As the new school year approaches, athletes of all ages will be putting on uniforms, excited and nervous to start a new season. Those feelings, however, are quickly replaced with the harsh reality of long practices and competitive games. To become a better player this season:
Know More. Become a student of your sport – read books, ask questions, watch film. Do not just mindlessly show up to practice; rather, pay attention to your strengths and weaknesses so you can eventually master every aspect of the game. Do not just memorize plays, understand why the play works. The more you know, the better you will perform. But what is less obvious is the more you know, the greater your motivation. True students of the game look forward to practices and games because they are opportunities to get just a little bit better. Each practice is a chance to master a new skill. Each game is a chance to stretch skill and ability.
This principle can also work outside of sports. Taking time to master the details in any subject – including academics – will increase performance and motivation.
Care more. Respect your teammates and coaches. You do not have to be best friends, or hang out every day after practice, but you must respect everyone on the team. There is nothing more toxic to a team than social cliques that exclude and alienate certain teammates. This creates a climate of distrust which affects everyone’s performance during practices and games. Get to know your teammates. Talk to your coaches about subjects other than sports. Not only will your experience be a lot more fun, but a positive team climate leads to strong group cohesion, the social glue that holds everyone together. The stronger the glue, the better the team performs.
This lesson also applies to school and work; it will only make you and those around you better.
Be more. Everyone should take time to step away from the game. You need to be more than just an athlete. Your mind needs a break from the stress of learning and competing. Your body needs a break from the wear and tear of practices and games. It only takes a small sacrifice, as little as one day a week off from sports. But in all reality, taking a break is not a sacrifice at all, it is an advantage. While your mind and body are recovering from a sports-filled week, they are growing and getting stronger. Athletes who refuse to take time off end up burnt-out, injured, or both.
Recovery works for any activity. If you spend too much time studying for a test without giving your mind time to recover, you will not retain as much information. For both sports and school, this is not an excuse to not put in the work because recovery only works if you have sufficiently trained over a period of time – that is why last minute training or studying all night rarely lead to long-term success). So take time to be more than just an athlete.
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