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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.
‘You don’t even care do you?’ said an athlete after I busily dismissed his concerns prior to a session. He had said it with a smile in the hopes of winding me up but it was not the first time I had heard such a comment. Recently other athletes had joked with me in the same way. At that moment I realised there must be some truth to this statement. I was devastated.
At that point I was working about 60-70 hours a week and had not had a day off in over three months. I would regularly pull 10 hour days at work and spend hours at night planning and preparing. I was neglecting all of my relationships with family and friends, and my girlfriend at the time mentioned she got the feeling I didn’t want her around when I was working at home.
I took these comments to heart, ‘how could I be working so hard, giving so much and yet be perceived this way?’ I wondered. There had to be a better way than this. The whole reason I had worked so hard to get to this position in my career was because I wanted to help others achieve exceptional results. How could I even consider this if these people didn’t believe I cared for them or their aspirations?
I had fallen into the trap of being ‘busy’, working hard, not smart and moving through life with the blinkers on. Having such a narrow focus on results and ‘getting things done’ I failed to see the bigger picture and as a result was ignorant of the importance of PEOPLE at work and in my personal life. I realised then, that I had become someone I did not like.
I had been trying to be everything for everyone, I wanted to do it all myself because at the time I believed ‘if you want something done right you have to do it yourself’ If I am honest I would also say that I was probably also driven by ego. I wanted to be solely responsible so that when my ‘hard work’ paid off I would be singled out and credited.
In my own experiences and research I noticed that the highest performers are not always those who just work the hardest. In fact it seemed these people were deep thinkers about their craft, and over time found more efficient ways to get better results. They approached their training with an open, inquisitive mind always focused on achieving more with less. This relentless focus on improvement meant that often they came up with small methods to alter the input, which translated to massive improvements in performance (output)
Take David Tabain for instance, David is the world Kettlebell champion who has no peer when it comes to swinging, pressing and jerking these iron balls through, off and around his body. From what I have seen, heard and read there is no one who comes close to achieving the output he is capable of on a lifting platform. (to see Dave at his best check this link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vdFvRf11H8)
I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with Dave teaching me how to ‘snatch’ the kettlebell overhead using the technique he has refined for competition. He had spent years refining his technique and analysing the movement down to the millimetre, searching for weakness he could address, strengths he could leverage and testing methods aimed at eking more from his body and the equipment.
Dave found that by making a few small but crucial adjustments, he could dramatically decrease fatigue, and increase his speed and endurance. He showed me how not internally rotating the shoulder (think turning off a tap with your left hand) as the kettlebell passes through your legs saves the small stabilizing muscles in the shoulder girdle (Which Dave knew were crucial for battling through fatigue near the end of the test).
He showed me how instead of letting the bell fall from above his head and catching it as it passed through his legs, he actually threw it down. This allowed him to increase the speed of each rep and helped him maintain his power while fatigued. In his sport the person who completes the most repetitions during the set time period is the winner.
Dave also showed me the art of breathing throughout and between each repetition. He had figured out that having tension in the trunk (more tension exists with air in the lungs) during certain stages of a repetition dramatically improves efficiency and decreased fatigue. It was genius. To prove his point he had me breathe ‘normally’, then he showed me his way. The difference was staggering.
Previously I have written about the power of the 80/20 principle. Which basically states that in all systems 80% of results come from 20% of efforts. David Tabain had been unwittingly applying this theory to his craft for years and the results spoke for themselves. His concentration was like that of an artist, constantly critiquing his work, identifying rough edges and working tirelessly to smooth them over in order to create a masterpiece. I realised it might be worthwhile to view my career as a coach from the same perspective.
I had been trying to be everything to everyone and now I had realised I had ended up being nothing to no one. I vowed to make a change and began regularly reviewing my efficiency (or inefficiency) at work. I made a list of everything my job entailed and next to each item I attached a time and energy cost. Then I organised the list in order of their level of significance to my role each day as a coach, and my role within my organisation.
This process led me to two important insights: 1) I could use some help, and 2) I was spending a lot of time and energy on things that weren’t that important. Dan John is a coach whose work I read and respect: he would call this ‘majoring in the minors’. I knew I had to make some changes.
By identifying a problem I now set about finding a solution. How do I lighten my load and spend my time and energy on the more important aspects of my job that I had identified and been neglecting. Things such as building relationships and trust, fostering mutual respect and learning and applying worlds best practice.
I set about looking for small changes I could make which would improve my output and decrease my energy cost in much the same way David Tabain had done. The results thus far have been exceptional. In my next post I will outline some of the methods I have employed to dramatically improve my efficiency and effectiveness at work. And some interesting science to back it up. Stay tuned.
Working with athletes looking to continuously improve performance and helping them recover from injury has taught me a lot about what works and what doesn’t in terms of exercise prescription, communication and management of people, but over time I have learned there are some things over which I have little influence that play a huge part in both success and quality of life
One particular athlete I worked with early in my career dealt with a chronic overuse injury, which basically meant he missed the majority of two years competition early in his career. This guy is extremely passionate about his sport and has an amazing drive to succeed for no other reason than he loves his sport.
The reason he was dealing with this injury was due to the fact that his commitment to training and preparation was more than his body could handle at that time and as a result he ended up injured. He was very young and did not yet know his body as an experienced athlete does.
This guy had worked very hard to become one of the most gifted young players in the competition and was seen by media commentators and supporters to be ‘the key’ to his teams improvement and success over the next few years.
With high expectations came pressure, pressure from the media, supporters and those around him who frequently noted how ‘important’ he was for the team to succeed. However I was struck by the maturity he displayed in dealing with this pressure and his approach to his recovery.
I believe the reason he handled the situation much better than the public and those around him was mostly due to his upbringing and the support from his family during this time. He did not approach the situation the same way everyone else seemed to be.
He appeared to possess much more of a balanced perspective than those around him since he handled the disappointment much better than even his coach at the time. He seemed to understand that he could not expect his career to be without any hurdles and was much more accepting of the situation than others.
There is a story about a farmer whose only horse ran away. The neighbours came over and said ‘what a shame’. ‘Maybe’, the farmer said shrugging his shoulders. A month later, the horse came back bringing two wild horses with it. The neighbours said ‘how fortunate’. ‘Maybe’, the farmer replied again.
The farmers’ son was thrown from one of the wild horses while taming it. ‘What a shame’ the neighbours sighed. ‘Maybe’ said the farmer, again without emotion.
Soon after, a war broke out and every young man in the land was conscripted. The son remained due to his broken leg. ‘How fortunate’ said the neighbours. ‘Maybe’ said the boys father, shrugging his shoulders…
We live in a world of dichotomies. There is a universal law called the law of polarity, which states that everything can be separated into two wholly opposite parts, each of these parts contains the potentiality of the other. This basically means that you cannot have up without down, black without white, fast without slow, kindness without cruelty, health without sickness etc etc. It also means that for every ‘negative’ there is a positive, just as for every positive there is a negative.
Striving for a one sided life (only positives without negatives) is naïve and does not serve you. Since seeing only one side (something as either positive or negative) means that you are blinded to the other. This robs us of the lessons that are often inherent in the challenges we face. It also exaggerates the disappointment experienced when circumstance fails to meet your expectations.
Striving for a one sided life is an impossibility and only sets you up for an emotional rollercoaster ride. Learning to maintain a balanced perspective (by seeing both sides) can dramatically improve your quality of life and allows you to be less attached to results and circumstances, but instead be aware of lessons and opportunities for personal growth, which will only ever serve to improve your self-concept.
The lesson this young athlete learned was that to succeed at the elite level in his sport he needed to learn how to listen to his body and become more aware of how it responded to different training volumes, modes and intensities. He is now what I call a very ‘smart’ athlete, since he is acutely aware of when to push his body and when to back off when training.
Having a balanced outlook allowed him to create meaning from the experience (since he now has an acute awareness of his body which may yet prove to add years to his career) and meant that in the end he did not experience the same level of frustration as those around him while also learning to appreciate and value his career from a new perspective.
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.
Now I am determined to do something about this situation and hopefully my next challenge for you guys will shed some light on how to become a ‘superhero’ and move toward living the life you always dreamed about if you are not already doing so. So If you are interested in being a superhero, follow these three steps to find your passion and then start moving toward it!
1. Find out what your highest values are (read this post) to learn how to do this
2. Write down EVERY skillset you have ever learned from any person or job, then identify the skills you enjoy most and are best at using.
3. Answer the following questions:
A: What would you do each day if you knew you only had five years left to live OR won 5 million dollars?
B: How can you get paid to do the things you identified in the question above?
The last question might seem quite difficult to answer at first, however cross reference your answer from A with all of the skills and knowledge you have ever learned and most enjoy applying as well as your highest value and you should find that your brain begins to cough and splutter and eventually ideas, schemes and plans will come flowing out after completing this exercise.
I want to offer a reward for anyone who wants to take up this challenge and is willing to take the time to write to me. I will offer my personal assistance to one person who has signed up to this blog as a user and emails me at email@example.com detailing their situation and their reasons for wanting to pursue a new direction in life.
Hope to hear from you guys soon