We are not limited by the truths we accept about ourselves/our world view

We are limited by the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves/our world view

Coach MJ

What does that mean? Here is a story that I hope will help explain.

A few years ago, a mother contacted me sharing that her Academy level soccer playing son was not getting the play time that she thought he deserved. As a result, she felt that if he received a bit of additional training & coaching, then perhaps he could receive more time in the game and less time warming the bench. I agreed to assess her son and offer any recommendations that I believed would take him to the next level of performance.

But before we get into the son’s performance potential, let’s quickly review what skills, technique and capacity level an average soccer player needs to have in order to be capable of performing at a base level. Soccer games are 90minutes long, so to say that aerobic endurance is important may seem a bit obvious but as you will soon learn it isn’t necessarily that obvious to everyone. In an average soccer game, a player can be expected to run anywhere from 6 to 10miles; that’s right… a soccer player has to be able to run 10 to 16 km during the course of a match where the tempo of the running varies from a slow recovery jog pace to full out sprint. And since its soccer and not just running, a player has to be able to run at all speeds while skillfully handling the ball, being able to pass, receive and shoot to try and score. Again, soccer being more than running requires players to also be able to run and handle the soccer ball not just in straight lines, but while turning slowly, sharply, quickly and all of the above all at once. Ball handling skills are as important as aerobic capacity. A soccer player can handle a ball with their feet as if they were handling the ball with their hands… its no small feat/feet (ha-ha) what players can do with a ball.

Back to our Academy level soccer player…

In short, the assessment took very little time… why… because there was little to evaluate. The son could barely ride a stationary bike for 20mins without becoming bored and tired, had barely any balance, at least not enough single leg standing balance to pick a ball off the floor without falling over, forget about trying to score on a goalkeeper. Yet despite this obvious lack in skill, technique and capacity he was absolutely certain that he was on his way to replacing Cristiano Ronaldo and earning millions upon millions in his soon to be announced contract.

And why isn’t he being played by the coach? According to both the mother and athlete, the coach has something “against him”. When I suggested that skill, technique and capacity should be the factors influencing the decision of the coach as to who should play and how much, both stared blankly back at me as if to say… so… so what? Stating that this particular Academy level soccer player lacks nothing in their perspective that should limit his game play time.

Big dreams… absolutely!

Big delusions as to what it takes to achieve big dreams… absolutely!

As parents I believe we think that telling our children how amazing they are without there being any evidence of ‘how amazing they are’ will build their self image, will build their belief in themselves, and we hope it will build them into the people that we believe them to be. Problem is… there is a line between hope and simply lying. On one side of that line there is indeed encouragement, on the other side of that line is egotism.

I’ve done it myself, I’ve told my son how “amazing” an athlete he is without there being any objective evidence of how amazing he is. It was parental hope that he would decide for himself to want to be amazing and amazed at the results he can post as a result of consistent intentional work. After telling my son how “amazing” he was, he did start to believe it, and early results in sport seemed to validate that his dad may be truly onto something. Did he train… yes, he trained an appropriate amount for a tween but then we started to extrapolate how “amazing” he was into his future years and what he could accomplish based on these early results. Then when my son stopped having “amazing” results, confusion set in…  Am I truly amazing? Am I still amazing? Was I amazing to start? Then doubt creeped in, and all the “amazing” potential disappears and with it distrust is born.

This is why we have posted on our junior team (jTOEST) website a webpage titled: “6,000 hrs Minimum” (click here to link to the webpage). This pattern of parents blowing up their child’s potential beyond reality didn’t start or stop with me. My son who now is the head coach of jTOEST has come to experience this pattern with the parents who bring their own rising stars now to him to coach… parents with children who aren’t even teens, who don’t even have 1,000 hrs of total training time yet are expecting training sessions and race results to be as if their child was already at a Provincial or National team level. Parents hopeful that if they “will” their child into greatness, and if the coach helps “will” their child into greatness, then their child will simply walk into greatness.

Where is the disconnect?

What I learnt parenting & coaching my son and what my son is learning now as a coach himself is that children do not connect training time as the source of their ‘amazing’ results, and ‘amazing’ potential. Children simply go to the sport they are playing and play. Competing for children is not necessarily an extrapolation of their training & preparation. Competing for children has yet to become a result of internal processes, and is more a result of external influences (e.g. when they lose in competition, in a game the explanation is the other athlete/team had better equipment, the other athlete/team were older, taller, bigger, etc..).  Until children equate work with results, to them results arrive no differently then presents on Christmas… by wishing & hoping. by luck.

The disconnect is that parents think that children understand that the training they are putting in is “work” that will yield results, but fail to recognize that children do make this connection.  This is where and how I failed my children.  Now this lesson serves as the basis of how I now coach my children, how I coach my masters athletes, and how my son is coaching his athletes.

Children will not connect work to results until after they first major failure in sport. Problem is without proper coaching, mentoring and parenting during this period most children (who are at this point tweens or teens aged 11-16) decide that their initial success must have been ‘luck’, and now with their luck running out its time to quit sport. Yet this is not the case whatsoever. This is simply the point where children have the opportunity to take over ownership of their future from mom & dad and take on exploring their potential themselves, but… it requires proper coaching, mentoring and parenting for this transition to happen.

This is the pivot point for junior athletes. Up to this point, whether the child succeeds or fails is up to mom & dad: mom & dad sign them up for a sport, drive them to & from sessions, motivate them, encourage them or in some cases simply make them ‘do the sport’. The success of the child has little to do with the child and mostly with the parental drive to help their child gain momentum. Problem is, most parents don’t know how to coach, and most coaches don’t know how to coach children through this transition and this transition is critical for children. For a child to truly mature they need to move from doing things because they are told to do things, and start to do things because they themselves want to (for themselves). This is the opportunity that sport gives to children.

The Academy level soccer player that this post started on has not matured despite the fact that he was already well into his teen years. What happened? My perspective is that mom & dad for fear that if their child truly understood and felt his ‘failure’ to train at an Academy level would so severely demotivate their son and derail his hopes of being the next Cristiano Ronaldo that he would walk away from soccer and sport altogether. (Hence the title of the post: The Lies We Tell). Unfortunately, the later in life that this athlete wakes up to realize that he is not putting in anywhere close to the training hours that a true Academy level soccer player is, the more difficult the parents are making it for their son (yet likely clinging onto the hope that somehow they are keeping his – or perhaps their – dreams alive).

Reality is… the level of training that ‘Academy’ level amateur/junior athletes are putting in:

  • swimming = 30,000 – 60,000m per week | 2,000+ km per year
  • cycling = 400-500km per week | 24,000 km per year
  • running = 50 – 80km per week | 3,000+ km per year
  • triathlon = a mix of the above

Long story short… as on our webpage “6,000 Hrs Minimum”… if an athlete is not training 2hrs/day consistently and intentionally then they are not yet “training” to excel and perform in sport.  They may be putting in time training, but its at an earlier stage such as “Learning to Train”, or “Training to Train” (as per the LTAD — Long Term Athlete Development Model).  To arrive at the “Training to Compete” and “Training to Win” stages requires years of consistent intentional/deliberate training so the goal for parents should be to get their children to their first major failure in sport, and then help their child with the help of their coach transition them to the next level: the point where the child takes on the ownership of training as their own and they start wanting to win because they want to win (and not because mommy & daddy told them they are ‘winners’).

Its not an easy journey, but its a journey that is necessary if your child is to mature into an independent young adult who is truly pursuing their potential and their greatness in all areas of life, in and out side of sport.