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IF YOU’RE GOING TO DRINK…Real World Advice for Athletes

I’m often asked if I “allow” my players to drink alcohol. Honestly, they don’t need my permission. Most are pro athletes who have to make their own decisions about how to protect their bodies and careers. These are grown adults, and like many adults, they like to relax once in a while; they’re no different from you.  But I draw the line at this: if you’re going to drink, you have to be in control of the alcohol. The alcohol can’t control you.

I’m not here to talk you out of drinking. Believe me, I would if I could, but I live in the real world; if you want to drink, you will. Do I recommend it? No—the only alcohol I want around athletes is the kind you use on a wound to clean  it. There’s not a single benefit to consuming alcohol, and every reason not to. It has zero nutritional benefits, interferes significantly with the body’s ability to recover, and as I explain in my training book JUMP ATTACK, it’s literally poison. You’ve heard of alcohol poisoning? What does that tell you? In large quantities, it’s a poison. Even in small amounts, it has an undeniable negative impact on just about every element of your performance. Not just while you’re drinking, but for days afterward, while your body is still working to reverse the damage. Here are just a few of the results:

  • Slower reaction time
  • Decreased coordination and balance
  • Increased and accelerated fatigue
  • Impaired recovery time for the entire body
  • Sleep disruption
  • Reduced fat-burning

We all know people who, when things aren’t going well, immediately reach for the bottle. Then at some point, the bottle begins reaching for them.  I’ve seen too many athletes fall victim; you can usually tell when a guy has a great season, then a terrible season, then he’s great again.  No injuries, just something unseen that leaves everyone wondering what happened. Well, you don’t just mysteriously lose your skills in a single season. Nine out of 10 times, he started drinking, and then he quit. Orff The ones who don’t quit end up drinking themselves out of the game, adding themselves to the long list of ‘Whatever happened to…” athletes.

REAL WORLD ADVICE IF YOU’RE GOING TO DRINK

Before I get into this, keep in mind: A weekend of hard partying erases a week of hard training. This is your “reward” for killing it in the gym all week? But if you’re going to drink, be smart about it. Here’s what I tell my clients:  Clear alcohol. Take that Screwdriver or Bloody Mary or Jack & Coke, and get rid of everything except one ingredient: the alcohol. Yes, you read that right. If you’re going to drink, keep the vodka and get rid of the juice and mixers and syrups and sodas or diet sodas. Why? Because you’re adding poison to poison; after alcohol, the second most damaging poison for an athlete is sugar. Clear alcohols like vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, and scotch have plenty of calories and other evils, but zero carbs; the distilling process literally kills off every gram of nutritional content.  No beer, not even “light” beer.  Beer is extremely high in carbs, as is most wine. And the higher your carb intake, the more intense the cravings for more carbs, so you’re consuming even more calories long after you finished drinking.

One drink, sip slowly. No shots. You can get the desired effect without forcing your body to pay the price. No drinking before or after a workout. No drinking  during a game, a timeout, halftime…you think I’m kidding? I’ve seen it all; people who need a drink find  a way. If you’re going to drink, wait for an off-day, or at least wait 2-3 hours after you’ve played. If you’re cracking open a beer five minutes after the clock hits 0.00, you’re seriously interfering with your body’s ability to recover from the game. And don’t drink 8-10 hours before you need your body again…unless you’re willing to compete with seriously depleted resources.  Please don’t tell me you play just fine under the influence; if that’s true, imagine how much better you’d play without that influence.  “Fine” isn’t good enough. If your goal is to be ‘fine,’ you should find something else to do.

Bottom line: Drinking is easy; winning is not. Champions crave the high of excellence more than the high of alcohol.

–TG

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.

KOBE: HOW A CLEANER SAYS GOODBYE

(I originally wrote this column for Yahoo’s The Vertical on the day Kobe retired in 2016. I’m reposting it here today in honor of his jersey retirement by the Lakers. #24 #8 #Cleaner

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If you ask the greats whether they really want the classic Farewell Tour, most would say no; they just want to play the way they’ve always played. The long goodbye takes them out of their game. They achieved excellence by shutting out distraction and drama; the Farewell Tour is about taking it all in. It’s a cruel daily reminder that you’ve devoted your entire life to one thing, and it’s about to end. It’s like breaking up with your girlfriend every single day. You don’t really want to, but you know it’s time to say goodbye.

This is how an icon says goodbye: On Sunday, with only three games left in his career, Kobe Bryant put up 35 points in 27 minutes in a loss against the Houston Rockets and was perfect from the free-throw line.

Just because I don’t, doesn’t mean I can’t.

Whatever he’s lost, most players will never have.

I began working with Kobe in 2008, after he called Michael Jordan for advice: His knees were killing him, he said. He wasn’t sure he could sustain the level of physical excellence he demanded of himself.

Michael, who had already retired, made one suggestion:

“Use my guy,” 23 told 24. “Call Grover.”

He did.

I’m often asked to compare MJ and Kobe, how they worked and trained. Like MJ, Kobe would take your heart and your balls and everything in between, and then glare at you for taking too long to grow more guts for him to rip apart. It didn’t matter whether you were a teammate or opponent, no one was spared. He challenged you for everything you had: I’m taking it all, you gonna fight me for it? Those who did earned his respect. Those who didn’t had no chance. Ever.

He wanted to understand everything we did, why we did it, how it all worked. Some days we’d hit the gym twice a day, and again at night, working on conditioning, a new shot, a new detail, an issue he wanted to resolve, something he noticed in the mountains of film he watched every day. My phone would ring at 3 a.m., and we’d head to work.

At some point during his workouts – each one around 90 minutes – he’d glare in my direction and ask: What we got left? It didn’t matter how I answered, or if I answered at all. His work ethic never wavered.

You can’t begin to measure the intensity and ferocity of his insatiable desire to win, a mindset that defined him from the moment he entered the league. On draft day in 1996, when everyone else shook the commissioner’s hand and went out to celebrate, Kobe found a gym. Had to put up 1,000 shots.

No surprise that he’s the only remaining active player from that draft class.

He expected everyone around him – teammates, staff, trainers, business associates, friends – to match his drive and commitment, and wouldn’t – or couldn’t – accept their inability to reach his level, their willingness to settle for less. If I can do this, why can’t you? When they celebrated a great shot in a losing game, when they celebrated wins in a losing season, his reaction was pure Kobe: We’ve won nothing. You’ve done nothing. Go do more.

He was all about more. More work, more effort, more wins. After the 81-point game in 2006, while everyone else saw his achievement, he saw Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, the record he didn’t achieve. More.

Our work together ended at the end of 2012, four months before the Achilles’ injury that precipitated so many other injuries; he was feeling good at that point and we went our separate ways. I’m proud of what we accomplished together, and will always be there for him.

What did I learn about him during those years? I wrote this in my book “Relentless,” and forgive me for repeating it here, but I can’t say it any other way: He was the ultimate athletic predator. He’d lock in on his target, and from that moment, he didn’t feel anything except the raw desire to dominate. I can only compare him to a cold-blooded killer, a lion stalking his prey. Attack. Done. Next.

Which has made it interesting to watch him during this season of goodbyes.

Playing with a depleted body, on a depleted team with no chance to win, he had no choice but to finally let go. Maybe if the Lakers had been in position to win something, anything … maybe if they could have made a run for that eighth seed … maybe he would have stayed in the hunt just a little longer. But with nothing on the line except his sheer will to finish the season, he exhaled for the first time in his career.

Goodbye, Kobe.

He transformed from assassin to ambassador. Instead of the dark scowl before, during and after games, there was an actual smile. Instead of an insatiable killer, he was now a supportive teacher. He hugged opponents. He laughed with teammates. He gave the fans something they’d never seen from him on a basketball court: peace.

He played 20 seasons as the hated villain, and walked away as the beloved hero.

This week, Kobe fans around the globe will say their final farewells as he walks off the court for the last time, but they’re too late.

He’s already gone.

DRAFT DAY: The Beginning or the End?

When everything you do is about the money, if that’s the end result you crave, what happens when it ends? Because it’s going to end, whether you want to admit it or not. Someone else is going to make more, do more, and be more because you did nothing but sit back and say, “Look at me, I’m rich.” Anyone can start something. Few can finish. You don’t  have to love the work. You just have to crave the end result.

An excerpt from RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable

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Finally, the big day. Perfect knot in your $200 tie, Mom has a new dress, the whole family is by your side. Someone suddenly whispers in your ear— this is it. The commissioner is at the podium. “With the eleventh pick . . .” You don’t hear anything else. The first person to hug you is your agent. Congratulations, today is the beginning of the end of your career.

Did you exhale? Did you think, “I’m finally here, set for life”? Or did you think, “I have a lot of work to do”? Most guys, on the day they’re drafted, go out to celebrate. Kobe went to the gym to practice.

Making it to the top is not the same as making it at the top. True for any business; getting the job doesn’t mean you’re keeping the job; winning the client doesn’t mean he’s staying forever. Most people seem to understand that. They get a big opportunity and usually realize they now have to go out and earn that salary, working even harder to prove they deserve it.

But if you’re an athlete who just got rich quick, the day you sign that contract can easily be the beginning of the end. You’re already on the pedestal. Your shoe deal is in place. Now you’re not just known by the team you play for, you’re  a brand. Instead of spending the summer working on your game, you’re traveling the world pitching your sportswear. Your group of “friends” just grew ten times larger than it was a week ago. And you’re no longer dreaming about what you can do for the game, but what the game can do for you. You took what was handed to you, and that was the end.

I’m using athletes as an example here, but you know it applies to anyone else as well: What have you been handed and what are you willing to earn? At some point, you got a gift: maybe you were blessed with talent, or you inherited the family business, or someone took a chance on you and let you in the door. Then what? Doors swing two ways. Did you shut it on the competition or on yourself?

Dwyane Wade is the perfect example of receiving nothing but talent, and taking it to the top. From a small high school in Chicago not known for its great basketball program, he was barely recruited by any colleges and ended up at Marquette. He didn’t even play his freshman year because of academic reasons. But he knew what it was going to take if he had any chance of making it to the pros, and he fought his way back. In 2003 he was drafted by the Miami Heat, the fifth pick after LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. That’s right, of the Big Three, Dwyane Wade was the last one drafted. He arrived in Miami without billboards, mega-million dollar shoe deals, or a crown. He just showed up and played. Three years later, he had his first championship ring. It would be years before anyone drafted ahead of him would do the same.

You cannot understand what it means to be relentless until you have struggled to possess something that’s just out of your reach. Over and over, as soon as you touch it, it moves farther away. But something inside you— that killer instinct— makes you keep going, reaching, until you finally grab it and fight with all your might to keep holding on. Anyone can take what’s sitting right in front of him. Only when you’re truly relentless can you understand the determination to keep pursuing a target that never stops moving.

No question, those who are gifted get to the top faster than anyone else. So what? Is that your excuse for not reaching as high? The challenge is staying there, and most people don’t have the balls to put in the work. If you want to be elite, you have to earn it. Every day, everything you do. Earn it. Prove it. Sacrifice. No shortcuts. You can’t fight the elephants until you’ve wrestled the pigs, messed around in the mud, handled the scrappy, dirty issues that clutter everyday life, so you can be ready for the heavy stuff later. There’s no way you can be prepared to compete and survive at anything if you start with the elephants; no matter how good your instincts are, you’ll always lack the basic knowledge needed to build your arsenal of attack weapons. And when you’re surrounded by those elephants, they’ll know they’re looking at a desperate newcomer.

One summer I had about fifty guys in the gym, a combination of veterans and pre-draft players, including one young man who had never spent a single day wrestling a pig. He had gone to good schools with the top coaches and came from a great family that made sure he had whatever he needed. He worked hard, but everything had been too easy, from scholarships to trophies, and he became a big star without paying a whole lot of dues. He expected to be drafted high and had no idea how things worked in the real world, unprotected by the college environment and supportive followers. He was a marked man from the minute he touched the ball. Every single player in the gym that day had one mission: mess this kid up. Not nice, but competition rarely is. And because he had never been exposed to that level of heat and anger, he completely crumbled. He couldn’t do a thing— out of those fifty guys in the gym that day, he ranked fifty- first— and he learned the hard way that there’s not a magazine cover or a parade that can help you when you’re not prepared.

People who start at the top never understand what they missed at the bottom. The guy who started by sorting the mail, or cleaning the restaurant late at night, or fixing the equipment at the gym, that’s the guy who knows how things get done. After he’s eventually worked his way up through the ranks, he knows how everything works, why it works, what to do when it stops working. That’s the guy who will have longevity and value and impact, because he knows what it took to get to the top. You can’t claim you ran a marathon if you started at the seventeenth mile.

Why Draft Combines are a Lousy Predictor of Success

This is for all the guys who firmly believe that their entire lives would have been completely different—wealthier, happier, sexier—if only they had been given the rare and awesome ability to jump.

Let me make you feel better: I don’t test my players’ vertical jump. I’ll test it if someone asks me to, if a player or team really wants to know, but to me, it’s a shallow prediction of what an individual can actually accomplish as a competitive athlete, a measure of talent, not skill. Talent and skill aren’t the same thing; the world is full of talented people who have never achieved anything.

When I started working with Michael Jordan in 1989, his vertical jump was 38 inches. By today’s standards, that might not even get you drafted in the top ten; Andrew Wiggins reportedly had a 44” vertical jump before he was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. Eventually we got MJ up to 42”—and then 48”—using the training program which later became my book JUMP ATTACK. But we weren’t specifically training for vertical jump; we trained for overall explosiveness and skill, and the vertical increase was just a by-product of the training.

It’s just a number. You know those people in school who always got good grades but were complete dunces in real life? Same principle here: If you train for a one-dimensional test, you’ll be a one-dimensional athlete. The truth is, the ability to jump straight up into the air one time in a completely controlled situation doesn’t indicate what you can do during a game.

Can you do it with two guys in your face and another waiting to clock you when you come down? With the game on the line and lights in your eyes? Falling backwards? What about the second or third jump? That’s what I want to see. Game results, not test results. MJ and Kobe scored more than 30,000 points in their careers; I’m not a stat guy but I’m pretty sure most of those points didn’t come from dunks.

I’m not just picking on testing vertical jump here. Draft Combines are supposedly designed to measure athletic ability, but cones don’t weigh 400 pounds and move at lightning speed. Everyone gets excited about a guy who runs a fast 40. But how often do you have a game situation where you’re running 40 yards in a straight line unopposed? It’s a test of speed and acceleration: that’s talent. I want to see skill. Show me you can explode for five yards, stop, cut, avoid the defense, change direction, and keep going…while maintaining that speed. Ask Jerry Rice: you don’t get to be the best by sprinting alone down an open field.

The NBA Draft Combine includes a 185-pound bench press test. What are we proving there, how hard you can fire a chest pass? If you’re an NBA player on your back in the middle of a game pushing something away, you either need a referee or an ambulance. I want to see overall strength in competition, not while you’re lying on a bench. Kevin Durant couldn’t do one rep at his pre-draft Combine. Looks like things worked out well for him.
Look, there’s always going to be someone who jumps higher or runs faster than you. But if you’re a golfer who only works on your drive, now you’re Happy Gilmore. You can do one thing. If you can only dominate the vertical jump competition or the bench press, congratulations, now you’re a great vertical jumper or bench presser. It doesn’t make you a skilled and competitive athlete.

There’s no shortage of “great athletes” who rack up impressive scores and then turn out to be total busts. Why? Because raw athletic ability is a terrible predictor of how an athlete will perform when it counts. It counts when you’re under the lights surrounded by screaming fans, facing intense opposition in a pressure situation, with everything on the line, at game speed—in a completely uncontrolled environment. Over the years these “great athletes” have received so much attention for their natural talent that they don’t bother developing their skills. They believe talent is enough.

It is not.

If the best thing you can say about an athlete is that he’s explosive, that’s not necessarily a good thing. The more explosive an athlete, the more likely he is to be injured—unless he has the skill and conditioning to match. And if he spends most of his time working on the same glamour move over and over, training for a test or a highlight reel, he’s never going to be prepared for real-time competition, that first hard hit in a game, the 4th quarter fatigue, the 80,000 fans who think you should do better.

Unfortunately, the glamour moves get the glory. Watch the postgame highlights, you can see big dunks, hard hits and crazy moves. Doesn’t matter who won or lost: This guy’s a beast, that guy’s a freak of nature. You know what you don’t see? The guy who does his job so thoroughly and intensely that you don’t even notice him coming; he just delivers the results.

You can’t achieve any of that by training for a single statistic on a standardized test—no matter how hard you work at it. Everything you do must have a purpose that leads to results. Nothing left to random chance, because random actions get random results.

Are you working hard, or are you working smart? Working hard gets you the same result over and over. If you’re working smart, you’re constantly improving, finding ways to take it to the next level. The greats have so little room to improve, yet they’re the ones always pushing to get better. The gains you make in the offseason are meaningless if you can’t maintain them during the season. Your 40” preseason vertical is useless if you don’t work to develop it into in-season results.

Bottom line: The ultimate measure of a competitor is determined by what you can’t measure—the intangibles. Anyone can measure height, weight, and speed, but you can’t measure intellect, commitment, persistence, or the instinctive ability to convert talent into results. Success depends on the strength of only one muscle: the one that beats in your chest.

PLAYING TIME: How to earn it, how to lose it.

Whether you’re a pro athlete or a kid just learning the game, you probably didn’t get into sports with hopes and dreams of sitting on the bench.

It’s a lot of work. A lot of time. A lot of pressure. Hard to explain to your friends and your family, and especially to yourself. Plenty of reasons and plenty of excuses: You didn’t get a chance.  The coach is an idiot who hates you. The guy ahead of you sucks but the coach likes him better.  Add your own reasons here.

But it’s a cold hard fact that some players will play, and some will sit. And if you’re one who sits, the way you handle it will determine whether you can change that.

Five things that will NOT get you more playing time:

  • Deciding the coach is an idiot who hates you.
  • Skipping practice and workouts because you know you won’t play anyway.
  • Slumping over on the bench pouting about it.
  • Watching what’s happening in the stands instead of watching the game.
  • Watching your parents in the stands screaming that the coach is an idiot who hates you.

Your best chance of getting more playing time?

Be ready.

That’s it. Be ready, because at some point, the coach is going to look in your direction and say, “You.”

And you’ll have a split second to react. Maybe someone gets hurt or isn’t playing well or does something the coach doesn’t like, and suddenly you’re going to be the “next man up.” Will you panic?  Did you pay attention in practice? The opportunity may last a minute or a whole game, but what you do in that time is going to determine what you’ll be doing for a long  time afterward.

If you do well and impress someone, you’re in the system. Now the coach knows you can be trusted, and you’ve added a weapon to the team’s arsenal going forward. But if you don’t do well, you’re probably done. The next player will get the opportunity you didn’t grab. You got your chance…you may not get another.

If you’re serious about getting more playing time, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you done the work that allows you to step in, fully prepared, and show you should have had that job all along?
  • Are you staying mentally sharp and focused, even when you don’t know if you’ll play?
  • While you’re on the bench, do you laugh and joke with teammates, or are you seriously engaged in the game?
  • Are you noticing your opponents’ (and your teammates’) strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are you just looking at the game or are you actually watching it? Are you just hearing the coaches along with the rest of the crowd noise, or are you actually listening to what’s being said? Looking and hearing—like every other fan in the stands–will keep you on the bench. Watching and listening like an involved teammate will keep you ready.

Be ready. Watch. Learn. Pay attention.

And by the way, this isn’t just about sports. Especially true for business as well: At  some point, someone is going to mess up or an opportunity will surface, and the boss is going to give you a chance to show what you’ve got.

MJ used to tell his teammates at the beginning of the season: “I’m going to pass you the ball one time. If you don’t do something with it, I’m not throwing it to you again. I can miss a shot on my own, I don’t need your help for that. So make something happen, ’cause you’re only getting one chance. Earn it.”

Even at the highest level of competition, plenty of pros don’t start for their teams or get to play in every game.  They don’t like sitting on the bench either. The smart ones show up ready to play. The others wish they still had that seat on the bench when they eventually get cut.

Bottom line, whether you’re a superstar or the last kid off the bench, anyone can show up, work hard, and listen. Nothing will have a greater impact on your playing time than your ability to do those three things.

–TG

The Most Common Injury in Sports: Are You at Risk?

I write about this every year, because a) it’s important, b) no one really pays attention to this topic until they’re sitting out of the game with this preventable injury, and c) without a doubt, during every season in every sport, countless athletes will suffer 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.

No matter what kind of technology they build into your shoes, no matter what brand or style, they can’t save you if you haven’t taken steps to prevent injury. Neither will braces or tape or any other ‘quick fix’ method of therapy. What can save you from serious injury? Preventative training, preparation, and work.

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 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 race car: 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.

I frequently use the PPT 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.

For more on the ATTACK PPT BAND & Training System Workout, click here.

We Worked So Hard” and Other Lies…Holding the Coaches Accountable

It’s the nightmare of every youth coach: The team banquet at the end of a 2-14 season. The parents are glaring at you, the kids are texting each other under the table about going home to play Xbox, and you’re giving out 16th place trophies for participation and wondering what the hell you can possibly say.

So you say things like this:

“We worked so hard.” Translation: It’s not my fault we lost, I scheduled plenty of practices.

“These are really good kids.” Translation: It’s not my fault we lost, there’s not an athlete in the whole bunch.

For a team with a lot of young first-time players, we did great.” Translation: It’s not my fault we lost, no one here knows how to play this sport.

“We had a lot of fun.” Translation: It’s not my fault we lost, they were more excited about the postgame snacks than the game.

“They started as individuals, and came together as a team.” Translation: It’s not my fault we lost, they had a blast at the team pizza party.

“We reward good effort.” Translation: It’s not my fault we lost, I spent a fortune on these stupid participation trophies.

Sound familiar? Out  of other ideas?

How about this:

It may not be my fault, but it’s my responsibility.

That’s all. Whether you win or lose, it’s not just about the hard work; hard work is expected. It’s about improvement, not just physically but mentally as well. Did your team get better over the course of the season? Did your players develop better skills, better attitude, better grasp of the sport?

If not, you have to hold yourself accountable and ask why.

Look, I get it…sometimes it’s on the players. I have three rules: Show up, work hard, and listen. If they don’t show up, they don’t work hard, they don’t listen, guess what? They don’t play.  But if your players are doing those three things, and they’re still not improving, it’s your responsibility to find out why, and what you can do about it.

Five Powerful Traits of Successful Coaches

  • It’s easy to focus on what a player can’t do. The challenge is figuring out what players CAN do, and put them in situations where they can succeed and contribute. Your team may not be loaded with enough talent to win championships—most aren’t. But it’s your job as a coach to get the most out of your players, and motivate them to get the most out of themselves. You can’t achieve that by planting them on the bench. Give them  opportunities to succeed and meet the challenge.
  • Are your practices effective? Are you teaching your players or just making them tired? Hard work isn’t the same as smart work. The length of your practice is meaningless if the quality of the work isn’t getting results. I’d rather see  a team practice 45 minutes and accomplish something rather than hold the players hostage for two hours  just to say you had a long practice.
  • If it’s important to you to be friends with the parents and/or players, you cannot  be an effective coach.  Everyone believes they deserve the most playing time, the best  position, the most credit.  Make  those decisions based on actual results and improvement, and you will rarely be wrong. Be  their ally, not their friend.
  • When your players look at you, do they see someone who looks like an authority on sports performance? You don’t have to fit in your high school uniform but you can’t give the impression the only thing you sprint to and defend is the buffet line. Before a kid gets to know you as a coach, their first  impression is visual.  If you can’t show them you care about your own physical conditioning, how can you teach them to care about theirs?
  • It’s not just a job. It your  job. For the time you have them those are not just kids, those are your kids. Do they call you coach because they don’t remember your name, or because you’ve earned their respect?   What do you remember about your coaches when you were a kid? That they were nice? Or that they taught you to excel? Nice is fine, but how many people have the privilege of being asked to help a child improve and succeed at something, however big or small or big that improvement may be?

Plain and simple, a coach’s job is to teach. Not necessarily to teach the specific sport, but to teach the importance of progress and improvement. If  you won two games last season, and won four games this season, that’s improvement. If a kid missed 20 free throws last year but only missed three this season, that’s improvement.  Let your bench players into the game (especially when you have big lead) so you can see who’s ready to play, who’s been  paying attention, who’s made progress.

And above all else, find ways to improve as a coach. We can’t ask our players to improve if we can’t ask the same of ourselves.

–TG

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MJ to Kerr: “Steve. Be Ready.”

People were surprised when I called Steve Kerr a “Cleaner” in my book Relentless. Now you get it: A Cleaner gets the end result over and over. And not surprising, MJ recognized it before anyone. 

An excerpt from RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable

——————————————————————————————–—

Michael knew who was ready, and whom he could trust. He loved Steve Kerr because Kerr would stand up to him. During a now- legendary training- camp scrimmage, Kerr didn’t appreciate something Michael said, snapped at him, and Michael punched him in the face.

“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Kerr said years later. “I needed to stand up and go back at him. I think I earned some respect.”

He was right. As soon as practice ended, Michael called him from his car, apologized, and from that point on, Michael knew they could go to battle together. No one would have imagined that Kerr— a Closer as a player and a total Cleaner in everything he earned after he departed the Bulls, including two more rings with the Spurs, a career in the broadcast booth, and a stint as GM of the Phoenix Suns before returning to his television career— would be the player Michael trusted the most on the team. When Michael needed to make a fast adjustment because he knew he wasn’t going to be able to get a shot off on the next play, it was Kerr he’d look for and say, “Steve. Be ready.” Not Scottie or Horace or Kukoc; Michael trusted Kerr.

That’s a Cleaner, deciding what the Closer will do. A Closer can never be put into the Cleaner’s role unless the Cleaner decides that’s the best way to go. No way Kerr was taking a last- second shot unless Michael wanted him to. And there’s also no way Kerr would have had a second chance if he wasn’t successful the first time.

People like to make comparisons between Magic and Michael, but Magic looked for Kareem on the floor. Michael looked for no one. He used to tell the guys at the beginning of the season: I’m going to pass you the ball one time. If you don’t do something with it, I’m not throwing it to you again. I can miss a shot on my own, I don’t need your help for that. So make something happen, ’cause you’re only getting one chance. Earn it.

Excerpted from RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable.   All rights reserved.

Emotions Make You Weak.

When I first wrote about this in my book RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, I heard over and over about players who play with enormous emotion, with great results. Correct. They play with ONE emotion. But when a player allows multiple emotions to mess with his head, he has no chance to stay focused. In  other words….emotionS make you weak. An excerpt from RELENTLESS…

If one thing separated Michael Jordan from every other player, it was his stunning ability to block out everything and everyone else. Nothing got to him; he was ice. No matter what else was going on—the crowds, the media, the death of his father—when he stepped onto that basketball court, he was able to shut out everything except his mission to attack and conquer. I’ve never seen another player form such a perfect boundary around himself, where nothing goes in except what he brings with him. Dwyane is probably the closest, when he’s healthy; he’s got that switch that allows him to step inside those lines and forget everything else. Most people though, even the greats, take some external stuff with them; few can leave it all behind.

When you consider that Michael’s career shooting percentage was 50 percent—meaning the ball found its mark one out of every two times, with three guys hanging on him and twenty thousand cameras flashing every time he took a shot—you can begin to appreciate how deep in the Zone he was for every single game, every quarter, every play. There was no difference between what he did in practice and what he did in the game, his mechanics were consistent in any environment. I can’t stand hearing athletes say, “When I’m under the lights, that’s where I turn it on.” No. When you’re in the Zone, you shouldn’t even notice the lights. Or need them.

But few people can duplicate that extreme level of focus and concentration in different settings; they become comfortable in one place, and that’s where they perform the best. Why do teams play better at home than on the road? Why do some athletes perform better in certain stadiums than others? They can’t reproduce that environment that puts them in the Zone. They’re thinking about being in a different atmosphere, instead of instinctively knowing how to adapt to their surroundings. Instead of dictating the outcome of the event, they’re letting the event dictate the outcome to them. Instead of feeling steady and steely, they start feeling unsure and worried. They lose their cool confidence, they start feeling emotional, and make no mistake about this: emotions make you weak.

Again: emotions make you weak.

The fastest way to tumble out of the Zone is to allow emotions to drive your actions.

When you feel fear, you recoil and put up a wall to protect yourself. Is there really a wall there? No, but you act as if there were. Now you can’t go forward because of the wall. Put your hand through it, there’s nothing there, you can walk straight through it. But if you stay behind that imaginary wall, you fail.

When you feel rage, you lash out. When you lash out, you’re usually irrational because you’re acting out of impulse, not reason. Now you’re out of control and you’ve lost all sense of what you’re supposed to be doing. Instead of feeling cool and prepared, you’ve lost all sense of focus. And without focus, you fail.

When you feel jealousy, you shift all your attention and energy to whoever is making you jealous. Doesn’t matter if it’s a colleague’s success or your girlfriend’s new man; either way, you’re thinking about something other than what you’re supposed to be doing. And you fail.

The only exception to the emotions rule is anger: controlled anger is a deadly weapon, in the right hands. I’m not talking about a raging volcano that can’t be managed from inside or outside, but anger you can restrain and turn into energy. All Cleaners have that slow-burning, blue-hot internal anger, and it works if they can control and maintain it. But it never becomes blind rage, and it’s never allowed to become destructive. When you channel anger the right way, you get Michael shaking his head at someone’s attempt to distract him, and annihilating the game. He didn’t slug anyone, he stayed steady and unemotional and turned his quiet anger into results.

But it’s a fine line. If you don’t control your anger, you get violent, throw a punch, argue with the refs, glare at the other players, get completely emotional, and stumble permanently out of the Zone.

Emotions pull your focus and reveal that you’ve lost control, and ultimately they destroy your performance. They make you think about how you feel, and you’re not supposed to think, you’re supposed to be so well prepared that you slide into the Zone and perform with grace and purpose. Not possible if your mind is on other things. Of course, Cleaners are still human, and like everyone else they feel the same excitement and anxiety and nerves before a big event. But the difference between Cleaners and everyone else is their ability to control those feelings, instead of allowing those feelings to control them. Even Michael used to say he had butterflies before a big game. “Get ’em all going in the same direction,” I’d tell him. They’re not going away, but now you’re controlling how you feel about them, instead of allowing them to make you feel nervous. Energy instead of emotion.

As the lights get brighter and the place gets hotter, you should be feeling darker and cooler, pulling deeper inside yourself. This is your Zone, all instinct; you can feel your way in the dark while others have to see and hear and watch what everyone else is doing. You go with what you feel. The people who can get into that space, those are your killers.