There’s a new term for it every few years. Currently it’s “high-functioning athlete” but “elite athlete”, “super-star” or “baller” all fit the bill. Regardless of the title it’s the paragon all athletes strive for. To be so good that you make big plays, don’t make mistakes and play a major role in the success of your team. Here’s the catch, we all want to compete at that level, but very few young athletes know how to get there.
To that end, I want to share two thoughts with you that I believe lay out the road map for success. The first is a truism I’ve seen playout for every athlete I’ve ever played with or coached. The following is what I call a “need-to” statement.
Most people focus on the number but there are two essential elements in that sentence, and both play an equal roll. Let’s talk about the obvious one first. 1000 reps seem like a lot but think about what we are trying to accomplish when we are practicing new skills in our sport. We are trying to train the nervous system to react efficiently and consistently every time we perform the movement pattern. This is especially key for young athletes, like high school players as their nervous system is adapting as they grow. Since I am a Quarterback let’s use throwing a pass as an example.
Quarterback is the most detailed position in football. Physiologists and kinesiologists alike have asserted throwing a football is the most complex skill in all of sport. Every time quarterbacks throw they involve every joint in the body. From the pinky toe to the top vertebrae in the neck. Every muscle that moves those joints must fire or relax at the appropriate moment for maximum efficiency. This is called cocontraction and it's necessary for all sports. The perfect throwing motion (if there is such a thing, more on that in a later article) is a kinetic chain or cascade that starts from a stable position, then harnesses ground force in 2 separate (or contralateral) directions, generates both linear and rotational force and works on both the sagittal and transverse planes of motion. Foot position, body position arm movement (both arms) and trunk rotation all come into play. They all must coordinate to deliver energy to the football.
That’s a lot of stuff going on! Now, consider that the time from decision-to-throw to release and deceleration takes around 1 second on average and must be performed from various body positions and balance points under pressure. Finally, during a game, the quarterback can’t afford to put any active thought toward the throwing motion. They need to focus on reading defenses, choosing receivers, moving in the pocket and predicting exactly where to deliver the football for a completion. As you might imagine, it takes a lot of training.
The second part of that sentence I emphasize is the reps need to be performed correctly. Here I tip my hat to Coach Vince Lombardi, an iconic figure in the world of sports, who said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Athletes should strive to perform every skill or movement pattern as efficiently as possible. Coaches need to understand this concept.
A good quarterback training program focuses on quality reps whether the QB is in high school, college, or pro. It sounds simple, but throwing the football is how you improve mechanics as a quarterback. As players develop they will need to learn how to self-correct. This is where a good coach who fully understands the skill comes in. When coaches teach skills, wheter they are ball skills, footwork or any other quarterback training, they should give verbal cues that allow quarterbacks (or any other sport or position) to program their nervous systems. "Feeling" the ball come off properly or recognizing proper foot placement coaches a young quarterback to learn on their own.
That’s why I call this statement a “need-to”. Regardless of their sport, athletes need to get enough reps with a skill or movement pattern to train their nervous system to react appropriately and efficiently. They must perform all the computations and variables of the moment and be able to react in a split second without any active thought about how to perform that skill. The skill must become a situational reaction.
QB training needs to encompass the mental part of the game as well. By repping the physical skills to the point a quarterback can deliver the football where he wants it when he needs to quarterbacks ensure that their mental training will pay off. Even if you see everything on the field and make the right read if a quarterback can't deliver an accurate football it's no use.
This may sound daunting . If you’re in that field, we need to change your mindset (another future article). As you read this understand that it’s one nugget. Information to help you be great. Get excited as a quarterback, because this is an opportunity to get better! Our bodies are amazing. They are adapting to input and stimuli all the time. We are designed to develop the skills we're training as long as we give the body enough opportunities to perfect the movement pattern.
As a side note, quarterbacks need to balance the need for reps with the risk of over-training. As a young quarterback grows and develops they are more susceptible to tendonitis and overuse injuries from throwing. One of the best ways to coach this is to work footwork drills without throwing the ball so they develop lower half skills without putting strain on their arms. Then, once you introduce the ball for throwing, limit quarterbacks' throws to a set number (we have a set schedule in our quarterback workout programs to keep the arm fresh). That way they learn the skills and can return to the field fresh and ready for the next practice. Which leads me to my next thought.
I heard this quote for the first time from Ethan Banning, our Human Performance Director at EliteAthletesTV.com. Banning is a former teammate, a great friend, and an incredible coach. I don’t think he coined the phrase, but he lives it and has trained a bunch of great athletes. This is a “want-to” statement.
The amateur athlete practices a skill until they get it right. The Pro practices until they can’t get it wrong.
This statement harnesses the knowledge of the “1000 rep athlete” and begs the question: How much do you want it?
I played professionally for 11 seasons. During that time, doing some loose math, I threw over 1 million passes in practice, workouts, and games. The most important trait I learned as I progressed from High School to the Pac-10 then on to the professional ranks was a focused work ethic. Every rep and every drill focused on making me the best, most efficient passer I could be.
Just going out and throwing a million passes wouldn’t have led to success. I practiced every throw, every drop, every angle until I could perform it under pressure, in a split second with the game on the line. During workouts and drills I thought about foot placement, angles, release points and everything else I had to perfect to own the skill. That way I didn’t have to think about those things in the moment of truth. My body and nervous system performed how it was trained even when I was under stress. My goal with every rep was to improve and perfect my craft. I was never satisfied with just getting it right. I needed my skills to be bullet-proof under any circumstance.
As an adjunct to the physical reps a player must perform they also need to focus on the mental side of the game. Visualization can be a huge key for a young athlete. We’ll go into visualization for a way deeper dive later, but here are the cliff notes.
There wass a study done by Dr.Biasiotto at the University of Chicago that involve free throw shooting. Participants were broken into three groups they all shot free throws and their performance was record. For the next month the first group practice shooting free throws every day for half an hour. The next group did absolutely nothing. They didn’t touch a basketball didn’t go to the gym and essentially states static when it comes to free throws. The third group visualized making free throws for 30 minutes a day. At the end of the study groups were measured again and as you might imagine the group that shot free throws improved dramatically. The group that did nothing showed no improvement. Here’s the big part, the group that visualized shooting free throws without touching a basketball during that month improved at almost the same rate as the group that physically shot free throws. This is an example of how our mind can train our bodies to perform.
Based on the findings in this study visualization training is an essential tool for athletes to perfect their craft. Any athlete looking to improve should add it to their training regimen. I used it during my college and professional career to great success.
By understanding the “need-to” and providing the “want-to” I was able to earn the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Cal. I won 2 college bowl games, earned an 11-year pro career and won a world championship. Utilize these concepts and you can maximize your athletic potential too.
At EliteAthletesTV.com all our coaches are “High-Functioning” athletes and coaches. With World Championships, Gold Medals, National Championships and Hall of Fame inductions to prove it. They understand the skills, techniques and tools for their sport and know how to compete at the highest level. They can help you navigate the roadblocks and hurdles that hold young athletes from reaching their goals and teach you how to succeed. If you strive to be a “High-Functioning” athlete, we can help you get there.
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