How can we train to finish well? To meet our goal, achieve success, and win the prize?
Yes, strength, speed, fitness and avoiding injury are all important along the way. But how do I know the way? How do I get from here (where I am dissatisfied with how I look, feel, perform) to there (where I am satisfied with how I look, feel, perform)? Not knowing how to chart this course often leaves us well short of our goal and frustrated with our efforts.
Part of our problem may be that we think and plan in forward-plodding chronological order. We may need to be more creative, like a golfing friend I know who approaches each hole by assessing it first in reverse – from green back toward the tee – to figure out how best to play it from tee to green.
This is brilliant! Why not imagine what you want to accomplish and then plan backwards? That way you know you’re headed the right direction and have a realistic picture of what it will take to get you there.
Of course, the golfer has a scorecard with the layout of the course, to help him do this. But the principle is simple: imagine ourselves standing behind our objective, whatever it is, and looking backwards to see how we’re going to get here? From there, the obstacles are put in better perspective and ways around them are more clear, perhaps because we know success is possible. It’s right in front of us!
- We take our directional cues from what’s around us rather than what’s inside us.
- We settle for aiming in a general vicinity rather than at a specific target that is closer and easier to hit.
- We see and fear the hazards and weather conditions we hadn’t anticipated.
- We default to force rather than finesse and take our eye off the ball.
- We rush and mis-hit.
- We wait and miss opportunity.
- We aim, rather than trust our bodies to do what we’ve practiced.
To keep us on track we need help from coaches, trainers, parents, friends, teammates and supporters who can help us stay on course to get there. If they have the birds eye view, it can be a straight shot (or perhaps many) to the finish.
We may begin at “Just have fun and play your best.” That’s terrific, and as long as we’re fine with fun as the ultimate outcome, that works. But when an athlete is serious about progressing through the ranks, it’s not a strategy we can act on. We would do well to have a more stringent plan.
To find a strategy that has achievement in mind, look no further than our school systems. Physical education teachers have detailed curricula for each grade level. There are standards or learning meant to be reached and benchmarks designed to produce achievement every step of the way. This is updated regularly by people who really care about kids. They want them to succeed, expect them to achieve, and measure their performance every step of the way. The purpose is not to select the “best” or weed out the “worst” but simply to be sure each child is getting the most from their efforts to reach their potential.
If we care about our kids’ success in sports, can we do any less? As a club, league or sports organization, do we have a curriculum in place? Standards of learning? Expectations spelled out? Standardized assessment? A process for promotion?
If we really care about developing our kids through soccer or any sport, just as we do in an academic setting, then the homepage of our club website should be very clear about its player development mission, and the steps to be taken to create an environment where this mission can be carried out. Are these things clearly set forth?
- The goals and benchmarks for each age group
- The process for promotion
- The opportunities for kids who progress at different rates
- The system of evaluation of an athlete’s progress
- The requirements of our coaches, parents and players.
- The system to evaluate a coach’s compliance and continuing education? a coaching director’s effectiveness?
And finally, we need to keep asking, do we have a fair, impartial and objective system to decide if what we are doing is working? The organization needs to decide what success looks like to them. They need to take a look from the finish line (or green) and see how close they are coming to it. If they have hooked it way left or landed in the sand or the water hazard, adjustment is in order.
If you have a child participating in sports who is dreaming of achieving, take a critical look at the foundation set forth on the club’s website. What does it say that the club sets out to do? Are they successful? How are they measuring success? If character development, community service and good sportsmanship are the stated objectives, is the programming set up to achieve those? If excellence, championship play, national and international exposure are stated objectives, are the steps to progress toward those clearly spelled out? They should be. After all, this is how you know which club to choose, right?
If the mission is not stated and the steps and time frame to evaluate progress and accomplishment are not in place, then misunderstanding and conflict are just around the bend. Out of bounds can’t be far away.
Do your kid, your family, your coach and your club a favor and take a careful look at the home page, mission statement, and club’s philosophy and system to see if the leadership has done their work by spelling it out. is it working? If it is, then you should be able to trust your child to it and allow them to set course to achieve their potential, effort by effort, clambering over every benchmark along the way.
Our job is simple: to be sure these benchmarks are aligned with the pin. It’s our kid’s job to hit the shot into the green. Then all we need to do is sit back and listen for the rattle of the ball in the cup and the roar of the crowd.
Success speaks best for itself.