate’ Harry replies mirroring his enthusiasm. ‘And what sort of hut do you plan to teach him to build?’ he asks Fred. Fred looks confused; ‘the same type of hut everyone in the village builds of course, isn’t that the only type of hut there is?’

3. Entertain Them

Mirror neurons in the brain have evolved to allow humans to simulate experience (key to learning), telling stories allows people to feel the emotions associated with an experience. The emotion centres of the brain control decision making and therefore heavily influence a persons actions. 

Harry smiles and replies ‘until recently I believed the same thing, but on my travels I learned otherwise, would you like to hear about how a great tribal elder of the East taught me how to build safer, sturdier and more beautiful huts? These huts were the most beautiful I have seen, and I noticed the men in this village who built them boasted the most attractive mates’. Fred nods excitedly, ‘of course, my boy would be the toast of the town if he was the first young man to build one of these huts! Please tell me about your experiences!’.

Harry obliges and tells Fred of his experiences with the tribal elder who generously passed on his knowledge over the course of a six-month apprenticeship. Fred laughs as Harry tells him how terrible his first attempts were and how the locals pitied him. Fred listens as he describes the new luxuries that a family can experience within these new huts and how they seem happier than those within their village. Suddenly Fred looks at his hut and back at Harry. ‘Would you teach me how to built such a hut Harry?’ he pleads.

4. Educate them


 

Cultivate a culture of conscious practice, break it down for people and keep it simple, give small chunks of (the right) information and facilitate fast and targeted feedback.

To Fred’s delight Harry agrees, though he warns Fred; the first hut would take some time, since the elder explained the Harry, the best way to teach someone is to first model the correct techniques, and then describe the process to the learner, before supporting them as they practiced themselves. Harry will build his own hut first as the model, and then describe to Fred how to undertake each part of the process before allowing Fred to imitate his model.

Over the course of the next 6 months, Harry replicates the apprenticeship process taught to him by the old tribal elder. He teaches Fred only the parts allowing the whole to gradually reveal itself over time. First he focuses on building the foundations of the hut, describing the process to Fred as he watches, Harry learned that the best way to teach is to use concise vivid descriptions that make it clear what to DO, not what not to do. Once he is satisfied Fred understands, he allows Fred to go to work on building his own foundations.

Before Harry agreed to teach Fred, he made sure Fred agreed to first apply any feedback he received before reflecting on it. Harry learned from the wise old elder that discussing the merits of advice given is essentially a waste of time since its merit cannot be accurately assessed until applied.  So when Harry looks over at Fred’s foundations, he provides clear and concise feedback that Fred accepts and applies immediately. Harry is surprised how quickly he can teach complex ideas since he does not have to discuss every piece of information he gives.

Harry, like his teacher before him is a stickler for detail. So he insists Fred master each part of the process before he teaches him the next part. This frustrates Fred a little in the beginning but because he receives clear and concise feedback (which he acts on without question) at regular intervals. Fred begins to trust Harry more since progress becomes evident more rapidly, while his belief in himself, and the process intensifies.

5. Encourage them

Feedback that draws attention to the process encourages people to seek challenge and growth in their pursuits, whilst drawing attention to the outcome creates anxiety and destroys confidence.  

When Harry asked the wise old elder how the whole village learned to be so good at building these huts, he chuckled. ‘They always learn the right way which is as I have taught you, and they are trained to appreciate the process as opposed to the end result. Valuing the process makes the task enjoyable and encourages mastery, which is why the huts in our village continue to evolve and improve while those of most other villages like yours stay the same.

Harry took this to heart at the time, so whenever he compliments Fred, he makes sure to emphasise the process and the effort Fred has displayed in mastering each part of the process. Fred begins to take immense pride in his work and his appetite for learning and improvement becomes insatiable. He is truly inspired by the task he is undertaking.

One day Fred invites Harry over for to enjoy dinner with his family in his newly finished hut. He is proud of his creation and the life he can now provide for his family. Harry is impressed at the quality of his craftsmanship and the home is indeed beautiful. ‘Congratulations!’ he says to Fred, ‘your home is beautiful and your family must be so proud of your efforts and the time you took to master your craft for their benefit’. Fred positively beams with delight.

Years later, Harry and Fred are sitting on the front porch of Harry’s home. From their view on the hill they see a village that is now the envy of all others surrounding it. Many people come to live and work here since the quality of life (thanks to Harrys huts) the villagers enjoy is unparalleled.  Fred points out the beautiful cityscape and says to Harry ‘this is all because of you Harry, thank you for what you have done’.

 

 

 

 

A Cautionary Tale For The Ambitious

Satisfaction consists of freedom from pain, which is the positive element of life. -Schopenhauer

 

‘You still there mate? Did you hear what I said?’

 

I fought to swallow the tennis ball that had suddenly grown from nowhere and wedged itself in my throat. Suddenly the last five years took on a new meaning for me, it had all been worth it and I understood why it needed to be just as it had been, and not the way I had wanted it.

 

I used to wonder what it must have sounded like on the other end of the phone. What it would feel like to be the person who played a part in helping another realize their dream. The one who ushered another through the gate they had stood in front of so doggedly in the cold, wet and stormy weather for so long.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, I pulled myself together and did my best to sound like a man instead of a mouse. ‘Thank you so much for the opportunity, I will not let you down or cause you to doubt the decision you’ve just made’ I said, before hanging up and falling to my bed utterly exhausted.

 

I had just accepted my dream job, working in elite sport at the age of 23 and one week after submitting my thesis. I would become one of the youngest in my field at that time. As I lay there my mind wandered back to my first class at university, and how shocked & appalled I was by what the lecturer had said with a grin on his face.

 

‘Most of you here no doubt have aspirations to work in sport, but know this before we begin, there are over five thousand graduates each year from this degree and on average five jobs advertised per year within elite sport. Competing for these five jobs will be the majority of these graduates, plus those of the last five years before them, as well as experienced professionals from this country and overseas. The odds are stacked against you.’

 

At the time this made me angry, and I still hear those words and see the smirk on this guys face whenever I think back to this moment, but although I might not have appreciated the way in which the words were delivered, they were in fact the truth. This turned out to make all the difference for me, immediately all of my fantasies were shattered and now all I had was the cold hard facts. If I wanted to live it, I had to want to earn it.

 

Everest would not be Everest if ‘doing Everest’ meant being hoisted up the mountain on a T bar with oxygen tents, hotels and hot spas at convenient locations all the way to the top. The view is not the only reason people want to get there, it is more likely the journey they will have made before they earn the right to lay eyes on that view.

 

I once attended a talk by a guy who did it, not once did he describe the view. In fact, his talk was dominated by stories of the physical and mental battles he fought to stand on the top. He may have started out wanting to stand ‘on the top of the world’, But it was clear that once he actually did, his actual view of the world completely changed.

 

Understand: without the sacrifice, the blood the sweat and the tears there is no value to the dream and the sooner you will be looking for the next dream (for which you will face another challenge to attain). The longer you toil, train and test yourself to earn your ‘view’ the more you will appreciate it and the more you will learn to appreciate the beauty behind every challenge.

 

Samuel Pierpont Langley should have been a guy you learned about in school, a household name; Samuel had all the education all the funding and all the support to be the guy who built the first piloted aircraft. Langley was a professor in mathematics, astronomy and held a position at Harvard, he was heavily favoured by the press to become the most successful inventor of his age given his qualifications, connections and reputation.

 

As history tells us, The Wright brothers were in fact the ones who lay claim to one of the most important inventions of all time in manned flight. Orville and Wilbur had no funding, no college education and were simply two owners of a bicycle shop who had a dream they worked tirelessly to achieve. Their persistence in the face of failure was legendary, whereas Langley quit as soon as they ‘won’.

 

Langley was motivated purely by fame and power money and winning the ‘race’ whereas the Wright brothers barely acknowledged any race. They simply worked fanatically though methodically toward achieving their dream. History is littered with underdogs like the Wright brothers who supposedly succeed in spite of their deficiencies, though if you look hard enough for long enough you will see it is more likely they do so because of these challenges.

 

Many people assume education, qualifications and connections are the building blocks for career success, these people are looking for the ‘guided tour’ up Everest because they are afraid of going it alone and do not want the responsibility in the event of failure. So they place their dreams in the hands of others who can never appreciate the full complexity of what that dream is or means.

 

Since many others suffer from the same fears and anxieties, these tours need to accommodate large groups and by necessity are designed for the average person. Unfortunately this can only ever lead to average results, and in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller average no longer cuts the mustard.

 

PS, just watched this after finishing this post, and really rams home my point!!! 60s of absolute truth!!!


If you read this article and found it useful, please consider attending a presentation I have designed specifically for you!!! Lately I have noticed for many new grads, it is getting harder and harder to distinguish themselves from the rest. I want to help!!! Please read below for more information:

 

Forging a career in the sports industry can be difficult and even downright depressing at times. Sport is filled with passionate, knowledgeable and ambitious people, who are all driven not only to make the most of their opportunities, but also to protect their own patch.

 

Qualifications alone may not always lead to recognition and resultant opportunities one might expect. At the same time, it can be disheartening to see others who continue to climb the ladder of success and wonder ‘why them over me?’

 

Opportunities are extremely limited and jobs are rarely advertised, so knowing how and where to position yourself in the right spot and at the right time is absolutely paramount to ensuring you are ready to claim these elusive opportunities.

 

FINALLY, some useful information!!! During the course of 90 this minute presentation, find out how to dramatically improve your odds of landing your dream job in sport, regardless of your age, grades, qualifications or connections (or lack of). 

 

  • Learn the five mistakes most recent graduates make in the pursuit of paid work in sport & how to address/avoid them. 
  • Understand how to separate yourself from the pack in order to increase your potential & improve your prospects.
  • Discover the most influential factor that informs employment decisions in sport & why it is continually overlooked.  

 

 If you are curious about how you can improve your chances of getting a job in sport and are interested in attending this presentation, please contact me or simply order tickets above.

 

 If you read this and thought of someone else who could benefit from this information for improving their career prospects, please share it!! I really want to offer this info with as many people who need it. 

 

 Be sure the get in quick, the first 7 tickets are free!!!

Eventbrite - 5 Oversights Preventing You from Landing Your Dream Job in Sport

 

The Origins of Injury: is it all in the mind ?

“If someone wishes for good health, one must first ask oneself if he is ready to do away with the reasons for his illness. Only then is it possible to help him.” ~ Hippocrates

A morning to forget

It was a cold morning in the depths of winter, and I had been dreading this particular morning for days. As I stepped outside I shuddered, partly in reaction to the icy cold air, and partly to try to shake the sinking feeling I woke up with in the pit of my stomach.

 As I cut through the morning mist, jogging around the field dropping my cones in precise locations I knew by heart, I reassured myself; ‘it’s going to be fine. Relax you’ve said your piece, that is all you can do.’ The words were stolen away from me as I said them, the cold air highlighting the breath they were carried upon, before being snatched away by the swirling wind, which seemed to be picking up as the sun drew up higher over the horizon.

Today was an important session for John, the athlete I had been working with for the past month. John was what the papers might describe as a ‘troubled star in the making’. Oozing ability and possessing what recruiters call ‘tools’ most footballers work hard for but never acquire. John had been battling a muscle strain which seemed to be healing quite slowly and was a constant source of concern for him and the clubs coaches, being out of contract and unavailable for selection up until this point.

I knew that John was not yet ready to push for selection; experience and multiple streams of data were all pointing to the same conclusion. John was not ready to cope with the load and his injury was far from healed, yet he had managed to persuade everyone he was ready to ‘give it go’. I had voiced my concern and explained to his coaches that John would be putting himself at significant risk of recurrence. Insisting he would be bypassing proper process instead of working methodically through the appropriate progressions in the gym and on the field.

Despite my protests, John desperately wanted to roll the dice. I had considered refusing to plan or coach such a session, but something told me that I should support his decision and do what I could to ensure things ran as smoothly as possible. I understood that he would have been under immense pressure, the pressure I knew he put on himself, and the pressure he perceived from others including his teammates, the coaches, the club and its fans.

John was a good kid, witty and mischievous by nature he was inevitably very popular with his teammates and those he associated with socially, though John had a dark side too, a side which had haunted him since the start of his career. Frequent infractions and a questionable crowd of mates had tested the clubs patience on more than a few occasions since he arrived.

As I reflected upon the irrationality of the circumstance I found myself in, John burst out into the cold and kicked a football in my direction. For a brief period we both became kids again, horsing around pretending we were in the dying stages of a game and the teams success relied on our deeds.

Although I indulged him in his antics I continued to watch closely as I briefed him on the session plan, purpose and desired outcome. John appeared quite lively, too lively. It seemed to me to be ingenuine, like he was dismissing the significance of this session and the consequences and trying too hard to convince himself and me, that there was nothing to be concerned about.

My philosophy with return to play is that I aim to expose the athlete to the ‘worst case scenario’ they might experience on the field, so that they do not return to play second guessing themselves, and they know they can cope with the rigors of their sport at the elite level. When I explain end stage rehab or ‘reconditioning’ I usually explain to that athlete our goal is to develop a ‘physiological buffer’ to actually protect them from further injury.

I knew that it was highly likely John would suffer a recurrence on this morning, and that is the reason I woke up with that sinking feeling in my stomach. I had told him how I felt quite frankly though obviously this did not deter him. I also told him I was not prepared to compromise my standards; it would not be fair on his coaches or his teammates to return untested. So he would have to endure the ‘worst case scenario’ regardless of my concerns.

The dew had gradually soaked through my shoes and my feet were frozen. I jumped up and down on the spot to keep warm while John began working his way into the initial stages of the session. Sessions generally build in intensity, specificity and complexity as time progresses and the injury heals, allowing the athlete to work in and on parts safely before eventually being exposed to the whole via reconditioning (worst case scenario) drills. As John was finishing his early drills I began walking to the center of the field in preparation for the next progression.

Even though John knew exactly what the next progression entailed he walked over and began to ask a lot of questions, I knew he was nervous and he knew that I knew. I asked him if he was sure he was up to it and wanted to continue and he insisted yes, he was and he wanted to. As he walked away I watched his body language and I knew he was lying to himself and to me, watching him walk back to his starting position was like watching a prisoner take his place in front of a firing squad. ‘Please rethink this mate!?’ I implored him mentally.

After the first few reps of the next drill, John began to look distracted, unsettled and began stretching and shaking his legs between reps. I had seen this before, plenty of times. It is the behavior of someone resisting their body, ignoring its suggestions and compelling it to continue. The very best athletes know how far they can push before the body pushes back, though many do not.

The athlete less aware of their body is less aware of its boundaries; they will either push too hard and get injured or not hard enough and underperform. Knowing one’s body requires a trained awareness, the athlete who lacks this awareness is usually inexperienced or overly blinded by ambition, emotion or both. John knew his body, though it appeared he was too invested or consumed with the idea of ‘getting back’ to hear its message.

I jogged over to John and asked how he was feeling. ‘Fine’ he said with a forced smile, ‘lets get on with it ey’. This time it was me walking back to my position like the prisoner in front of the firing squad. I knew what was about to happen and felt powerless to stop it. Three reps later, John pulled up sharply after accelerating through the designated interval marked by my cones.

I knew what had happened right away, my instant reaction was to look away, as if to deny the occurrence and somehow rewrite history. Unfortunately, this was not to be. John had indeed suffered a recurrence as I had feared. And this event turned out to have far greater implications than just more time on the sidelines.

Sadly, John’s recurrence was only the beginning of his problems. Setting off a chain of events that did not end well for him. Days later he would get into trouble again and was eventually sacked. Another troubled athlete who had ‘lost his way’ was what the papers read and of course that’s what people believe, but those who know and understand psychology will tell you a very different story.

 

The psychology of pathology

Secondary gain is a term used by psychologists to explain the unconscious motives behind behavior that might best be described as ‘self sabotage’. Basically this means that people can at times unknowingly act in ways that ensure the complete opposite of what they say they want, because the ‘unfortunate’ results serve them in some way that is not always obvious.

Guilt and shame are the major driving forces behind secondary gain. Unfortunately for John, he seemed to be locked into a cycle of either injury or infraction throughout the duration of his career as an athlete, this was most likely the result of shame he could not resolve around an incident of personal significance in his past. This incident haunted him from the day he walked into the club and in my opinion was responsible for his undoing.

Behind secondary gain is the reasoning that ‘if enough bad things happen to me, the things I feel bad about will eventually be forgotten because I have experienced much worse than I believe I am responsible for. The person unknowingly contributing to their own problems is doing so in an effort to ‘even the score’ for something that they have judged themselves for, most often because they lack the mental skills to process this problem in a way that serves them.

Unfortunately this score than can never be settled until the person is able to resolve their guilt and shame. In my experience, the psychological aspects of injury are often ignored. This seems perplexing when you consider the origins of the word injury quite literally mean ‘inner judgment’.  This is not at all to say that the cause of every injury is mental, though I would contest that a great many more than we might realize originate in the mind. I have seen time and time again how an athlete’s imbalanced or irrational psychological state leads them to injury.

The rookie athlete desperate to impress and insecure about his worth over trains and ends up with chronic overuse injury, The ‘team player’ who places much importance on outside sources for validation is criticized in front of the team by the coach and becomes emotional and reckless on field, careless in his actions and ignorant of the consequences, hurting himself in the process. Or the talented athlete, who feels guilty and fearful about the attention this success brings and the distance it could create between them and their siblings.

Anyone who has worked with high performers over long periods of time will not need me to tell them that the elite are usually the most consistent performers. And consistent performance is usually the result of a consistent attitude and approach. On the flipside of this, those with an inconsistent attitude and approach often perform inconsistently and I believe, suffer more injuries while also taking longer to heal.

 

But what to do??

 Health and healing requires a balanced physiology, a balanced physiology can be hard to achieve without first achieving a balanced psychology. In John’s case, his blind ambition and guilt (he felt unimportant unless on the field, though at the same time unworthy of being on it) led him to continually dismiss internal and external feedback, leading him to injury. It is my belief that there is a life lesson in every injury, and injury itself is simply a physical manifestation of a mental sticking point, which has not been resolved.

Rehabilitation is as much about the mind as it is the body, and like it or not the two cannot be separated. As a professional trained in the physical nature and processes of healing, it can be easy to ignore or dismiss the mental side of the equation, though I would caution against this. As the person responsible for all aspects of an athlete’s management, the sports rehab specialist will invariably spend the most time with the athlete, and deal with their perceived problems more so than anyone else.

Of course there are other professionals eminently more qualified to deal with the mechanics of an athletes psychology, and these people can and should be used wherever possible, but the most important thing to remember is that your dealing with a person first, and an injury second. As a professional who’s livelihood is dependent on having the answers, it can be easy to forget that the body has an amazing capacity to heal itself; sometimes our job is as much about helping the athlete get out of their own way as it is about pointing them in the right direction.

On Making Decisions regarding the injured athlete.

In my experience, deciding how to make decisions around the management of athletes in rehab is rarely considered or formally discussed. Ultimately this is to the detriment of everyone involved since the closer you are to a problem, the more narrowly you perceive it. Ensuring groups develop and follow formalised ‘ways of working’ leads to increased cohesion and collaboration and improved communication and decision-making.

Anytime a group of passionate and emotionally invested experts across various fields are working independently in an interdependent fashion, the outcome often hinges more on how they do it (i.e the tactical requirements such as communication and decision making) than it does on what they are doing (the technical requirements such as the various roles and responsibilities and what is occurring within these) though the emphasis is usually on the latter.

Decision-making is without doubt one of, if not THE most important factors in successful rehabilitation of an athlete. There is an abundance of specialised knowledge, ambition and potential these days, so a lack of will, want or skill is hardly ever the reason a group fails. Though knowing how to proceed, progress or pull back can mean the difference between a successful return to training and playing or a setback/recurrence which ultimately costs the athlete, the team, the coaches and the staff. It is the organisation of ability and expertise, not the expertise itself which makes the most difference.

Choosing how to make decisions around the athletes program direction, progress and potential return to training and playing is a crucial part of developing effective multidisciplinary interaction. Just like a team of champions struggles against the champion team. A group of colleagues all pulling in different directions can completely compromise the athlete’s welfare and negatively impact the outcome if allowed to occur.

In my experience, consciously deciding how professionals and experts will interact with each other and then the athlete often impacts relationships between staff affects an the athletes trust in the program on the whole. A team who cannot work together effectively off the field for the benefit of those they service, sets a poor example for the team on the field and negatively impacts the culture of a club.

There are four methods of decision-making. Command, consult, vote and consensus. All four methods have their various pros and cons and will each be more appropriate in different circumstances. In rehabilitation there are four main scenarios in which decisions will significantly impact the outcome: 1. Deciding on the plan, 2. Deciding on progression, 3. Deciding on return to training, 4. Deciding on return to play.

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A = command: decisions made with no involvement from others.

B = consult: decision makers invite others to influence them before they choose.

C = vote: majority decides after all facts presented.

D = consensus: dialogue until everyone agrees to one decision.

 

Deciding on the plan.

Planning an athlete’s rehabilitation should be a collaborative process among those with the technical expertise (doctor, physiotherapist, rehab specialist and performance staff) in consultation with those without the technical expertise (the athlete and their coach). In designing the plan, experts will ideally pool their intellectual property and decide on a plan via consensus, before consulting the athlete for their thoughts and finally communicating with the coach to ensure they remain informed.

Deciding on progression.

Decisions on an athlete’s progression need to be made frequently and thus require a high degree of efficiency. Once the plan is agreed upon. The rehab specialist will be responsible for managing all aspects of its implementation and coordinating the unified approach. Being the most informed and with access to the highest volume and quality of feedback, the rehab specialist is best placed to make decisions on an athlete’s progression in consultation with their colleagues and the athlete using all of the information at their disposal.

 Deciding on return to train.

The successful reintegration of the athlete with the team is dependent upon data directly associated and obtained from the athlete and the process of their rehabilitation (what level of function they have regained and their current physical capacity and loads) as well as data not directly associated or obtained (what sort of loads and activities they are likely to be exposed to in team training).

The volume and variability of the data required to effectively make this decision make it one of the utmost importance. For this reason it is desirable to make this decision via consensus, with all experts (doctor, physiotherapist, rehab specialist and performance staff) reaching a decision collectively after consulting the athlete and coach for relevant data.

 Deciding on return to play.

Once the athlete has returned to training, a successful return to play is dependent upon factors related to data associated with physical, technical and tactical capabilities. During this stage of rehab those with the access and expertise to process the highest volume and quality of information are the Coach, Performance staff and athlete.

The decision on an athletes return to play can be reached using a number of different approaches and that are often dependent and driven by those in control and responsible for the whole program and the management of the team. Though the implications of the approach taken can impact much more than the risk of recurrence of injury. Along with deciding via consensus of all stakeholders (which though highly effective and inclusive can also be highly inefficient) there are three approaches more commonly used in decide on an athletes readiness to return to competition.

Approach 1Coach and head of performance consult the athlete first and experts involved in the rehabilitation afterward, before reaching consensus together.

 Pros:

  • High quality decision due to pooling and processing of the most data in the most relevant sequence.
  • Allows all involved an opportunity to contribute and own the final decision, decreasing the risk of the ‘blame game’ and strengthens relationships between staff.
  • Allows athlete to focus more on preparing to perform, and less on the costs of ‘getting it wrong’.

Cons:

  • Can take some time and involves multiple levels of dialogue and reflection before a decision is made.

Approach 2: Coach consults athlete first, then all experts as a group.

 Pros:

  • Still involves all experts and opinions, though more efficient decision-making process.

 Cons:

  • Can create and reinforce division between staff in a program (‘coaching staff’ and ‘support staff’) some risk of blame game.
  • Potentially puts athlete in an awkward position when the two groups disagree. Can cause and increase anxiety when athlete receives mixed messages.

 Approach 3: Coach consults athlete.

 Pros:

  • Fast decision.

 Cons:

  • Low quality decision made without processing all of the data and involving all concerned. This approach dismisses a high volume of expertise and information as soon as the athlete returns to training.(Risk of recurrence /setback high)
  • Actively creates division between staff members and indirectly communicates a lack of trust/care for those who have worked hard toward the athletes return. (high risk of blame game)
  • Puts a lot of pressure on the athlete to ‘make sure your right’ at a time which will already be the cause of some anxiety and discomfort.

Trophic cascade is the term ecologists use to describe the scenario where determining and addressing the right variable in an ecosystem, causes all other variables to basically fix themselves without intervention. This phenomenon was discovered as a result of scientists observing the reintroduction wolves in Yellowstone national park.

Gaining clarity on decision making sets the stage for improved communication (between colleagues), enhanced reputation (among athletes) and significantly more reliable outcomes over the long term. Needless to say, for those working as a ‘team behind the team’, it is worth getting right.

WHO ARE THE GAME CHANGERS?

Early one morning as I was leaving for work I got a phone call. My manager was on the line: ‘I hope you don’t have any important plans for tomorrow mate, because we’ve just booked you on a flight to Munich Germany’ he said. Needless to say I had some organizing to do.

A promising young athlete had recently injured his hamstring for the second time, this time more seriously. The medical staff and club decided to invest in giving this particular player every chance of fast tracking his recovery in the case of the team making finals. This meant that I would accompany the athlete to Munich to see world renowned sports doc Hans Mu’ller Wohlfhart

Knowing Hans’ reputation and the caliber of athletes who come from all over the world to see him (we missed Usain Bolt by one week) I was more than a little excited to meet the man and learn what I could. I packed my bags and read up a little on his work in preparation, and before I knew it we were taking off from Melbourne airport en route to Germany.

If you know me personally or read my blog you know that high performance is my life’s obsession. In my job as a strength & conditioning coach I have been fortunate to be able to meet, hear from and spend time picking the brains of more than a few world leaders in their respective fields.

I have discussed running efficiency, technique and footwear with leading researchers and professors at Harvard, listened to world renowned coaches talk about character and attitude, observed and learned from the worlds best performance coaches in the gym and on field, stood next to world leading surgeons in theatre and debated different methods for athlete preparation and rehabilitation with physiotherapists at the Australian Institute of Sport.

But this particular opportunity was one that I was particularly excited about. Having known of Hans and his amazing results with some of the world best athletes I wanted to learn more about the man himself and his outlook on the world, his work and also those who opposed him. As with any trailblazer Hans had dealt with his fair share of criticism in opposition to his idea’s, methods and philosophies.

 

Meeting ‘the man’

As we walked into Hans’ office it was quite obvious the man had a passion for what he did. The office was huge and there was a wall filled with books and memorabilia. Being a bit of a nerd myself I started scanning the books for authors or titles that I would recognize. As I scanned I noticed a wide array of titles from many fields of medicine. The things that struck me was the breadth of information he had on healing and medicine.

There were traditional books on human anatomy, physiology and sports medicine. But then there were also books on more eastern or ‘alternative’ methods of healing also. But Hans didn’t stop there, he had obviously considered the psychological component of injury and disease also as there were neuroscience, psychology and spirituality books to do with healing sitting within his bookcase. It was obvious Hans had an insatiable appetite for learning anything and everything he could about bringing someone back to a state of health and vitality.

Many people move into their chosen field and ‘specialize’ in an area in order to become an expert. Hans’ is no different, most of the time he works with athletes.  However it seemed to me that Hans had acquired a bigger picture of healing. He had not subordinated to one industry paradigm of how things ‘should’ be done and limited his learning to one isolated body of research. Instead he actively took from various methods and disciplines what he felt was valuable and developed his own idea of healing. An idea which created the kind of results that were now  recognized by the worlds highest profile athletes.

Hans’ unique outlook on Healing had earned him much respect amongst the worlds highest profile athletes due to the remarkable results he helped his clients achieve. However he also copped his fair share of criticism from well known industry ‘experts’ who could not come close to understanding or accepting his unique perspective on the field of health and healing in the human body. And so they labeled him a ‘witch doctor’, ‘Frankenstein’ and all other types of denigrating names.

As I got to know Hans over the course of the week it was obvious that he accepted this criticism in the knowledge that no one can have a significant level of support (that of the athletes) without a significant level of challenge (that of his expert detractors). He laughed that in fact many of his earliest detractors were now the very same people publicly acknowledging him for his contribution to new understandings in science and healing.

 

What I learned!

Kevin Clash was a boy who loved designing, building and performing with puppets. He had an insatiable appetite for learning about the art of being a puppeteer. In the documentary ‘Being Elmo’ Kevin describes the torment he was subjected to as he grew up. Kids at his school thought he should be more like them, interested in the ‘normal’ things that ‘most’ kids were interested in. This did not deter Kevin, his persistence and practice combined to develop a very high level of skill at a young age.

As a result he became a professional puppeteer on TV before he graduated from high school. By that time, most kids looked up to him and declared him most likely to be successful. Kevin eventually toured the world and worked for the hugely successful Sesame Street and made the Elmo puppet the most famous and recognized puppet in the world.

It is little known that Einstein caused much conflict with his teachers since insisted that he learn his own way even from a young age when most children still act subordinate to their elders. Instead Einstein infuriated his teachers by ‘taking risks with his learning’ and refused to learn in the ways his teachers thought he ‘should’. As such he was the often the subject of much criticism from his teachers and also his peers throughout his life also.

The experience of meeting Hans’ and the stories of Kevin Clash and Einstein taught me that the level of success you will have is directly correlated to the amount of criticism you are prepared to accept. In order to create the kind of results that will make you a leader, you need to first be prepared to become ‘the villain’ in many people’s eyes in the understanding that at the same time or eventually you will also become the ‘hero’ for many others.

This requires a firm understanding and acceptance of yourself, your purpose and the self-confidence and awareness to proceed with a smile. One of Einstein’s most famous quotes was: ‘My contempt for authority is what made me one’. I believe Hans, Kevin and Einstein all personified a spirit of self-belief, persistence and curiosity which is common to all high performers and has proven to make them all wildly successful in their own ways.

ON PROGRESSION OF THE INJURED ATHLETE

 If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?                 –  John Wooden

Injury affects an individual’s continuity; a teams’ cohesion and at times its’ win loss record. Understandably, this is why athletes and their coaches can be so impatient in the event that one occurs. Worth noting however, is that one the most influential risk factors for injury is previous injury.

The combination of these risk factors and the collective culture of impatience toward injury and rehabilitation can create dangerous forces which often work in direct opposition to the desired outcome (healthy, fit, resilient athletes) for both athletes and coaches, as well as those responsible for managing the athletes recovery.

I liken this impatience to that which causes the monkey to be caught in the monkey trap. The trap allows just enough space for the monkey to reach their arm down the tube to grab an enticingly presented banana. However once they grab the banana and make a fist, they are stuck and can be easily captured by trainers. The monkey could easily liberate themselves at any moment by dropping the banana though their obsession serves to ensure their captivity.

stupidMonkey

The time pressure created by impatience can cause athletes and their coaches to overlook or ignore the consequences of getting it wrong and create a situation of ‘willful blindness’ (a term used in law for when an individual deliberately creates a scenario where they will be unaware of facts which may influence actions in a way they wish to avoid).

In my experience with injury and athletes in sport, prudence costs less than recurrence. The injured athlete should spend no longer than necessary rehabilitating their injury, though no less than what is required to ensure their risk of recurrence is sufficiently mitigated and their physical capability has been restored to a level that will allow them to contribute. It is not enough to be ready to play, the athlete must be ready to perform. The recurrence of injury costs athletes and their teams far more over the course of a competition or season, than the extra time it may take to ensure their rehab is completed in a comprehensive manner.

I believe an athletes progression should be based on merit, rather than on time (except in the situation where tissue healing times must be respected). Though this approach does not automatically assume things take longer. On the contrary, merit based progression can open up the possibility for the athlete to progress faster than the ‘average’ (which is usually the basis for recommendations influenced by time) due to their diligence and professionalism, and or their exceptional healing capacity.

A merit based approach asks the question ‘what can our indicators tell us to inform our decision’ whereas a time based approach leads to the assumption that in set period of time all our indicators are where we need them. A merit based approach facilitates feedback whereas a time based approach negates it. The professional needs to ensure they have solid, formal, structures and systems in place which provide all concerned with objective and relevant information specific to the individual and their injury. The access of this information will inform and influence a more rational decision-making process while managing the ‘monkey trap’ mindset that can be prevalent in sport.

 

 

Join the conversation!!

 

 

 

 

WHEN KNOWLEDGE IS NOT ENOUGH

One day early on in my career as a coach I remember picking up from the ground a program I had written for an athlete, a program I had spent a lot of time and effort on. Hours of research and practice it seemed counted for little if the program was neglected.

This was not uncommon in my early years as I worked tirelessly to build my knowledge and expertise and advance my formal education. Despite gaining more and more knowledge, there seemed to be little correlation between my skill set, expertise and number of qualifications with my efficacy as a professional.

Communication-Breakdown

Over time I have noticed that in most fields of expertise this is actually quite common. There seems to be an abundance of knowledgeable and talented people, but relatively few seem to be effective, and by effective I mean able to fully realise their potential and create the kind of results that their skill set should allow them to.

It seems this pattern is visible not just across fields of expertise, but also time. In fact many people who are acknowledged today for their game changing ideas and theories were people who bore the brunt of much resistance and criticism during their lives.

Ignaz Semmelweis was a young Hungarian doctor who discovered the cause of childbed fever, which plagued the maternity wards all over Europe in the mid 1800’s. In the hospital that he worked at one in six new mothers died of the disease shortly after giving birth.

Semmelweis thought that the cause was direct hand to hand contact between doctor and patient. This was a revolutionary concept at the time but one which had the potential to save countless lives, and which has since been proven correct.

After initiating the practice of ensuring doctors thoroughly washed and disinfected their hands before dealing with any patient, the mortality rate of rate of the ward instantly halved. The results were hard to ignore and his ideas began to receive support from his colleagues, they urged him to scientifically validate his theories and publish his findings.

Instead of steadily working away to prove his theory, Semmelwies became embroiled in personal conflicts with the conservative and skeptical status quo who opposed him. He felt that everyone should just conform to the new and obvious truth.

But his direct and often demeaning approach only stirred up yet more conflict and a rising resentment among those in his profession. Much of his life was consumed by these conflicts, and as a result his ideas did not gain widespread acceptance until after his death.

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Ignaz Semmelweis’ ideas have changed the face of medicine

Nikola Telsa is another example of an extremely gifted individual who was ultimately misunderstood due not to his knowledge, but the way in which he conveyed it.

Thomas Edison is widely credited with inventing electricity, but in fact Telsa was the real genius behind electricity as well as MANY other notable inventions such as the radio, radar and X ray imaging. All of which he received little or no credit for during his life.

Semmelweis and Telsa offer us a great lesson in understanding the power of communication. Both mens’ work has changed the world, but they were not able to bear the fruits of their labours and so both led relatively frustrated lives in search of the recognition they rightfully deserved.

Their lives and the lives of many others like them serve as great reminders that it is not what you know, but what others learn, understand and act on that counts.

Being certain of yourself and your ideas may work in the short term with those less certain and experienced than yourself. However often others with high levels of skill, influence and experience may take more convincing, they have more to lose in changing their belief systems and behavior.

But many people, instead of taking the time to learn how to communicate their ideas more effectively, just become more forceful and direct. This is usually met with an equal and opposite response called defensiveness. This ultimately renders the idea worthless since it is unlikely to be used or acted upon. There is an old fable about a contest between the Northern wind and the Sun, which more elegantly empahsises this point:

 

The north wind and the sun had a contest of strength. They decided to alot the palm of victory to whichever of them could strip the clothes of a traveller.

The north wind tried first. He blew violently. As the man clung on to his clothes, the north wind attacked him with greater force. But the man, uncomfortable from the cold, put on more clothes. So, disheartened, the north wind left him to the sun.

The Sun now shone moderately, and the man removed his extra cloke. Then the sun darted beams which were more scorching until the man, not being able to withstand the heat, took off his clothes and went to take a dip in the nearby river.

 

I decided to be more like the Sun and less like the North wind, and spent less time building upon my qualifications and barking orders, and more time learning how to communicate effectively. In fact I became obsessed with this idea once I began researching it and found that most of the worlds most successful people have understood and learned this truth.

Since that time I have found that the majority of my research and study has revolved around learning only what improves my ability to convey what I already know to those that matter. The result? I have not picked up a neglected program in years.

HOW TO BECOME A SUPER HERO

I watched a movie once called ‘Up in The Air’. George Clooney was the lead actor and sadly I felt the movie was mediocre. This was extra disappointing since I generally have alot of respect for George. George and I do not know each other of course but I like to think that if we met we we would be best mates. All jokes aside though, there was one particular scene in this movie which caught my attention. A brief summary on the movie is necessary to put this scene into context so here is my best version of an impartial unbiased recount.

The movie is about the everyday life of Ryan Bingham  (George) who’s job is basically to fly around the world and fire people. Corporations contract the company Ryan works for to essentially do their dirty work for them when downsizing. During one such occasion a man asks Ryan what he is supposed to tell his kids after hearing the news he is being layed off. On this particular occasion Ryan is being shadowed by a rookie who decides to interject at this point with a very tactless opinion, which only serves to infuriate the man further. At this point Ryan intervenes and asks the man if his children’s admiration is important to him. To which the answer is of course yes. Ryan then states: ‘I doubt they’ve ever admired you Bob’ which further confuses and infuriates the man until Ryan asks him another question: ‘Do you know why kids love athletes?’ for which Bob has no real answer. Then Ryan says ‘kids love athletes because they follow their dreams’

Bob is a little perplexed and remarks ‘well I can’t dunk!’. To which Ryan replies: ‘ No but you can cook’. Ryan had done his research on Bob and saw that he had minored in french culinary arts at college and bussed tables at a premium restaurant to gain useful experience while also putting himself through school. After he had graduated he went straight into the job he was now being fired from. Ryans next two questions were even more telling. First he asked Bob: ‘How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams?’ and next he asked: ‘and when were you going to stop, and come back and do what makes you happy?’

This scene really highlights the issue many people face when it comes to work and life. The whole reason Bob got fired was because he was working a job which he had no passion for. As a result he eventually became viewed as expendable and was layed off. I truly believe this happens to many people who seem to ‘scale down their dreams’ and delude themselves into believing that only the lucky ones get to do what they love and love what they do. If Bob had followed his dream and persisted with his cooking he would no doubt have succeeded since that is what he was passionate about. Anyone who has ever done anything extraordinary has ALWAYS followed this principle. Richard Branson has said frequently that before you do anything. Find your passion.

Your passion is closely aligned with your highest value. (to learn what this is and how to identify your highest values, read this post) I learned from studying Dr John Demartini’s work that you will endure pleasure AND pain in pursuit of your highest values. And this rings true for anyone who has ever done anything extraordinary. Michael Jordan famously remarked: ‘I have missed over 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost over 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed’.

Unfortunately people like Michael Jordan and Richard Branson are the minority, and as a result these people are treated like superheros and put on pedestals. The thing is, I believe there is absolutely NO difference in the capabilities of these people and those of anyone else. The reason I believe this is that every single person on earth is a genius when it comes to their highest values. I am extremely passionate and gifted when it comes to improving performance and getting the best out of athletes, but if my car breaks down I would have absolutely no idea how to fix it. To be honest  I wouldn’t even know where to start. Obviously I recognise this and delegate this task to those who are passionate and talented in this area.

Now consider this situation, I am originally a farm boy and worked on the farm for most of my life before leaving home at 18. If my father had expected me to continue the family tradition and projected this belief onto me I probably would have ended up a farmer like many others from similar backgrounds. Lucky for me, my Dad believed in teaching us how to work hard and apply ourselves through having us work on the farm from a young age, however at no point did I feel under pressure to follow in his footsteps. Instead he encouraged me to do whatever I wished but stipulated one non negotiable. ‘Just do your absolute best at whatever you choose’. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been supported in my pursuits as opposed to feeling pressured into perpetuating a legacy which was never mine.

I believe one of the main reasons for the high rate of suicide in rural areas within Australia is directly related to this situation where people subordinate to the pressure felt from society. This pressure may be magnified since usually these rural communities are very close knit and everyone seems to know everyone as well as their business. The lack of fulfillment as a result of this subordination coupled with the isolation of the rural environment leads to desperation and despair. less access to social support systems and growing up in a culture where people are generally not encouraged to voice their concerns or emotions can create a situation where people feel trapped with no way out.

The tragedy here is the volume of talent and potential wasted. The only reason anyone would envy someone who is considered a ‘star’ is that they fail to see the same traits which they admire within themselves. In actual fact we ALL possess the qualities required for success  and fulfillment, however we seem to slowly lose sight of this as we get older as result of our conditioning from outdated and uninspiring education systems and the media. A common question I get asked is ‘what are the players like?’ which always amazes me since the question presupposes that elite athletes are quite different and special when compared to  everyone else. Even more amazing is that when I tell these people that athletes are no different to you and me they usually think I am lying or not telling the full truth or something.

 

ARE YOU READY?, OR WORTHY TO LIVE YOUR DREAMS?

‘You’ve got the job’, you will start tomorrow’ Tears welled up in my eyes as I took these words in and at that moment I knew it had all been worth it.

I had just accepted my dream job, to work with elite athletes at the age of 23 and months before even graduating. At this time I was one of the youngest (if not the youngest) coaches in the country. Some people within the industry were shocked and openly questioned whether I was ready for this level of responsibility. But as I have come to learn, whether you feel ready or not is irrelevant when it comes to taking your chances and performing on the big stage.

What the doubters didn’t realize was that I had been single mindedly working toward this moment for 5 years. When I arrived in Melbourne I could not even get a job at a local sports store let alone work with elite athletes. I knew nothing and no one, the only thing I knew was what I wanted to achieve.

At my first university lecture I was told: ‘on average there are five full time strength and conditioning positions within Australia each year, there are also well over five thousand graduates from this course. Competing for these five positions will also be people who have already had experience from this country as well as others’.

After 5 years of up-skilling myself, accelerating my learning by doing well above and beyond what was required within and without of the course, and working for free or a pittance, I felt that had paid my dues and deserved the chance I had been handed. So there was no hesitation on my behalf when I was offered this job. I knew I may not have been ready, but I sure as hell felt worthy of the opportunity to live my dream.

Recently, two players debuted in the same game for the team I am contracted to. One player was a first round draft pick, who had been earmarked for greatness from a young age. The other was a mature age recruit who had been repeatedly overlooked for years before getting his chance.

When it came time to perform on the big stage the mature age recruit made more of an impact in my opinion than the first round pick. The funny thing is, both players were picked in the same draft and had both spent the summer training together for this moment, one was no more prepared or ‘ready’ than the other. However I believe the mature age recruit felt more worthy of his chance and this accounted for his greater influence on the day.

Knowing both athletes well I can tell you that there is absolutely NO difference in their desire to succeed. And both are first class people. The simple fact is that the older player has had more life experience and had dealt with more adversity related to fulfilling his dream. These factors combined to mean that on the night, the older player was able to access and express more of his ability, despite the fact that they had trained together in preparation for the occasion.

I have come to realize that we can never be ‘ready’ to take the chances we are given, because it is impossible to fully account for the unknown. In my case I believe it was because I felt worthy that I have been able to live my dream, not because I felt ready.

To test this assumption I recently asked a group of elite athletes the question: ‘when you got the chance to live your dream and compete at the elite level, did you feel ready?’ Every single one of them said no.

For me, I needed to believe I was worthy of the job I was offered. This meant I had to feel comfortable with the fact that people would doubt me, I would make mistakes & learn many lessons. Because I felt worthy I took the risk (of falling flat on my face) and approached my job with assertion and confidence. And this has proved to make all of the difference.

Self worth (the opinion you hold of yourself) is very important when it comes to accepting the opportunities that constantly present themselves. Your level of self worth occurs in direct response to the stories you tell yourself about who you are and what you have experienced.

Feeling worthy is paramount in order to give yourself permission to take these chances when they arise in life. Time and time again I have seen athletes who ‘can’t seem to catch a break’. These are usually people who on some level do not feel ‘comfortable’ or that they ‘belong’. I have noticed that these are the athletes who tend to under-perform (relative to their ability), are frequently injured and recover slowly from injuries.

I believe these type of comments may elude to a lack of self worth. The crazy thing is, this is rarely a truth. The first round draft pick was no less worthy than the mature age recruit. Both trained hard and did what all that was required to get their opportunity. However it is the perception, which makes all of the difference.

A lack of self worth can rob us of the expression of our skill and ability since we might hesitate to take the chance (or not take it at all). We doubt ourselves; avoid taking risks, being proactive and bold like we normally would in our ‘comfort zone’.

The key to performing at the highest level is rarely how much training you do or how much you might know (since everyone at higher levels trains hard or has a lot of specialized knowledge) but how worthy you feel of the opportunity.

The key to self worth is to look inside and ask yourself the simple question: do I feel worthy? If the answer is an emphatic yes then you have nothing to fear. If the answer is no you would be wise to ask yourself another simple question and challenge its response: Why not?

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