Growing up in Kansas it was just known that hard work was expected. I had to look no further than my Dad — 6 am out the door for his first job, 10:30 pm in the door from his third.
My initiation into this world started on day 1 of athletics — tee ball to be exact. My Dad and I arrived early to practice, which I would later find out was never by chance. It was always “suggested” that I run the fence line before my teammates arrived — it would make me tough.
This event was repeated frequently, practice after practice, sport after sport, year after year. Of course this was a huge hit with my teammates and I was razzed every year.
Escape from this was hard to find. My grandpa who grew up a farmer during the dust bowl and a former athlete himself would take me out on the country roads and have me sprint telephone pole to telephone pole. In between while I caught my breath I’d hear ‘good ole’ stories of him as a boy doing the same, racing the farm’s work horse along the fence line and how he ran 10 seconds flat for the 100yd dash.
I loved running then, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that winning was my mistress. The combination of hard work, running, and my lust for a good win is no more apparent than my first elementary school cross country race in the 4th grade which I won. Though as I crossed the finish line I was simultaneously balling my eyes out. My parents rushed over and asked:
“Well why didn’t you slow down?”
“I wanted…to win”
Did I mention I love winning? This intrinsic and conditioned motivation was a blessing and a curse through much of my athletic career. I believed, as well as those close to me that more was always better — more miles, more intervals, more sprints equalled more wins. It was at this time, though short lived I felt invincible — as if I was Superman.
Yet, this approach lead me to two severe bouts of overtraining before I was 16, and pushed me to uncomfortably seek out a private coach to the chagrin of my high school coaches, but I knew I needed a coach that could hold me back rather than allow me to test the limits on a daily basis. I was fortunate to find such a coach.
Coach Torres taught me that a workout should have a purpose, be challenging but not hard, to listen to my body, value slowing down before speeding up, and to harness the inner Superman for moments when it counted, not everyday on the country roads where the only person to beat was myself.
Accessing Flow States
I believe all of us who are intrinsically motivated have felt like Superman. To get completely lost in the invincibility of our passion. To push ourselves towards the unbound imagination of greatness.
“No” simply will not suffice.
In fact, when we are in this Flow State feeling as if we are the “Man of Steel” himself, chaos seems to dissipate and all that remains is our laser focus towards the task.
A professor of psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has boiled down a list of 10 components of such States.
1. Clear goals: Expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities. Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
2. Concentration: A high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention.
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness: The merging of action and awareness.
4. Distorted sense of time: One’s subjective experience of time is altered.
5. Direct and immediate feedback: Successes and failures are apparent, so behavior can be adjusted as needed.
6. Balance between ability level and challenge: The activity is neither too easy nor too difficult.
7. A sense of personal control over the situation.
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so action is effortlessness.
9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs.
10. Absorption: narrowing of awareness down to the activity itself.
For an athlete you can’t ask for a better high. It is in this state that all great performances are born.
For a coach it’s the holy grail. Athletes willing to run through walls and if you have any sense about you — you will understand how to stoke the fire.
But the question remains for us coaches: Can you stoke the fire to burn too bright?
We believe that answer is a resounding YES.
Coaches can be an athletes Kryptonite. We have unfortunately seen this far too many times.
We work in an area of Austin known for their great football teams. We coach handfuls of athletes that go to various high schools and as private coaches we are bystanders to the ridiculous stories that are their strength and conditioning.
The damn thing is, the teams are still successful, which only feeds the blindness of the coaches. Too top it off every year athletes relocate to play for their teams, amassing an army of intrinsically motivated athletes. How could you lose?
But this is the machine. Coaches play to it. Friday Night Lights quotes fill the locker room, emotional tugs are directed towards “family” and the “band of brothers”.
This is nothing new — this has been on repeat for generations and you don’t have to widen your scope much to see this monetized in the fitness industry, where former athletes migrate to their newfound tribes and pseudo coaches preach health and fitness but don’t know what true Health is — even if a clean bill of it hit’em in the face.
In both cases the weapons of destruction used by these coaches are the athletes themselves.
They take the unbound imagination and exhaust it. They take the power of invincibility and with the help of father time turn it into weakness.
They see this as a mere playground — not a profession.
Killing the Superman within — their objective is complete, with the athlete alone picking up the pieces.