By Brett Klika C.S.C.S.
Director of Athletics, Fitness Quest 10
Every day, big, fast, and strong athletes are working to be bigger, faster, stronger, so they can one day be the biggest, fastest, and strongest. The process of working towards athletic success is one of constantly addressing strengths and weaknesses, and striving to get better. Strengths contribute to, weaknesses deter from, success. This is one of the many important life lessons that training for a sport teaches. When youth experience first-hand how they can improve their abilities through focused work, it can spread to many aspects of their life.
When assessing one’s strengths and weaknesses and how they contribute to overall levels of success, it’s important to realize that strengths are what will ultimately deliver success. All too often, athletes, coaches, and parents become obsessed with weaknesses to the point it actually deters from strengths.
I work with quite a few professional athletes, particularly baseball players. I have the opportunity to gain daily insight as to what it takes mentally and physically to compete at the highest level. What I’ve found from talking to these elite athletes is that even though a few of them are MLB All-Stars, they are not perfect at every aspect of the game. As a matter of fact, they’ll even admit that there are much less accomplished athletes that are more talented than them in certain aspects of baseball. However, each one of them has something special that “gets them in the game”. These are their personal strengths
My baseball players all talk about how early in their career they were obsessed with their weaknesses. It’s not hard to do. Coaches, fans, teammates, parents, etc., are always reminding you of your shortcomings. I work with a MLB middle infielder who is undersized by pro athlete standards. For years, coaches and scouts addressed his hitting power as his weakness and said he would need to improve that significantly if he ever wanted to move forward in the sport. He would practice tirelessly, changing his grip, his stance, and his swing. Over time, he saw little improvement. Meanwhile, he was always the fastest runner on the team. His glove was impeccable and he was extremely smart on the bases. This was all being ignored; not only by the scouts and onlookers, but by the athlete himself. He had turned his back on what set him apart in favor of trying to compete at an aspect of the game that wasn’t his strong suit.
He got drafted in the late rounds and bounced around the minor leagues trying to “hit for more power”. He finally came to a point where he knew he had to do something or he’d be “washed out” like so many in the minor leagues. Realizing that hitting for power was not something that was going to make him stand out, he re-assessed what “gets him in the game”. His speed, glove, and base smarts were a unique attribute that had brought him a great deal of success, but he wasn’t maximizing his abilities. If he was going to make it in the big leagues, these were his vehicle. Base stealing and defense became his new focus. He aimed to not just be “good” at these, but be so good that he stood apart from everyone else. He started working on his strengths. A short time later he got a call up to the big leagues, where he remains today.
Nearly every elite athlete I work with has a similar story. At some point in their development, their obsession with their weaknesses almost cost them success. The homerun hitter that was never “fast enough”, the 100mph pitcher with “awkward mechanics”, the All-Star pitcher with a nearly un-hittable sinker with “limited velocity”. The list goes on. What brought these men success was to focus on what they did well, and do it better than anyone.
I’m not recommending one ignores their weaknesses. Every athlete I work with at every level works tirelessly to minimize the number and degree of weakness they have. After all, that’s why they hire me. This work however does not overshadow their focus on nurturing and constantly improving what “gets them in the game”. With young athletes, I often see parents and coaches fixating on shortcomings. To a certain degree, this is part of the role of teaching and coaching. Take what your athlete is not good at and make them better. Unfortunately, I see an over-application of this that leaves kids frustrated and often under-accomplished.
When kids get to develop what they are good at, it is more enjoyable. They’re going to do it more. Research has demonstrated that the #1 attribute contributing to long-term athletic success is a child’s enjoyment in an activity. Learning to do things they don’t enjoy to improve their overall ability is one of the valuable lessons of training for sports. When these un-enjoyable, difficult, and non-intuitive aspects of the game end up consuming all of their time and energy however, it will deter from success and ultimately result in them leaving the sport.
Teach your youngsters how to address their weaknesses, but don’t forget about fostering their strengths. Remember, every high level athlete has something unique that “gets them in the game”. Help your youngster find what that is for them. This will not only give them a competitive advantage, it will contribute to their excitement and enjoyment in their sport. This is part of the process of creating a positive experience with physical activity, helping kids grow to become happy, healthy, pain- free adults.
Brett Klika C.S.C.S., Director of Athletics at Fitness Quest 10, is a world renowned human performance specialist, motivational speaker, author, and educator. In his 14 year career, Brett has accrued more than 20,000 hours of training with youth, athletes, executives, and every day people. He uses this knowledge and experience to motivate individuals and audiences around the world through his writing, speaking, DVD’s, and personal correspondence. For a copy of his new e-book and exercise program “The Underground Workout Manual- Exercise and Fat Loss in the Real World” visit www.undergroundworkoutmanual.com. To contact Brett, send correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.