“Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.” ~Aristotle
To work smarter and improve faster, discipline is required. Discipline is commonly cited as a necessity for success in sports (or life). But what is discipline? How does an athlete know if she has a disciplined approach? Is it the sweat? The fatigue? The outcomes? Many young people (in age or maturity) lack a full and clear understanding of what it means to be disciplined. Laziness certainly shows a lack of discipline. Every great leader knows that she must go through the middle to get to the end. Quality practice is a necessity; it is the huge “middle.” She cannot expect to coast through drills in practice and be able to “turn it on” in the game (or worse: late in the game if the score is close).
A leader works to make the performance in practice feel the same as it does in a playoff championship game. She goes game speed, or she does not go at all. Ideally, she cares equally about all of her results, regardless of the situation, because results always provide feedback about how well she is currently doing at approaching her potential (the “end” that she is striving for). She wants to be the best she can be and she knows that the only time she has any control over for reaching that lofty goal is right now. She has the discipline to move beyond her comfort zone, beyond her familiar zone. It is her habit of doing her best, now — regardless of how hard that is — that makes her successful.
Disciplined athletes make excellence second nature because they are willing to endure fatigue and pain now to enhance their pleasure later. Typically, this is pleasure that will result from performing better, maximizing her chances to win.
Simply put, disciplined athletes are competitive. They run through the line instead of coasting to it. They go to bed at a decent hour rather than go out to a party. They lift weights rather than hang out in the weight room. They eat fruits and vegetables rather than fast food and ice cream. Their attitude is one of appreciation rather than one of entitlement. In many different ways, they push towards their goals rather than coasting along. Disciplined athletes figure out what their job is and do it the best they can.
Can a person work hard and still be undisciplined? Yes, and this is not uncommon. An athlete is mentally lazy if she does not constantly evaluate information, looking for the best way. Some athletes do not like to focus on the details. It is too much trouble, and after all, everyone can see that they are already working hard-just look at the sweat. Unfortunately, if they are working hard, but not smart, the return on their work will be less than a tenth of what it could be.
Quality practice produces improvement more than ten times faster than merely going through the motions. Slow progress occurs when the athlete does not work at the edge of her ability level, or she is not focused, or she works only on her strengths, not her weaknesses. Disciplined athletes understand the point of their practice, they focus their attention appropriately, and they wisely choose how to spend their time. Often, they spend most of their time working on their weaknesses and finish with their strengths (to maximize confidence and fun memories after practice). In the weight room, an athlete should train her proportionally weaker muscles more than her proportionally stronger muscles. Also, she should train for functional strength in her sport, not to look good on the beach. She takes the time to design drills that are as difficult or more difficult than the game situations that they simulate.
Normal athletes' evaluations of what they are good at and what needs the most improvements are often biased by their expectations and prejudices. Most would rather protect their ego than identify a better way. When something goes wrong, they do not sufficiently search for the cause of the problem. When it is time to try something new, they hesitate or skip it because they fear the unknown. They do not know how to stretch their own boundaries. They have not learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. As a result, they make poor adjustments and their rate of learning suffers, as does their performance in “uncomfortable” situations. Skillful adjustments and continuous learning are primary ingredients for any athlete/scientist to approach her potential.
The quality of an athlete's approach can be disciplined and unselfish or undisciplined and dictated by emotions and the selfish ego. A hitter should often go for a single to the opposite field rather than trying to pull a home run. The pitcher should execute a game plan rather than engage in a personal battle with the opposing 3-hole hitter. A lack of self-control causes athletes to act emotionally instead of rationally, which is often manifested in increased tension and/or aggressiveness. Examples of a lack of self-control include obvious mistakes such swinging at pitches that are not close to strikes or less obvious mistakes such as bad rhythm (usually rushing, but sometimes being too slow and careful) or loss of flexibility. Infinite examples exist. Discipline requires emotional control, thereby allowing the athlete to use her best judgment about how to maximize her chances of getting the outcomes she wants.
In the book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, Dr. M. Scott Peck clarified what it takes to have great discipline. His premise is that life is difficult, but with discipline, a person can transcend this difficulty. He breaks down discipline into four necessary components: delaying gratification, accepting responsibility, dedicating oneself to reality, and balancing. Delaying gratification means scheduling pain in the present to enhance pleasure in the future. Accepting responsibility involves recognizing that a problem any person is having is her problem and it is her job to solve this problem. Do not wait for someone else or “society” to fix it. Part of accepting responsibility involves a dedication to reality, which assumes a commitment to discovering truth or what is real and what is not. Stringent self-examination, willingness to be challenged, and relentless honesty are necessary components of a total dedication to reality. Shortcuts are sought for efficiency, but inappropriate shortcutting such as cheating is unacceptable. Finally, balancing, or choosing one course of action over another, requires flexibility, good judgment, and courage. It also acknowledges the pain of giving something up. In conclusion, Dr. Peck's work teaches that the disciplined individual is a spiritually evolved person who has the capability to transcend the difficulty of life.
All this information may seem like a lot for an athlete to handle. Do the details of good discipline make the attempt at it overwhelming? No. Would an effort to be disciplined be futile? Never. Clarification makes the process manageable, and the effort alone defines the success. All that is required is courage and motivation. Of course this is easier to understand than to do, but if courage and motivation exist, a leader will constantly fight to improve her skills. She will fall down often, but will get up each time. She will strive for perfection, but she will be smarter than to ever allow herself to expect it. She will keep the mountaintop in mind, sometimes at the forefront and often in the background, but she will enjoy the journey even more than the destination. By doing these things through motivated and courageous behavior, she will truly be disciplined in her attempt to approach her potential. Success is inevitable.
|Aaron Weintraub holds a B.A. from Emory University (1993) and a M.Ed. from the University of Virginia (2000). He served as an assistant baseball coach for 13 years before starting www.CoachTraub.com, a consulting business whose mission is to over-deliver value on goods and services designed to help you win the mental side of the game. He works with teams and individuals, adding clarity to help them get what they want for their sport. CoachTraub.com also runs camps and clinics and has an online store.Weintraub is the author of Coaches Guide to Winning the Mental Game (Coaches Choice, 2009) and An Elite Athlete’s Manual for Training Mental Skills (self-published, 2011). He lives in The Colony, TX with his wife, Nicole, and their four children.|
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