Few athletes are overjoyed at the thought of conditioning. It’s tough. It’s demanding. It causes pain. But everyone has to do it.
Conditioning is crucial to success in every sport. The best technique and the most ability won’t help you win if you are too tired to use them. Most everyone realizes this so I don’t plan to spend any more time on the obvious. To be a champion, get in great physical condition.
And now, let’s cover a generally- avoided aspect of conditioning: dread. Most athletes, even excellent ones, even champions, have a certain distaste for conditioning. Sometimes the distaste is more than that; it’s fear, hate, boredom, dread.
Regardless of what it is for you, don’t worry about it. Don’t conclude that you are not a real champion just because you don’t love the idea of running sprints up and down a field in the hot summer sun. If athletes’ minds could be read in the midst of particularly difficult conditioning sessions, people might be shocked at how many were entertaining the idea of quitting the team.
“Is this worth it?”
“Do I really want to do this?”
“Why don’t I just walk back to the shower room and turn in my gear?”
“This must cause me more pain than it causes the others.”
It’s a good thing athletes are too tired to talk to each other during especially difficult conditioning sessions. If they did, the whole team would just mutiny occasionally, just walk off the field and tell the coach to shove it. I make this clear because I think athletes ought to feel comfortable with their hates, dreads, and fears. Hating conditioning doesn’t make you a loser, it merely makes you just like almost every other athlete who ever strove for perfection.
So now what?
There are some things you can do to minimize the pain, and there are some other realizations that may at least give you a different perspective as you struggle to prepare.
First, start sooner. Too many athletes let themselves get too far out of shape. Then when the first day of official practice begins the physical demands are pure hell. With some better planning and some advance conditioning on your own, the demands won’t seem so great. In other words, even a lazy athlete can benefit from planning and considering the big picture.
Why put yourself through hell? Start in advance. Work up to your ideal weight and endurance level little by little. It will take more time but it will be less painful.
Second, consider the purpose of conditioning. Some of you may increase your hatred of conditioning because the whole time you’re out of breath, sore, aching, and feeling terrible physically, you’re thinking the pain is unnecessary.
Perhaps your season is months away. Why go so crazy so soon? Hasn’t your coach ever heard of pacing? If you let yourself get angry or disgusted, or if you lose respect for your coach, the physical effort becomes much more difficult.
Have you considered the fact that conditioning may have a purpose other than just getting you in shape to perform? It does. One of the best uses of “physical punishment” (no use continuing with this conditioning charade) is for team building.
Many coaches realize that forcing you and your teammates to share pain will enable you to get closer as a team. Shared pain, like it or not, is an effective glue for building team cohesion.
You may be aware of the lifelong friendships that develop between soldiers who have been in a war together. That is the ultimate shared pain; physical deprivation and fear for your life.
These experiences overcome every sort of family or racial barrier, and unite people who normally would have many differences.
In the same way, a team may include many athletes who are jealous of each other, competitive (of course), and irritated with each other’s habits and idiosyncrasies. Athletes who must be together under intense circumstances and over a long period of time have abundant opportunities to dislike each other and engage in petty squabbles. But let them share pain together (or put them through hell, as a coach might say) and they are likely to emerge as friends. The pettiness will disappear, the jealousies will vanish. Not always, but most of the time.
THINK THE GAME
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Show me a team racked with petty jealousies and usually I’ll show you a team that isn’t working hard enough. The average athlete typically sees conditioning from a strictly personal point of view, or from a strictly physical point of view, never guessing that a coach may be sitting in a coaches’ clinic hearing a lecture on how to promote team spirit through rigorous conditioning.
If you were aware of these kinds of things coaches think about, you would likely put aside your own petty complaints and focus on the job at hand. Few athletes are overjoyed at the thought of conditioning. It’s tough. It’s demanding. It causes pain. But everyone has to do it. You can spend your time more wisely by trying to think up ways of making it more tolerable.
Concentrate on details. Envision results. Try to put your mind on other things. Focus on others. Observe things going on around you. Recall a poem. (Yes, right during the toughest part of conditioning practice.)
There is no magic I know of. You try things. You keep trying things. What works today probably won’t work tomorrow. Just stay mentally active. Good conditioning pays off. Whatever you have to do to get through it, do it. At some point later you’ll be happy you did (if for no other reason, just for the pride of knowing you did it).
If you ever come across a bestseller promising great physical condition without any effort, don’t buy it. It’s a hoax. There is no easy way. But there are better ways than others. Find your own ways. Millions of athletes would like to know. In the meantime, relax in the knowledge that all athletes are in this together. We all go through the pain of conditioning. It’s the main reason we deserve the respect of people who just sit all day in hammocks and drink Kool-Aid.
—Excerpted from the book, “Think the Game”
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