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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Remembering Coach John Wooden

The sports world lost a great man last week with the passing of Coach John Wooden. Arguably, no coach has left a more indelible mark in the sports world. As someone born after the UCLA men’s basketball dynasty, I never had the opportunity to watch his teams in action. Although he certainly possessed a great basketball mind in terms of Xs and Os, Coach Wooden was known mostly for his ability to lead and inspire his athletes. The legacy Coach Wooden left to my generation exists largely through his many one-lined pearls of wisdom. 

One such pearl caught my attention this week during a discussion about Coach Wooden’s legacy on the local sports talk show.
 
“Never confuse activity with achievement.”
 
Something that impedes progress for many athletes is when they equate basic measures of activity such as the expenditure of calories or “feelin’ the burn” as some kind of achievement. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong if those ARE your goals. However, if you at some point you choose to measure yourself against other competitors, against the stopwatch, or against par, activity alone just ain’t gonna cut it. If we don’t know what we are trying to achieve or understand the best way to go about it, we typically fall back on something obvious like sore muscles or a pile of sweat to comfort ourselves for our efforts. Achievement requires a deeper appreciation of the long term process to improve. To borrow more sage advice from Coach Wooden, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” 
 
If there is any way in which professionals differ from amateurs it is in the quality of their practice sessions. Let’s use golf as an example…go to any golf course (private, public, resort…doesn’t matter) and watch players on the driving range. Almost invariably, you’ll see a bunch of guys just wailin’ away with their drivers making sloppy swings. However, most of them will walk away from their range session proud of themselves for having made their monthly visit to the practice tee. Compare that to the practice habits of the pros. Watch Tiger on the range and you’ll think he doesn’t know how to hit the ball because the ball is always curving different directions. In reality, he’s rehearsing the shots that he’ll actually need on the golf course. Nick Faldo was renowned for the technical detail he applied to every shot under the supervision of his coach David LeadbetterSeve Ballesteros would simulate actual rounds on the practice tee, complete with several minute breaks in between shots just as he would have on the course. 
 
If you’re a golfer I’m not going to tell you what to work on (that’s between you and your golf instructor), but you better be working on something, whether it is result oriented (where the ball ends up in relation to the target) or process oriented (a specific technical aspect of the swing). Many amateurs will reply, “I’m just out there to have fun; I don’t want to take it too seriously.” Again, not a problem if you actually mean it (of course, you threw that club on the 16th hole out of sheer joy right?). Quite a different story if you are using that statement as an after-the-fact rationalization for poor practice habits.
 
In sum, maximizing your athletic ability requires daily choices. Are you satisfied with simply leaving a pile of sweat or will you commit yourself to excellence? Excellence won’t magically appear from that pile of sweat unless you send the appropriate physiological signals to the muscles that actually produced the sweat. 

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