“At the foundation of all training is the ability to make a better decision. Period.” My friend, Brian Mackenzie said this and it really resonated with me. Making a better decision is all we have. It’s all we can do to grow. Each day we have hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions to make that will direct the course of our lives. They say, “Hard training. Easy life.” To train hard is a decision in and of itself that will steer your life in a better direction. Beyond that, how we train and what we do in the gym are decisions that also will have great repercussions. The devil is in the details.
At its best, training is mental and emotional as well as physical. If in the midst of hard training, I can maintain my emotional composure as well as my physical composure, I will have trained more than merely the muscles. Imagine an intense workout where I am asked to work hard for a given period of time. After a few minutes the physical demand will start to show as I fatigue and need to slow down and take breaks. However, the other struggle is emotional and mental. I will start having feelings about how much my legs are burning. I will need to self-talk. That monologue can be positive or negative. Furthermore, my emotional state might start manifesting as poor mechanics. For example, when people fatigue, they often start looking down and hanging their heads, their expression turns sour, they rest their hands on their hips or thighs, they start sacrificing their form. These are physical manifestations of emotional and mental fatigue. Also how an athlete acts in the last seconds of the workout are indicative of how they act near the end of a contest.
If we believe that “how we do anything is how we do everything,” then we should envision the athlete at the end of the match when they are fatigued and potentially behind on points. We cannot expect them to rise to the occasion, instead we must understand that they will fall to the level of their training. We look for the physical cues of their emotional content, the sour face and downcast eyes, the hands on their hips or thighs. We listen for the self talk. We see if they push through to the end or if they shut down before the clock winds down. Those are not the types of athletes or people we want to develop. We need to take the training room seriously. We need to ask our athletes to make better choices about who they want to be when everything is stacked against them.
Coach your athletes to make better choices not just physically but also emotionally. Have them stop and listen to themselves. Reframe their self-talk. Make better decisions about their posture and their demeanor. Train your athletes to push through to the end and not to give up prematurely. Mental toughness is a trained skill as is emotional stability as is physical fitness. Use that precious time in the gym to make better decisions about how you will be outside the gym.