I've learned that for many people, change is uncomfortable. Maybe they want to go through it, and they can see the benefit of it, but at a gut level, change is uncomfortable. Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation
For the past week I have lived in Tokyo, Japan. I has been my first experience of this country, and I have deliberately made myself uncomfortable. I don't like being uncomfortable. I really don't. Not many people enjoy it, let's face it. But this trip took me way out of my normal environment, and I made an effort to embrace it. I wanted to learn!
So here are a few things that made me uncomfortable:
1. Traveling alone, especially internationally, scares me a lot. I don't like it at all. Anything could go wrong. I could lose my passport, my wallet, get sick, or many other things where I wouldn't have anyone who knew me or could get help.
2. Going somewhere where the language was completely different. I can understand most Latin-based languages. Japanese is far from that.
3. Traveling by train/metro at night when a taxi would be a much simpler and safer option. FYI, the first night I ended up on the wrong line with the wrong ticket which created some additional issues. In other situations, I managed to get on the wrong train and go in the opposite direction of where I was hoping to go.
4. Choosing a "room" (see picture) that I normally wouldn't. Sure, I could stay in a nice hotel room, but I wanted to do something new.
6. I took public transport even though taking a taxi or Uber would be much easier and convenient. I got lost. I paid the wrong price for tickets. I went the wrong way. But I learned.
7. I tried new foods and drinks. Trust me, I regretted some of those decisions, but some of them I did not. However, how will we know if we do/do not like something if we do not try it at least once?
8. I tried to speak Japanese and tried to follow some of their customs. Was it comfortable? NO!!! I'm horrible at Japanese but I made the effort.
9. I tried to speak to people when I didn't want to. I'd much rather keep my mouth shut and not talk to anyone (seriously, if I don't know you well then I'd rather not talk). But that's not how connections are made at an international conference. So I made the effort to introduce myself to people rather than the other way around. Awkward? Yes! Worth it? Yes!
10. Last, I told myself to do things even when I didn't want to. I cannot tell you how many times I told myself to do something even when I didn't really want to. Why? Because I knew it was a good idea, even if my personality screamed at me not to do it. I won't list the number of times I said "no" to myself, but I deliberately ignored that internal voice. For example, here I am at Hachikō Square, the most famous and perhaps populous square in Tokyo. I dislike large crowds, but I wanted to see Hachikō Memorial Statue. I can't tell you how many things went wrong in my trip to see that statue, but I did the uncomfortable to get there. I'm glad I did!
Why am I writing all of this? It's a long post. I want you to understand that within sports and sports performance, the same attitude is necessary. Too often, we choose what is comfortable and familiar. We choose to make decisions based on what we know, not on what we do not know. We don't make the best decision; instead, we make the most comfortable decision.
For me, this was probably one of the most rewarding conferences I have ever attended. Did I learn a lot from the conference? Yes, I did, but no more than any other conference I attend. Rather, I learned so much more by pushing myself to be uncomfortable. That's where the true learning took place.
Be not afraid of discomfort. If you can't put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable, then you will never grow. You will never change. You'll never learn. Jason Reynolds, author
I leave Tokyo a different person (thank you Japan Racquetball Federation and Japan Sports Council). I have been made uncomfortable. I can't say I enjoyed the experience of being uncomfortable, but I learned and grew from it and I know I'm a better person for it. What are you doing in your environment to be uncomfortable? How are you bettering yourself?
I am looking forward to having Junior World Champion Lalo Portillo (MEX) here in Stillwater to train with me for a week. We will be doing some on court training but also plenty of other off court activities to work on strength and power.
There’s a long blog post coming up, for which I make no apologies. A year of experiences takes time to explain!
I began competing in racquetball 11 years ago when I entered my first tournament as a novice to find out whether I really did love the sport. Eleven years later, I still do.
Although I have improved steadily over the years, I have never had an opportunity to really train and improve like I wanted to. I knew I was a decent player, but how good was I really? I was also now a coach of athletes, and I was asking them to work and train at a level I had never done myself, at least in racquetball. I knew that if I could do it with my busy lifestyle, anyone could do it.
At the end of 2017, I asked my wife Terra-Leigh whether she would support me training and competing seriously for a year. I wasn't talking about becoming a full-time competitor, of course, but spending more time training and traveling to compete. Something would have to give, and that something was primarily family time.
Competing seriously is something I’ve never been able to do before. Yes, I’ve played in a variety of tournaments over the years, but I’ve done so knowing I haven’t been able to give them my best. Work, family, and a lack of training all affected the outcomes. I hated losing a match, knowing the outcome could and would be different if I had been able to put in the work. I hate losing, but if I lose to a better player than me then I can accept that and work on getting better. But losing to someone you know you could have beaten if you had the time to put in the work… that I really hate.
I was now 38 years old, and I knew that physically the opportunity for becoming my very best was slipping away. No one beats time! I wanted one shot to really play this sport like I knew I could. Terra-Leigh agreed to support me for one year. She’s an amazing woman!
January 1, 2018, began a new me -- someone who was dedicating a large portion of the year to training and competing in racquetball. My life and daily schedule changed completely. With the help of OSU faculty member Melissa Jensen and strength and conditioning coach Chantel Anthony, I developed a nine-month training and competition plan.
I won’t describe the weeks and months of training, other than to say it was lonely and unpleasant. I didn’t have a training partner on or off the court, so the only person who pushed me was me. The gym, court, and yoga studio became regular features in my life. We won’t talk about the planks and wall sits. It was all hard. I can’t really describe how hard it was.
My nutrition changed a lot. I quit alcohol completely. I quit desserts, candy, and chocolate completely. I really mean completely! I tracked my exercise daily. I logged my workouts to set improvement goals. It was an all-or-nothing approach. If my wife was willing to deal with my time away from our family, then the least I could do was take it seriously. In many ways, as an amateur I trained harder and was more dedicated than most professionals. I committed everything to being my best for nine months.
I had a successful year. My training and diet worked, and I improved off and on the court. I challenged myself to play the very best players I could. Some I beat, some I didn’t. But I have no regrets. My fitness improved consistently; so did my power, my speed, and my agility. My weight and body fat percentage came into line. I became living proof that my training program works. If I could do it, so could others.
I challenged myself to play the best, to discover how good I was and how good I could be. For more days than I could count, I trained alone. As I said before, it was hard. But I had goals and one shot to give it my best. And I regret none of it. Did I miss the ice cream, or having a drink, or taking days off, or coming home an hour or two earlier? Yes, I did! But sometimes you have to give up something good for something better.
I finished playing completely in early October, but September was my primary goal. I tracked data three times during the year: January, April, and September. Here’s what I found:
I was never that interested in the actual numbers, but improving each time I measured them. I was interested in the improvement.
As 2018 comes to a close, I asked myself whether I could continue to become better than I am now. Absolutely yes. I’m still improving as a player and learning more and more in every tournament. Having only played in maybe 35 racquetball tournaments in my life, I’m still a novice in the sport. My skills as a player continue to improve faster than my physical attributes decline with age. But the time has come to focus my attention back on my family and on helping others achieve their goals. Continuing with my own athletic goals are unsustainable and unfair to my family. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy.
The year 2018 is one I will remember for the rest of my life. I gave everything and pursued my goals relentlessly. I bettered myself in so many ways. So I ask the question: if I can do it, even with a job, family, and many other responsibilities, why can’t you? My year was not based on my skill level, ability, or because I had “talent” and a future in the sport. Rather, it was based on my desire to become my own GOAT. It came down to commitment and discipline and a desire to fulfil my goals.
I have new goals for 2019, but they are professional goals this time. I challenge all of you reading this to set New Year goals and achieve them. Only about 8% of those who set New Year resolutions achieve them. I was part of that number. If you'd like to discuss how this could look for you in the new year, give me a call, send me an email, and let's talk it over!
I believe I'm good with words. Thousands of published pages of my writing help to justify this claim. But, there are experiences and feelings that, no matter how much I try, I struggle to convey. Once such instance came this weekend, when I had the opportunity to watch Lalo Portillo in person, as he defied the odds to become a Junior World Champion.
Many doubted Lalo's ability to overcome a very talented group of competitors, but we knew he was prepared. He had done the work. He had trained for this. In front of a packed house, Lalo showed composure, confidence, and control to overcome what could have been a crushing 15-14 first game loss to demonstrate his will by winning games two and three.
I have worked with Lalo for the past year, and I confess my input may not have been much compared to the many, many hours of training he has put in over this year and the years before. There is no doubt he earned his title by beating the very best.
I have been amazed at Lalo's willingness to listen and learn. He is truly a remarkable athlete and young man. In many ways he has demonstrated professionalism well beyond his years. Those interested in sponsoring young athletes would do well to consider Lalo as an ideal candidate.
Lalo, I'm so proud of you. You have listened and taken care of the little things. Your title was not given you to. You earned it. To see you achieve it in person is something I will never forget. Thank you for allowing me to be part of that experience.
"To be the best, whether in sports or business or any other aspect of life, it’s never enough to just get to the top; you have to stay there, and then you have to climb higher, because there’s always someone right behind you trying to catch up. Most people are willing to settle for good enough." (Tim Grover)
Keep climbing Lalo. Keeping becoming your GOAT.
In this short video, I expand on Tim Grover's thoughts on instinct, learning, and skill development in sports. The quotes come from his book Relentless. He was the performance coach to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade). Subscribe to my channel to get notifications for when I post new content.
For as long as I can remember, companies in the fitness industry have been promising to deliver the holy grail; the body we have always desired (the one created in someone else’s image, by the way). The grail may be a new method that promises to tone and sculpt a body part, a pill that guarantees weight loss without ever leaving the couch or changing your diet (that is still one of the funniest things I have ever heard), or a new ‘workout’ class; you know, the one that everyone is doing. Good marketing companies are exceptional at fleecing the uninformed.
One of the things I learned early in my life was that if something sounds too good to be true, well, it probably is. My parents pontificated that lesson. Over time, I no longer accepted claims at face value. I stopped believing the alleged subject matter experts and started asking questions and researching things on my own. Why? Well, I absolutely hate feeling like a complete moron and I want to make informed decisions. With more information, if I still choose to believe something that is not true, well then I deserve the ‘Idiot’ label. Those who know me well are keenly aware I typically question everything.
I really do not know much in the big picture. I have dabbled a little bit in the whole exercise thing, but I believe that I may know enough that I can speak on the subject when I want. Two decades ago, I was not as informed as I am today. To be honest, I was guilty of arguing with my trainer about the caloric expenditure reading on cardio equipment in 2002. When I began studying for certifications a couple years later, I humbly apologized for my indignation. In fact, those calorie counters are a big fat lie, and while that makes sense to me now, my naivety led me to believe that it was true. After all, those people wouldn’t lie about how many calories I burn, right? Of course, they would; these are the same people claiming the Thighmaster will make my thighs thinner.
Where am I going here? Well, insomnia was winning earlier this week, so I turned on the TV in the very early morning hours. Behold, Jeeves! The grail, the Arc, the secret! At long last, the product that will deliver us all; Squat Magic. I gaped at the screen as I could feel the blood now coursing through my veins. As I watched and turned up the volume, something I still deeply regret. I posted the segment to Facebook with a comment that it should be illegal to sell this stuff; all of it.
I have held my tongue for a very long time. You can thank the extortionists marketing the Squat Magic for me reaching the end of my rope. I am simply apoplectic. My colleagues and peers actually have integrity, and for that, I am grateful. It is this kind of product that undermines the science and the truth. ENOUGH!
I am going to say this one time. The Thighmaster, Shakeweight, and the myriad of other pieces of exercise equipment claiming to be the solution are crap. The Squat Magic is crap. Not one of these modalities do anything they claim. Each of these is brought to market by marketing companies that spend a ridiculous amount of money to lie to all of you because they know you will buy. Please just stop. I am not going to break down each modality for you in this article. If you want to actually start listening, please go retain a qualified individual, such as a NSCA or ACSM professional, to explain the science in laymen’s terms. You can even go to the library to research the Exercise Science books; go back to school for an education in Kinesiology, but do not continue to take the alleged expertise of an actor (yes, actor).
Not only does this company have you believing the magical claims, they also flash across the screen the words “dual certified celebrity trainer” to support this blasphemy. Guess what my friends; he isn’t a trainer of a thing, but he did play one on TV. He is an actor. His IMBD profile with reference to the work in which he has appeared. Wake up! “Well, ‘so and so’ said so, and he’s on TV; you’re not. Clearly he is successful to get to TV so he must know.” Um, well, for those not willing to do some homework in order to make truly informed decisions vs nonsense, then good luck to you. Eject. Don’t blast it all over social media later when the latest fad failed. For the most part, I blame the companies but at some point, buyer beware. Wake up and smell the crap. Own your part of the ignorance.
Anyway, the other night, I am staring at the ‘unicorn.’ Here is the device that is going to give me the shapely ass of my dreams; tone and sculpt my gluteus (This is literally nails on the chalkboard for me). Not only was my butt going to be amazing, my form while performing the squat would be immediately perfected.... (insert colorful commentary here). My blood pressure must have reached an all-time high that night, just as I can feel it rising as I write. I would like to destroy the construct of this product; however, I live by a set of rules. Yes, many are Gibbs’ rules. My rule number #10, ‘Never argue with an idiot; they drag you to their level and then beat you with experience.’ Rather than ripping every claim to shreds, I am going to provide some science based in research and evidence.
What does this all mean? Put the brownies down, lift heavy stuff, push out of your comfort zone, and nothing changes overnight. More importantly, find an activity you like to do. Research has proven we are more likely to achieve our goals and make new habits when we are enjoying the work (yes, this can be done). If you want the holy grail, do the work. If it sounds too good to be true…
Legendary Strongman Žydrūnas Savickas (“the Big Z”) has a few choice words about training presented in this 90 second video. Is he right? Does success come from training the hardest?
Wait, so it might take longer than a few sessions before I see improvement?
“It would have been useful if someone had told me (about mental skills) seven or eight years before, at the start of my career… It takes a considerable period of time to develop natural sporting mental skills.”
Sir Steve Redgrave, 5 rowing gold medals achieved at 5 consecutive Olympics (from In a Golden Age – The Autobiography; photo Getty Images).
I interview World Racquetball Tour Professional Jaime Martell (Mexico) about life on the tour, how he trains, and what his plans are for the future.
I interview World Natural Bodybuilding Federation World Champion Dr. Brian Whitacre about many topics including what makes a champion, training, nutrition, visualization, the psychology of posing, and juggling life, work, and sports.
I spend a couple of minutes discussing the excuses given by athletes and coaches to justify NOT getting sports performance help. Here I equate it to why we don't want to go to the doctor.
I had the pleasure of interviewing 5-time racquetball world champion Rocky Carson about a variety of topics including training and competing on the International Racquetball Tour. The picture is from when we first met back at the International Racquetball Federation - IRF World Championships in 2010, where this picture was taken.
USA Racquetball’s Athletic Trainer and Massage Therapist Shares Expertise on Athletic Injuries, Stretching, and Recovery
Not surprisingly given the title, GOAT Sports Performance is all about finding ways to improve performance. I love learning, and even if it’s not directly within my areas of expertise, I look for ways to grow and improve outcomes for my clients. To that end, I asked USA Racquetball’s athletic trainer and massage therapist, Brent Huff, to share his insights on a variety of health topics.
Can you tell me a little about your background and what you do?
I’m a certified athletic trainer with the National Athletic Training Association (NATA). I’ve been certified for 17 years, and I’m also a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the National Association of Strength and Conditioning (NSCA). Three years ago I became a holistic lifestyle coach with the Chek Institute and more recently a massage therapist with the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).
So where do you work?
I work as a personal trainer and massage therapist at HealthTrack Sports Wellness in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and I’m the owner of Holistic Ultimate Functional Fitness (HUFF). My clients comprise of everyone from kids to professional athletes, schools to clinics, and even onsite at companies administering injury prevention programs. I’m also the current athletic trainer and massage therapist for the U.S. National Racquetball Team. I’ve been doing that for the past six years.
Okay, let me ask you a question that I hear a lot when it comes to stretching. Some people swear that static stretching, where you stay relatively still and stretch, is the best way to stretch. Other people say that dynamic stretching, where you stretch while doing movements, is better. Which one do you recommend, and why?
A lot of research has been done trying to find the optimum stretching approach: when, how, and for how long. I follow the general rule of thumb that you should use dynamic stretching before activity (e.g., practice, games, or training), and static stretching after activity. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. I might use static stretching during injury rehab or if there is need for corrective exercises such as improving hip alignment, for example.
Dynamic stretching should be done first in order to get the blood pumping, to increase tissue temperature and elasticity, and to begin progressively moving the body through motions that will be used during activity. Static stretching post-activity should be used in order to try to elongate the muscles since this is when they will be most ready to promote change in length and to help slow/cool the body down.
You work with a variety of sports and athletes. What are the most common injuries you typically see?
Generally speaking, the most common injuries I see are knees, low back, shoulders, and elbows (in no specific order). With that said, they are usually not the cause; they are the result of other issues. For example, I generally see low back pain due to hip issues (i.e., hip flexor, glute med/min, and/or piriformis). The result of these hip issues may result in pain in the low back extensors, quad lumborum, and or sacrum region.
As for shoulder or elbow issues in racquetball, I hear so many people talk about vibration dampeners (a band or something similar placed on the strings of the racquet to reduce vibration). But there are too many other variables to say the issues are due to vibration. Consider all the biomechanical variables in addition to all the racquet variables, like weight, balance, handle size, stiffness of frame material, string type, string gauge, and string tension: these can and usually do cause shoulder and elbow issues. Biomechanically, I tend to look at scapular mobility and trunk rotation, for example. Plus, we haven’t even mentioned swing mechanics and footwork as potential causes as well. The body is a very complex machine, and there are very few simple solutions to injuries.
Many athletes have to train and compete when they are not 100% or at full health. What strategies could you give that might help cope with these little niggling injuries?
I would suggest investing in themselves. What I mean is this: if they’re going to spend time and money traveling and competing, they should also spend time and money learning how to care for themselves better. So many people like to compete yet don’t know how to train or don't understand the importance of the different parts of training. Utilize a physical therapist or athletic trainer, invest in personal training, and learn high performance nutrition/hydration.
Probably most importantly, learn how to recover! Implement the use of heat and ice for pre- or post-activity treatment. There are also foam rollers, vibration plates/balls/rollers, portable electrical stimulation units, compression units, salt baths, etc. Combinations of these things, if used properly, can be very beneficial to recovery and even injury prevention.
Lastly, I would say they need to learn that sometimes less is more. So many people over train. Learn to train with a purpose! Get to the gym, do what you have to do, and get out. Don’t just go through the motions. I would use Kane Waselenchuk as an example in professional racquetball [#1 player on the International Racquetball Tour; considered the GOAT by many]. I see him walk onto the racquetball court with the purpose of winning as quickly as possible so he can get off the court, recover, and begin preparing for his next match, both mentally and physically.
Brent, as always thanks for your time and expertise, and I hope those reading will consider and apply your advice. I loved your last comment about being efficient, which is Core Value #7 of GOAT Sports Performance and one that all my clients agree to: “Whether training or competing, I am efficient and effective.”
If you’d like to learn more from Brent or work with him, he can be reached at HUFF Wellness & Sports Conditioning (520-234-2136; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Think you're too old to be competitive? Have a team you think is too old to be competitive? Think again! In this video I explain how and why age can lead to wins when it should be the younger competitor/team that claims success.
Professional athletes and coaches often focus on the importance of deliberate practice. Yet, deliberate play is also an important component to sports performance. This article explains why both need to be included in training, and it can be read in its entirety here.
I was recently asked by an athlete how important the mental side of sports was to success. Was it more or less important than having the physical skills? Well, that’s kind of similar to asking whether peanut butter is more or less important than jelly in a PB&J sandwich. You can’t be successful without having both!
Here are two true story examples to illustrate. A few years ago, I had a young but enthusiastic player sign up for a tournament I ran. He was athletic and was very confident he would overcome any technical difficulties playing a more skilled opponent through his superior athletic ability. His confidence never wavered until he lost to his more skilled but much less fit opponent. Although his mental game did not fail him during the match (I might argue it did before he started), he lacked the skill to execute when it was necessary. He was very confident he would make the shot, but he couldn’t execute.
I had another friend who was also extremely athletic, and I thought he had an excellent chance at winning the division. Yet, to my astonishment, in his first game he swung and missed the ball seven consecutive times. He never recovered from that, fell apart with nerves, and came out of the course visibly shaking.
Based on these two stories, is physical skills or mental skills more necessary? Both right? I have many years of training in physical education, and an expectation of PE teachers is that they train students across three domains. The affective domain addresses ethics, behavior, and attitude. The psychomotor domain teaches physical skills and the cognitive domain teaches the mental skills necessary to be successful in sports and exercise. All three are necessary to develop a well-rounded sports participant.
What’s the point of this piece beyond the understanding that an athlete’s mental skills (cognitive) are just as important as their physical skills (psychomotor)? It’s this: why do so many train so much on their physical skills yet train so little on their mental skills? It makes no sense to train your body to perform at its best but ultimately under perform or fail completely because you didn’t train your mind.
Mental training is difficult for some athletes, coaches, parents, and sports organizations to believe in because the results are not always as obvious. You can’t always visually see progress like you can with physical skills. But don’t be arrogant enough to think that without mental training an athlete will ever achieve their potential. It’s why so many professional athletes and teams spend a significant amount of their time training minds to control body. Will you?
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