By Tim S. Grover
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.
Portions of this column appeared previously on SI.com.
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Written on April 25, 2017
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?
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.
Written on October 5, 2016
By Tim S. Grover
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.
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.
Written on September 29, 2016
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Written on December 23, 2015
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.
Read more in RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, by Tim S. Grover. All rights reserved. For personally autographed copies of RELENTLESS, click here.
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Written on November 16, 2015
When you’re one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, people tend to notice when you have the worst game of your career. That was Peyton Manning’s Sunday: Interceptions, sacks, fumbles…benched.
Hard to watch, said the broadcasters and fans, this is not the Peyton Manning we know. The end is near. Over the hill, slowed by age, lost a step.
Folks: Whatever Peyton Manning has lost, very few athletes have ever had.
By Monday, a real explanation: A torn plantar fascia. Common, painful, and difficult to ignore. If you’ve ever felt that sudden burn in the bottom of your foot, you know what I’m talking about. It gets bad, and then it gets worse.
And it completely explains his stunningly-bad performance: If you can’t plant your foot, you can’t properly step into the throw, can’t effectively rotate, can’t generate the power to throw with accuracy and force. It can improve with rest but will be very slow to heal.
Common question being asked today: When did he injure it? Simple answer: Does it really matter?
Manning’s foot injury is the result of all the injuries over all the years, from the neck down to the bottom of the foot. Everything is connected; the body is an endless physical chain. When one link in the chain breaks or wears out, the next link compensates and takes on some of the stress, until it begins to break down as well. Eventually the damage spreads all the way down the chain, until it becomes unusable. You can wipe away the surface rust and grime, shine it up, and the chain looks as strong as ever. But unless you inspect every link, cleaning and maintaining and treating hidden damage and decay, the problem still exists; you just can’t see it. So what began as a knee injury often becomes a hamstring problem or an ankle issue.
And of course, everyone always looks for the next injury to occur on the same side as previous injuries. I recently heard from an athlete who was dealing with recurrent pain in his left hip. “I can’t figure it out,” he said, “I’ve had knee surgery and some hamstring issues on the right, but never been injured on the left, so it can’t be related.”
As far as I know, your right and left sides remain connected at all times; when you’re healthy, they operate in a specific firing pattern that allows you to move correctly. Picture one of those elaborate domino competitions, where all the tiles are perfectly arranged; if everything is set up correctly, you tap one and the rest fall in perfect order. If one is out of place…everything immediately stops.
The body has a similar domino effect: When you’ve been injured on one side, it’s highly likely you’ll end up with issues on the other side if you don’t have the correct firing pattern necessary to support and stabilize the injured area. Result: Overcompensating and overloading the “healthy” side (which is now no longer technically healthy), causing the predictable pull or tweak.
We saw an unfortunate example of that last week, when Kevin Durant went down with a hamstring strain. First question: Same side? Same side as the previous injury and surgery to the right ankle?
No, everyone said, it’s the other side. Left hamstring, right ankle. Phew. Unrelated.
False. It’s all related.
You don’t have to be an athlete to experience this. Ever break your toe or twist your ankle? How’d you get around? You shifted your weight to the other side. Now you’re overcompensating with the healthy side…which won’t stay healthy for long if it has to bear the weight that should be evenly distributed on both sides.
We see this way too often with pro athletes. They get injured, go through rehab, and get back to their sport as if nothing happened. Meanwhile, the damaged area might be ready to go, but what about the rest of the chain that’s been overloaded and overcompensating for the damage? Unless the rehab protocol includes training the entire body to fire in the correct sequence—not only physically but mentally as well–chances of another injury are ridiculously high. Now they call you “injury-prone” and start taking bets on when you’ll break down again.
If you want an example of this, look no further than Houston Texans RB Arian Foster. Shoulder. Ankle. Left knee. Right knee. Hamstring. Back. Calf. Hamstring. Groin. Achilles. The domino tiles are set up wrong. Some of the muscles are firing, some are lying dormant. Perfect example of cleaning off the rust and ignoring hidden damage.
True for the pros and true for you: Once you’ve rehabbed an injury, many of those exercises and treatments have to become part of your everyday routine if you want to stay healthy. Remember: rehab is a process, and the process never stops.
Written on October 29, 2015
Every season starts 0-0, like a pair of binoculars gazing into the future, clear and bright. Everyone worked out with the best trainer, had the best workouts, lost 15 lbs, added 20 lbs of muscle, felt better than they ever have, had the best training camp. Everyone loves the new offense. The team really came together. Great group of guys.
The first couple games, everyone is explosive, focused. The veterans are proving they deserved that big contract, the rookies are showing why they were drafted. You win two or three in a row, the media is talking about ring sizes.
If you listen closely, you can hear the quiet inevitable sound of exhaling.
It’s like New Years Day, all about resolutions and promises. A few games into the season, going out replaces working out. Someone gets hurt, someone is pouting, someone decides they really don’t need to kick it into gear yet, it’s just the first week, the first month. Those binocular lenses are getting a little smaller and blurry. By January, that clear bright future is looking farther and farther away. By the halfway point in the season….time to get new glasses.
If that sounds cynical, I’m okay with that. Heard it too many times. Replay the same tape next year at Media Day. You’ll hear it all again.
This is what true champions know about the start of the season: Time to stop talking about what you did and start showing what you can do.
Anyone can start something. Very few can finish. And only the greats can finish stronger than they started.
If you really want to know what an NBA player is made of, wait about 20 games into the season. That’s about how long it takes for everyone to settle into who they really are. They get back into their comfort zone, for another season of “good enough.”
“Good enough” rarely is.
Whether I’m talking to athletes or business groups, the challenge is the same: Are you willing to find out what you can be, and not just settle for what you already are? Can you exceed what you’ve already done? Not just at the start of the season, when the legs are fresh and the adrenalin is roaring. Can you do it in every practice, in every game?
One of the greatest challenges you can face is setting a high standard early in your career. Why? Because now you’re expected—by yourself and others–to deliver that and beyond for the rest of your career. That’s why so many people run from success: It’s too much pressure, sacrifice, dedication, expectation…too hard to deliver more than you delivered the year before.
But for those who are driven to improve, to compete, to keep climbing to the next level, there is no “good enough.” They learn, they adjust, they find new ways to get better. I gave this example in my book RELENTLESS: MJ would come into every season developing some new aspect of his game. He’d start by himself, one-on-zero, working alone. Then he’d use it against others in the gym. Then in an actual practice, and finally, he’d unleash it in competition. By then he’d worked on it so intensely—over and over and over—that it became so natural and instinctive he didn’t have to think about it. Prepare, learn, study, perform. By the time his opponents thought they had him figured out, he had already moved on to the next level. And the level after that.
They can’t stop you if they can’t figure you out.
As the season wears on, as injuries and fatigue begin to set in, all that off-season work and physical conditioning becomes irrelevant if your mental conditioning can’t keep up. When that little voice in the back of your head insists it’s okay to skip your workout, do you listen, or do you tell it to shut the f— up? Physical strength shows what you can do; mental strength determines whether you’ll actually do it.
Most athletes look at their wins and say: “Let’s do it again.” Champions look at their wins and say: “Let’s do it better.”
Written on October 16, 2015
If you read my book RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, you already know I categorize everyone into one of three categories: Coolers, Closers, and Cleaners.
In my work with elite athletes, I have to know whom I’m dealing with, their mental strengths and weaknesses, how far I can push them, how far they’re willing to go. One day during the off-season I looked around my gym at a dozen All-Stars and another dozen potential All-Stars, all playing in our NBA-caliber summer pickup games. Every player there was considered “great,” yet each performed at a different level with different motivations and limitations. Some were willing to go full strength, others were content to just play a little summer ball. And that’s fine with me, but I pay close attention to the subtle differences that show me how serious someone is about getting ahead of everyone else. Let’s face it: At the highest level of success in any area, everyone has reached some degree of outstanding achievement, so we’re talking about shades of greatness. But if you want to be the very best of the best, it’s the details that make the difference.
So just for my own thinking, I devised a three-tiered system categorizing different types of competitors:
Coolers, Closers, and Cleaners.
Good, Great, and Unstoppable.
You can apply these standards to any group of individuals; just look around your team, your office, your friends, your family. Everyone has a different definition of personal success. Some people allow life’s circumstances to decide for them, others decide what they want and say “good enough” when they get it. And then there are a select few who can’t even define success because they keep raising the bar on what that means. Coolers, Closers, Cleaners.
I talked about this in my recent interview with Inside Quest ; here’s a short excerpt, and of course you can read more in RELENTLESS.