Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Hard work is the factor most commonly quoted when discussing what differentiates high achievers. However, I believe the devil is in the details — it is important to be specific in terms of what we’re looking for, as “hard work” can mean many different things. Many coaches will exalt the importance of giving 100% or even 110%, but it was a colleague of mine who once stated something profound: trying to give 100% or 110% isn’t as valuable as simply making the jump from 97% to 100%. I’ll explain what that means.
This is Part 1 of a three-part series on the qualities I look to develop in my players to help them reach their full potential. For the intro to this series, click here.
There are two indicators of a hard worker:
1.1 I push myself past my physical and mental limits
There are two keys words here: past and limits. And those two words make up the difference between 97% and 100%. Everyone has limits. However, in almost every case, what we perceive to be our limit is not actually our limit. The Navy SEALs have a rule: when your brain is telling you that you are absolutely done and there is nothing left to give, your body is only about 40% done. If you have the discipline, try this out for yourself (you may need a partner for motivation):
Go do some cardio and really push yourself. Take note of the first time you want to give up, but don’t! Keep going. Remember that your brain is lying to you. Ignore the message and keep going. See how many times you can ignore the urge to give up. If you really push yourself, you’ll be surprised to see how far you can go past that initial temptation.
The fact of the matter is that this is a mental skill – the skill of ignoring the faulty messages that the brain and body are sending and continuing to plow through no matter what. And just like any skill, whether mental or physical, it requires practice and it can get better over time. We must make sure, therefore, that as coaches we are giving our players the opportunity to practice it. There are three steps:
1. Create a situation that will challenge them physically or mentally
2. Raise their awareness of where their limit is and what thoughts are going through their mind
3. Push them past their limit
The more often we help them push past their limit, the easier it will become and the easier it will be for them to do it on their own.
1.2 I look to maximize first the quality, then the quantity, of everything I do
Just like the previous indicator, this is more complex than it seems. Generally speaking, both coaches and players tend only to focus on one side of the equation, when in fact one needs both to be a true hard worker.
First: quality. Hard workers make sure that they are not just sweating, grunting, and grinding, but that they are executing. This could mean they are hitting with good technique, or it could mean they are playing smart tennis. It could mean they are maintaining good form in the gym, or it could mean that they are as focused during their 20th hour of the week as they are during their 1st. Regardless of the context, the message is the same: it doesn’t matter how much you do, if you don’t do it right.
This is not so much a skill as it is a belief that needs to be instilled in players – “I’m not going to do something if I don’t have it in me to do it right”. Pete Carroll has players “tap in” before every practice. Sometimes if I sense that my players might not be at their best, I ask them to verbally commit to training with quality. If they don’t think they can do it on that day, no worries – they can walk off without judgment. But I want them to make the commitment, both to me and to themselves, that they are here to train.
Once that belief is instilled, we can begin to look at quantity – the importance of getting “one extra rep”. I believe this is a habit, and like any other habit, it must be built. The best way, in my opinion, is simply to give our athletes the choice: “do you want to do another set?” Said with the right tone – positive, cheerful, and encouraging – players will not only sense what the “right” answer is, but also realize that it is not that bad after all. Done repeatedly, it will eventually become second nature.
Lastly: as with all behaviours, it’s vital to publicly praise those who role-model them if you want them to become standard. This can be direct – “Guys, I want to highlight how well Maria pushed herself in that last drill” – or indirect – “Way to push yourself Maria!” Create a demanding environment, communicate your expectations, help your athletes meet them, and the results will surprise you.
For an assessment sheet that covers all the Success Qualities and their indicators, click here.