Category Archives: Note from Tim

The BS Of “Healthy Eating”

I hear this over and over from athletes of all levels, from the pros to the playground:

“I can’t lose weight.”

You can’t, or you won’t?

It usually goes like this:

About a month before training camp, a player comes into my office, slumps down into a chair, shakes his head in frustration and says, “I can’t drop this weight.”

No kidding. He’s easily 30 lbs from where he needs to be.

“I don’t get it,” he continues. “I’m working out every day, no drinking, eating healthy…”

Stop. The magic words: Eating healthy.

Tell me what you’re eating.

“Oh, you know, HEALTHY. Start my day with a huge smoothie…”

Here we go. What’s in the smoothie?

“Healthy stuff,” he says proudly. “Orange juice, pineapple, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, granola, yogurt…very healthy.”

Got it. Good news: If you’re consuming that much sugar every morning, be grateful you’re only 30 pounds overweight. It could be a lot worse, and probably will be, because there are more sugars in that smoothie than the average person should consume in an entire day.

What’s he burning for energy all day? The sugar. What stays on his body, safe and secure? The fat.

That, my friends, is the business—or maybe the b.s.—of “healthy eating.”

We’ve been so conditioned to focus on calories and fat that we overlook the greatest nutritional poison: sugar. And it’s hiding in plain view, in countless foods and beverages that are “good for you.”

Fruit juices. Smoothies. Wraps. Trail mix. Diet sodas. They sound so good. So “healthy.” Until you realize you’re gaining weight and you have no idea why. The ads talk about “healthy alternatives,” but what’s the alternative of healthy? Unhealthy?

​I like when they slap the “Fat Free!” label on lollipops and other candy that are pure sugar. Fat free? So is a bag of nails, doesn’t mean you should eat it.

Or the “all natural” nutrition bars that use honey as a sweetener. Yep, honey is “all natural.” So are the empty calories it pours into your body. Just because the label says “antioxidants” doesn’t mean you’re getting healthier when you factor in the sugar content and carbohydrates.

How about when you order a sandwich, and they ask you, “White or wheat?” Translation: You want bread or bread? If the brown stuff is wheat, what’s the white stuff?  That’s right, it’s wheat. Bread is made from wheat. It can be colored brown or bleached white, but unless the label says “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” you’re getting plain ol’ white bread dressed up in a “healthy” costume.

Here’s my new favorite: “Weight Control” oatmeal.  When I have a player on an ultra-low carb diet, I’ll allow him to have a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, so he gets some of the complex carbs he’ll need for energy. I’m talking about plain, unsweetened, unadorned oatmeal … no milk, cream, brown sugar, maple sugar, raisins, fruit. Nothing that turns it into a cupcake. Plain. I’ll give you a couple ways to add taste—a little unsweetened cinnamon, for example—but that’s it. If you do it right, it tastes like plain whole wheat bread.

​But be careful when choosing your oatmeal. It doesn’t have to be some fancy brand with special secret oats harvested by elves on a mystical mountainside. I used to tell my guys to just look for the guy in the hat, plain Quaker oatmeal like Grandma used to make. Easy, right? How can you mess up plain oatmeal?

Here’s how: the guy in the hat now sells “Weight Control” oatmeal. “To Help With Your Weight Management Plan,” it says on the label. The box includes packets of all the fancy flavors … Maple & Brown Sugar, Banana Bread, Cinnamon. Weight control? Each packet has more calories and carbs than the Original oatmeal right next to it on the shelf. They’ve added a couple grams of protein, and now it’s healthy? No, it’s cake.

Look, it’s not just about losing weight. You know what happens to your performance when you’re consuming high levels of sugar? Your insulin spikes. Insulin causes inflammation. Any time you increase inflammation, you have a decrease of power output. Now you’re less explosive, and less healthy. I bet your nutritionist or trainer never told you that.

Take the time to understand what you’re putting into your body. What you put in is just as important as what you take out.

You might believe pro athletes have this under control. Not necessarily true; it’s a learning process, especially for the young players who rarely realize how much sugar they consume. If you grew up on soda and candy and fast food, that’s all your body knows; you have no idea how good you’d feel or how much better you’d play without all that sugar in your system. And once you’ve developed those eating habits, they’re extremely hard to break … especially when it’s time to drop some weight.

For a lot of folks, fast food is easy, grilled chicken breast is not. I give my athletes what I call The List: a yes/no inventory of foods they can eat, and those they can’t. Here are your options, here’s what you’re giving up. No sugar, no dairy, no fruit, no breads, no alcohol. No junk. Three weeks. Proven results. Very simple, because I want my guys focused on practice and games, not counting almonds and weighing boiled meat. The weight of the game is enough pressure.

The first thing everyone says when they see The List: No fruit? Fruit is healthy! Agreed, orange juice and pineapple are loaded with Vitamin C. Very healthy. Tomatoes and carrots are also packed with essential nutrients. Also very healthy. But they’re also extremely high in sugars, and if you’re trying to drop weight, you have to drop the sugar. A low carb diet only works if you actually cut the carbs. When your body needs fuel, it searches for sugar. If it can’t find any, it burns fat. What’s going to make you healthier: orange juice and carrots, or dropping twenty pounds by eliminating them for a while?

The second thing everyone says: No problem, I got this. Until they realize how it feels to go through sugar withdrawal, because The List wrings every gram of sugar out of the body. Total reset. You’re going to feel and perform so much better, but for the short term, you’ve never felt worse. Fatigue, irritability, confusion. You get a crazy headache behind one eye. You’ll get hot, you’ll get cold, you’ll want to throw up. You’ll shake like a heroin addict going through withdrawal because, guess what—you are.

You don’t have to enjoy it. You just have to crave the end result more than you crave the donuts.

For pro athletes, going through an intense weight loss program like The List is a lot easier during the off-season than during the season; their schedule is more relaxed, they’re not living on hotel and airplane food, they’re sleeping better, they’re not eating around a game schedule. They’re home with the family so there are fewer late nights of eating and drinking. And for the older guys, they’re not around the younger players who walk in with the fast food bags and donuts every day.

The real test, of course, comes when the season starts and old habits kick in. I don’t care how a guy looks on opening night, I want to see how he’s doing 20 games into the season. Body fat, performance, energy, it’s a lot easier when nothing is on the line. Two months into the season, it’s a different challenge. Because, as most of us know, as hard as it is to take the weight off, it’s much harder to keep it off.

You would assume that teams are committed to serving “healthy” food to players. But that’s not always easy, because teams are often feeding players who don’t understand how to eat that way; you serve them steamed fish and vegetables, they’re going right out to look for the closest drive-thru. And because it’s better to get the guys fed than to let them survive on Peanut M&Ms, the teams will serve what they’ll eat, alongside what they should eat.

You’ll also see weight gain for players on losing teams, or for guys who aren’t playing well. No question, losing has an impact upon your psychological and emotional state. What’s the first thing people do when they’re feeling down? They reach for comfort foods or they drink, or both. It’s a tough cycle: Drink and eat poorly because you played poorly, then play worse because you drank and ate poorly. And then because you played poorly, you drink and … well, you get it. As soon as players realize their team is going nowhere, it becomes hard to maintain the discipline to stay on a diet.

It’s a constant battle between player, trainer, and team. I hear constantly from GMs or upper management, “We need him playing at this weight.” Well, this weight might not be the best weight for his performance level, maybe he plays better at that weight. Look, if a team wants a player to open the season at 235, I’ll bring him in at 232. But once the season starts, I don’t want him starving himself for weigh-ins, which ultimately affects his performance, and then causes his weight to fluctuate even more. He’s the one who has to walk on the court and feel good in his body.

Bottom line, whether you’re a pro or just working to improve your health: Control your eating, or it will control you. And please: don’t tell me you can eat anything you want and still perform at your best. If you’re eating junk and playing well, think about how much better you’d be playing on a good diet. A race car drives just fine on regular fuel, but give it something special and it performs better than ever.

Are you a Cooler, Closer, or Cleaner?

If you read my book RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, you already know I categorize everyone into one of three categories: Coolers, Closers, and Cleaners.

In my work with elite athletes, I have to know whom I’m dealing with, their mental strengths and weaknesses, how far I can push them, how far they’re willing to go. One day during the off-season I looked around my gym at a dozen All-Stars and another dozen potential All-Stars, all playing in our NBA-caliber summer pickup games. Every player there was considered “great,” yet each performed at a different level with different motivations and limitations. Some were willing to go full strength, others were content to just play a little summer ball. And that’s fine with me, but I pay close attention to the subtle differences that show me how serious someone is about getting ahead of everyone else. Let’s face it: At the highest level of success in any area, everyone has reached some degree of outstanding achievement, so we’re talking about shades of greatness. But if you want to be the very best of the best, it’s the details that make the difference.

So just for my own thinking, I devised a three-tiered system categorizing different types of competitors:

Coolers, Closers, and Cleaners.
Good, Great, and Unstoppable.

You can apply these standards to any group of individuals; just look around your team, your office, your friends, your family. Everyone has a different definition of personal success. Some people allow life’s circumstances to decide for them, others decide what they want and say “good enough” when they get it. And then there are a select few who can’t even define success because they keep raising the bar on what that means. Coolers, Closers, Cleaners.

I talked about this in my recent interview with Inside Quest ; here’s a short excerpt, and of course you can read more in RELENTLESS.

Five Things a Real Competitor Never Says

It’s only one game.

It’s only the preseason.

It’s only practice.

It’s only a mistake.

It’s only an idea.

That small word–‘only’–changes everything. Same for the word ‘just’: It was just one donut, just one missed workout, just one drink. It’s just a job. To me it all translates into: This isn’t that important, and don’t hold me accountable if things don’t go right.

You want to see the difference that one word makes? Take out the ‘only’ or the ‘just’ and say again:

It’s one game. You’re not getting it back. It mattered.

It’s the preseason. The work you do now determines whether you’ll have a postseason.

It’s practice. If you can’t do it here, you won’t do it in a game.

It’s a mistake. Do the work to make sure you don’t repeat it.

It’s an idea. Everything starts with an idea. Don’t be afraid to develop and try new concepts.

I’ll give you a few more:

Good enough rarely is.

It’s fine.’ Two meanings:

  • When you hear this from your coach or boss, pay attention: It means “Thanks, I’ll get someone else to do it right.”

  • When you hear it from a teammate, pay attention: It means he can’t or won’t do better.

And my favorite:

Whatever.” I don’t really know what this means, but I hear it a lot from people who want to stop a conversation because they’re afraid to hear the truth.

Believe me, this isn’t a grammar lesson…it’s a mental toughness lesson. As soon as you minimize the importance of something, you minimize your chances of success.

How many things in your life would be different if you “only” studied harder or if they “just” gave you one more chance, if the effort you put in was great instead of “good enough,” or instead of saying “whatever” you went out and fixed whatever needed fixing.

Here’s where those words work: You have “just” one life, and “only” you can live it. It is “whatever” you make of it. Is that “good enough” for you? Are you “fine” with that?

The Most Common Injury in Sports

I wrote about this a year ago, during an epidemic of NBA ankle sprains. Now, only one week into the NFL season, we’ve already seen double-digit lower leg injuries—calves, ankles, Achilles tendons, I’m not even including knees and feet here—that will cost big players some big time.

Let’s be honest, very few people go into the gym determined to develop really great ankles. Shoulders, back, chest, legs…the glamour muscles get all the work. Ankles are buried in shoes and socks, they don’t show. No one watches the game thinking, “Man, I gotta get some ankles like that.”

When do you notice an ankle?

When it’s injured.

Fact: Lower leg injuries are often preventable with the right training, predictable with the wrong training. I can’t accept a basic athletic injury written off as “one of those things.” One of what things? Something caused that injury, and it’s up to each individual athlete to do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

MJ1 I originally designed the ATTACK PPT Band & Training Program for MJ, as a regular part of his workouts. 20 minutes twice a week can save your legs and your season.

If you’re an athlete in any sport and your program doesn’t include exercises for your ankles and Achilles tendons, it’s not a complete program. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, how high you jump, how fast you run…if you’re injured, you’re not available to play. And the #1 responsibility of any athlete is to be available to play. There’s no NFL Combine score for ankles or Achilles, but when they’re injured, you get an automatic 2-4….meaning the number of games a sprain could cost you, if you’re lucky. You could miss more.

The stronger your lower legs, the more explosive you’ll be in all directions. Laterally, forward, backward, vertical, stop and go. Think of yourself as a racecar: Your hips, glutes, and thighs are your horsepower, your ankles are the tires. In the middle of a race the pit crew doesn’t change the engine, they change the tires so the car can keep performing. Weak tires, weak race.

 

ARE YOU AT RISK?

The most common injury for any athlete is an ankle injury. Here’s why:

• Too many athletes and trainers believe skill work equals physical conditioning. Completely false. You can have the best skills in the game, but still have physical weakness that only reveals itself when it’s too late…you’re already injured. Talent isn’t enough.

• If you’ve ever been injured, your rehab should never end; once the chain is damaged, it’s damaged. How many times do you see an athlete injure the same area over and over and over, even on the other side? It’s no coincidence. It’s like putting together a car after an accident; the body looks good, but if you really look under the hood you know something happened. So your rehab must continue, becoming part of your lifelong commitment to staying healthy. Without it, your risk of another injury skyrockets.

• If you were taught to work your ankles and Achilles by doing a few one-legged balance movements, you need a new program. These exercises usually work every part of the body except the ankles and Achilles, because of all the other muscle engagement necessary to hold your balance. Unless you know the science of creating an effective tripod with your foot, you’re getting an ineffective workout. Standing on one foot usually causes you to shift your weight to one side of that foot, so only half your muscles are engaged. An effective exercises forces you to use all the muscles without cheating to one side. The slightest deviation in form can make all the difference.

• Ankle and Achilles injuries don’t happen when your foot is in one stable position, they occur when the foot is bent at an irregular angle. If your foot is never worked against resistance in that position, it won’t be strong enough to prevent injury when it’s forced to move that way. Difficult to do without the right program and equipment. You have to challenge the muscles and joints in a way that simulates the movements that can cause injury.

• Ankle braces are supposed to prevent sprains, but they can actually do just the opposite. What happens when you brace something? You’re giving added support from an outside source. Well, when the body gets something from an outside source, it stops doing what it’s supposed to do naturally. So instead of the ankle protecting itself, it relies on the brace, gradually becomes weaker, and ultimately weakens the entire chain up the body. End result: Increased risk of other lower body injuries. Think of it this way: If a doctor gives you crutches or a cane for an injury, you don’t use them forever, right? You use them until you don’t need them, and then you do it on your own. Same philosophy for the ankle brace. Use it while you’re healing, then get rid of it.

 

HOW A RUBBER BAND CAN SAVE YOUR SEASON

Your lower leg is a complex system of muscles, tendons, and ligaments; it’s extremely difficult to target each one effectively without the right program and exercises. For my athletes, I incorporate the ATTACK PPT Band & Training System into their workouts at least twice a week, using exercises designed specifically to reach those smaller hard-to-train muscles and keep the ankles strong and flexible. The PPT Band targets the Achilles and muscles surrounding the ankle that are most effectively trained when you can create resistance while lengthening the muscle (eccentric resistance) and vary the tempo of the contraction. I’ve seen athletes work on Bosu balls, train in sand, use a balance board–anything that creates an unstable environment and forces all the lower leg muscles to engage—but I’ve never found anything as effective as the ATTACK PPT Band & Training System.

PPT Collage

I frequently use the PPT (Peroneus Prehabilitative Tensile) Band as part of the warm-up so it doesn’t add more time to the overall workout; if you usually do a 20 minute warm-up (which is really too long) I’d rather see you spend half of that time on your ankles. Extremely effective in preventing injury, and shortening recovery time in case of injury.

Believe me, I know it’s a lot easier to work on big muscles that show obvious results…much harder to focus on little muscles that hide in your socks. But here’s the bottom line: Athletes who concentrate on those small details get the biggest results. Do the work now in your training, so you don’t have to do it later in physical therapy. Prehab before you rehab.

The PHDs: Be Careful Who You Trust

“Fall guys?” Here’s my definition: The guys who cause your career to fall. For every star athlete, they are a reality; I call them the PHDs. Why? I wrote about this in my book RELENTLESS

————————————————————————————————————–

Some years ago I worked with a star athlete who had one of the most legendary entourages in the history of bottle service. A solid entourage is a thing to behold.

Basically you have a bunch of unskilled, untrained, generally inexperienced losers from the old neighborhood or some other unknown origin, guys who showed up to a party and never left, all swarming around hoping for a stray groupie or a free drink. Then those losers bring around other losers, just to show they know how to party for free. Always free, because none of these bums have a dime in their pockets.

The entourage usually stays away from me, because I never hesitate to say: “Explain to me why you’re hanging around here for the next three hours while we’re working out. Go read a book, get the car washed, pick up the cleaning…just get out of here, you serve no purpose.”

And technically, I guess that’s false, because they actually serve two purposes: 1) telling a superstar how great he is and 2) filling the role of PHDs—Professional Holders of Dicks.

One day I’m going to make PHD T-shirts, congratulate these guys on their accomplishment, and hand them out; those guys will wear anything they get for free.

When your rent, car, meals, drinks, and entertainment are completely paid for by a “friend” who happens to be an athlete, when you can’t do what he does to earn all that money, you have one real responsibility: Do everything in your power to protect him, his name, and his success….because without his success, there is no you.

What happened to the superstar I mentioned earlier? He got hurt, needed surgery, spent a few months rehabbing…and his entire crew slithered off into the night to search for someone new to bankroll the party. One day he’s surrounded by an entourage of grateful dick holders, the next day he’s just got me and an ice bath. No posse, no one kissing his ass, no one to tell him he’s the man.

When you’re the one everyone else leans on for financial support, social support, emotional support, and every other kind of support, you already know that when people say, “It’s lonely at the top,” they’re talking about you.

Who do you trust? Anyone? No one? Tough question, because no matter who you are, part of success means recognizing the people who can help you get where you want to go, putting all the best pieces in place. You have to surround yourself with people who can operate at your level of demanding excellence. You can’t be unstoppable, or even great, if you can’t do that.

Athletes are surrounded by an endless parade of experts on everything; they have coaches, trainers, doctors, agents, advisers, wives, parents, and, yes, the dick holders. Everyone has an opinion. Know what you know, and what you don’t know. Most of the time when we ask for advice, we don’t want the truth. We want the answer we’re seeking. Be open to advice that goes against what you want.

Surround yourself with those who want you to succeed, who recognize what it takes to be successful. People who don’t pursue their own dreams probably won’t encourage you to pursue yours; they’ll tell you every negative thing they tell themselves.

Attaining excellence means seeking and accepting the truth, and adapting as necessary, not just settling for the convenient, easy route.  –TG

Confidence is silent. Don’t say it if you can’t back it up.

When you tell everyone you’re the best, just be prepared: That statement comes with consequences.

Because even if you only said it to kick yourself in the ass and elevate your own game, you definitely just elevated your opponent’s game. So you’d better be able to take your performance to the next level, because if you don’t, your opponent is going to have the greatest game of his career. And he’s taking the rest of his team with him.

You just took the target off your back and slapped it right on the front.

There’s a difference between effective confidence and mindless trash talk. Every time I talk about this, someone points out that MJ was the greatest trash talker of all time (which he would dispute, pointing out Larry Bird deserved that honor). But they both knew their legendary trash talk wasn’t meant for the other guy; it was another way for them to heighten the pressure they put on themselves. Because once you’ve told others how bad you’re about to mess them up, you’re gonna have to deliver on that promise.

And they always did. Few athletes can consistently do the same.

I understand the need to show public confidence, especially when you’re the guy everyone else is looking to for leadership. But the greats don’t have to say it out loud; they show it with results. Watch the top NFL quarterbacks: You will not hear Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning or Tom Brady brag about superiority…they’ll just play and give others credit, and let you decide for yourself. Do they believe they’re the best? Absolutely. But they say it to themselves, not to you. And when they no longer believe it, they know it’s time to go.

When you back yourself into a corner, it’s usually because of something you promised and didn’t deliver. Control what you say and how you say it. Because if you don’t, the other guy is waiting to prove you wrong.

Confidence is silent. Let your end result do the talking, and if you have to talk, let it lead to your end result. –TG

 

Is your trainer getting you results, or just getting you tired?

You know this image: Star athlete works out in front of the cameras, trainer sends it all over social media so you get to see 15 seconds of video and some photos showing him training like a psycho beast. You don’t know what he did the rest of the time, but for those few moment, it’s a great show.

You know why there are so few photos of MJ training in the gym?

Because when you know you can show the results, you don’t have to show the work.

Contrary to what most people believe, total exhaustion is not the ultimate goal of effective training; there’s a huge difference between an exhausting workout and an effective workout. An exhausting workout pushes you to failure. What happens when you work to failure? No speed, no strength, no explosiveness, no form…and no results. Failure in every way. Probably not what you intended.

Anyone can run your ass into the ground; it takes a smart coach or trainer to be sure you’re really accomplishing something. A trainer who is obsessed with pushing you to your physical limits every single minute is missing the most important point: Exhaustion is not the ultimate goal. Results are.

When someone tells me he worked out so hard he puked—and thinks I’ll be impressed—all I can think is, Was that your goal? To get sick? That’s not effective training. Even after you clean yourself up and get back to work, you know you’re not going to be able to give your maximum effort. You sabotaged your workout by forcing your body to train inefficiently.

Although I have to admit, it’s a great way to show a lazy athlete how out of shape he really is.

An effective workout trains and teaches the body and mind to consistently perform at a high level both physically and mentally. Effective training combines speed, strength, and explosiveness all at once, all three working together in full force, over and over, not just for one short burst of glory. Example: If your coaches make you do wind sprints to get in shape, what’s the end result? You might get some initial benefit, but after a while without time for recovery, are you still improving? More likely you’re just getting worn out, severely limiting your ability to improve in other areas. Exhausting yes, effective no.

Look, I have no problem with trainers trying to take an athlete where he or she hasn’t gone before…as long as it’s based on knowledge of the athlete’s body and evidence that the athlete can benefit. But too often, the sole purpose is to outdo the other trainers, and show some trendy new technique that benefits no one but the trainer’s Instagram.

So how do you know if you’re getting an effective workout?

  • The intensity level varies every 2-3 workouts

  • It’s okay to feel soreness at first when you’re trying something new. If that soreness turns into pain over a period of time, something is not right.

  • Beware of a workout that emphasizes speed OR strength OR explosiveness; those three components of athletic performance must work together and be trained together. If you just focus on speed training, you’ll get faster, but if you move on to strength training and stop speed training, the speed regresses. A good program allows you to train for all three at once.

  • And the obvious: Improvement. Does the workout translate into better performance and success for your specific sport or activity?

Bottom line: a great trainer won’t just push you to do more…he or she will teach you to push yourself. Crave the results, and the effort becomes effortless.

–TG

GET ON MY LEVEL…or get out of my way.

There’s no such thing as a meaningless game. Doesn’t matter if it’s the first preseason event or a midseason All-Star Game or the last game in a losing season, a champion shows up to play.

I told this story in my book RELENTLESS, because it’s the perfect example of how the greats compete:

During the 2012 All-Star Game, things got a little intense: Dwyane fouled Kobe, gave him a concussion, and broke his nose. Even for a regular-season game that would have been a lot of damage, but this was the All-Star Game, and a lot of people thought Dwyane was out of line.

That’s a Cleaner. He sees a situation, his killer instinct kicks in, and he attacks. I own this. This is what I do. No hard feelings.

But this story is about two Cleaners, and after the game, there was Kobe, surrounded by an army of doctors and league officials and team personnel trying to examine him and get him to the hospital. He can barely move, nose busted, head ringing, and he’s refusing to go. Why? He wanted to see Dwyane and address the situation.

Eventually we got him to leave, Dwyane apologized the next day, Kobe refused to miss a game, and the story faded away. No hard feelings.

That’s how Cleaners compete. They dish it out, they take it, and they make sure everyone else does too.

But not everyone can take it. I have this theory, yet to be disproven, that most players 6’10” or over cannot handle harsh, confrontational criticism. With someone 6’9″ or under, you can get in his face and just blast him. But any taller, he’ll just lose it and go right into a shell. I think it comes from a lifetime of being stared at and gawked at for being so much bigger than the rest of the population, people pointing and making height jokes, so the tall guys become more sensitive and self-conscious. They’re just emotional softies. They can be complete killers in competition, but they’re also the guys you have to pat on the back, boost their confidence, and make them feel good about what they’re doing. The little guys? You can call them every name imaginable and they keep right on going.

I bring this up to give you an example of how different people respond to competitive smackdowns.

This was back during one of the Bulls’ championship runs, and Scottie Pippen was trying to get Luc Longley fired up during the Finals. All the players were together before the game, and Scottie was talking to Luc, who stands 7’2″.

“Need you to bring your A game,” said Scottie.

And before Luc could respond or even nod, Michael whipped around in front of everyone and said, “Bring your A game? Bring a game.”

Luc was done. I don’t think he scored once. Confidence shot. Goodnight.

Michael didn’t know—or didn’t care to know—how to psychologically deal with teammates. For all his countless gifts as a player, sensitivity to others was not among them. He was driven to attack, dominate, and conquer in every way. Whatever he had to do, he did it, and he expected the same from every individual around him.

Get on my level, or get the hell out of my way.

This is at the core of my message to sports and business groups alike: In anything that requires teamwork, when you’re the guy at the top, it’s on you to pull everyone else up there with you, or everything you’ve built comes crashing down. Not so easy for someone who demands excellence of himself and has no tolerance for those who can’t or won’t rise to that level. Does he dumb himself down so he can fit in, slap people on the back, tell them they’re great, and hope everyone can rise together? Or does he stand up there alone, set the example, and make everyone else work harder?

The answer seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t want to stand alone under the glare of the spotlight, because as soon as you reveal what you’re capable of, that’s what everyone will expect of you. But when no one realizes how good you are, you don’t have to be the guy making miracles and running the show, no one will expect much, and everything you do will seem heroic.

Easier that way.

Easier, that is, if you’re okay being average.

A lot of gifted people will lower their skills to close the gap between themselves and those around them, so others can feel more confident, involved, and relatively competitive. I’ve seen Kobe do that briefly when he has to, as a way to bring his teammates into the action and keep them engaged. It’s a conscious decision to make the other guys feel as if they were one team, not one superstar surrounded by a second-rate supporting cast.

Michael went the other way and came right out and said it: that’s my supporting cast.

His message was clear and unrelenting: Hey, I’m not bringing my game down so you can look better; you bring your game up so you can look better. He refused to put his own game in the backseat just to give other guys more action, unless you proved to him you could handle the responsibility.

During a game, Michael would assess who was and wasn’t giving 100 percent and make his own adjustments. He never showed frustration on the court; his body language and demeanor never changed. He’d just say, “You’re not playing tonight? That’s fine, I’ll play for all five of us. You keep it close into the fourth quarter, I’ll do the rest.” And he’d do it in a way that uplifted everyone else, as if that were the game plan all along.

It’s far more typical for stars to get aggravated and emotional when their teammates don’t show up, and then everyone falls apart because all that emotional energy is completely destructive.

But Michael never showed it inside the lines during a game. He always stayed positive, always had fun out there. After the game he was like Genghis Khan: he’d go after your balls and your head and everything in between. But during the game, while he was in that Zone, it was all about taking control, staying cool, and getting that end result.

It’s Not Weak to Take a Day Off–It’s Necessary

It’s not a weakness to recognize your body’s need to recover, it’s a weakness to be so addicted to training and so scared to miss a day that your body can’t keep up with your obsession. A car will go farther on a full tank than on fumes; so will you.  Active rest and recovery days will fill your tank, and allow you to go faster and farther the next day.

Notice I said ACTIVE rest and recovery. That doesn’t mean lying in bed watching TV all day; it means staying active and allowing your body to enjoy the effects of all the strength and conditioning work you’ve been doing. When I say rest, I mean no weights and no intense training; stay away from the areas you’ve been working all week. Do a stretch routine, use foam rollers on the areas that are sore and tender, take an ice bath, just mess around or play your sport.

An exception to the “no lying around watching TV” rule: for one rest day per week, shut it down completely. Take a mental break, a day you don’t have to think about training or playing or whatever else you usually have to do on the other six days. You will have earned it.

I want you to take that break. It’s not an option, it’s a necessity. Rest and recovery are an essential part of your training and conditioning; you can’t give maximum effort or get maximum results with tired, fatigued muscles. It’s not a sign of mental or physical weakness to take days off so your body can heal; I would never allow my clients to work every day without scheduled rest days. Rest is part of your training; it allows your body to recover and adapt so you can keep going and get stronger. Relentless training means smart training.

I’m not talking about taking a rest day because you woke up late or you were feeling slow so you decided to blow off your workout; that’s not a rest day, that’s just laziness. I’m talking about planned rest days that are built into your schedule, so you know in advance you won’t be working out. Effective training doesn’t happen by accident; you have to structure your workouts with careful intention. All my workouts–including Jump Attack, which I adapt for all my clients–include carefully planned rest days. Stick to the schedule and you won’t have to think about it.

And if you’re one of those people who never takes a day off and you’re happy with how you’re performing, imagine how much better you’d perform if your body was fully rested and working at 90 to 100 percent capacity instead of maybe 60 to 70 percent. If you’re never resting, you’re never able to give your best.

Your rest days also give you a mental recharge, a little time to get your mind away from training and the hard work still ahead of you. Even the pros have to take time away from the daily grind, to clear their heads and blow off some steam. When Michael was getting ready for the season, he shut down everything else except his workouts and golf; the golf was to give his mind that mental break so everything wasn’t about the workouts. Other guys spend time with their kids and families, manage their business relationships, work on their charities, just something that isn’t all about training and athletics. Even if you’re completely focused on your sport, you have to think about something else occasionally or you’ll go nuts. You can’t be strong from the neck down if you’re not strong from the neck up, so take the time to clear your head and refocus.