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 Muller-Wohlfahrt
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 recognised 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, making the Elmo puppet the most famous and recognised puppet in the world today.
Albert 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.