Champions & "Cool"

Imagine if your young aspiring athlete came to you and said: "Mom, can you buy me this shirt?" A t-shirt with the word "Dope" written on the front. Your immediate reaction might be to ask, Why suggest to the world that you lack intelligence? More frighteningly, you worry that your kid thinks advertising drugs add up to "cool" and perhaps wonder if he/she could even be lured into taking drugs? Then your child says no mom, "dope does not mean I lack intelligence or take drugs", it refers to my "cool" moves on the skateboard.

By the way mom, Nike's other shirt emblazoned with "Get High" does not mean "high" in the illegal substance sense it actually relates to elevation or to feel good due to your performance. As adults, have we become too judgmental, perhaps superimposing upon our kids words which meant something else in our era? Or is the recent controversy with Nike t-shirts and their edgy association with drugs just another example of advertising pushing the limits and trying to create "cool" - and to what end? Why can't sport be about sweat, commitment, hard work, effort, achieving goals, winning and fun? Aren't these things "cool"?

In Sport, true champions and players of the game do not arrive at the top through casual participation and embodying slogans hoping to be "cool" and to create an image. They arrive at the top through daily and very real effort and time. If a true champion in sport were to be described as "cool", it would not be based on wearing the latest fashion trend, it would come from within. It would come from their effort and results. Champions do not create "cool" and in fact as the superficial definition of "cool" goes they may in fact not be "cool".

Nike has gone too far with these shirts. Pushing the edge and creating artificial "coolness" does not build future champions. The constant drumbeat of graying the lines of appropriateness, especially in promoting the superficial and material is not the path towards building a stronger and more confident youth.

Is Tiger Woods overtrained?

In the Master's this year, Tiger Woods strained his knee while trying to hit an awkward shot.

Was this injury the result of unfortunate bad luck?

Was it the result of overtraining or the many rounds of golf he'd previously played through pain? Or did it relate directly to the previous injury and surgery he had back in 2008? The answers to any of these questions are unclear.

What is certain: injury is the one obstacle that can deprive golf fans of one of their greatest champions. It is the one clear event that can end the career of a champion, or at the least curtail his or her ability to win seemingly at will.

Tiger's champion advantage is that he is willing to remake himself, most notably in his swing changes. He understands that in order to play at his level, his swing needs the occasional revamping. These swing overhauls require a very intensive physical effort. Most other golfers do not undergo such swing transformations - and as history dictates, no golfer in the Tiger Wood's era has the professional record of Tiger Woods. It seems he's doing something right.

In addition to his golf game, Tiger also has an aggressive conditioning program. Unlike golfers of previous generations, who most certainly put less emphasis on fitness, Tiger's body is continually changing due to exercise. Thus, with the standard age-related changes, training-related changes, and golf swing adaptations, Tiger is managing three variables that can affect his physical health and how he strikes the ball.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, conditioning programs have taken on their own life with respect to the careers of great athletes and those striving to be great. Tiger is no different. According to his website, his daily routine begins with a mix of endurance runs, sprints, or biking, followed by weight lifting, golf practice, and more weight lifting.

Is a downside to all this conditioning greater wear on his body? One might even ask, is Tiger overtrained, thus more susceptible to injury? Is the combination of daily running and sprinting too much for his body to handle, particularly for his knees and Achilles tendons? Perhaps Tiger's next move is to reassess his fitness program.

Playing through pain and injury has long-term consequences. The short-term benefit may be an amazing victory and the further defining of a legend. The long-term consequences of persevering through pain and injury along with aggressive training and swing practice, however, might be an assault on the longevity of an athletic career.

Should you play through an injury?

For every great champion who plays while injured or sick, there should be a disclaimer: "Professional athletes only. School kids and any other nonprofessional should follow doctors order's: stay home and get better."

Playing through an injury is often touted as just another level of skill and toughness displayed by a champion athlete. Any basketball fan alive in 1997 will remember Michael Jordan's epic performance in Game 5 of the NBA finals against the Utah Jazz. Sick with the stomach flu, one moment he could hardly move, and the next he was on the floor scoring 38 points in 44 minutes and clinching a 3-pointer to lead the Bulls past the Jazz.

Fast-forward to Tiger Woods' 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines. Advised by doctors that he had two stress fractures and should be on crutches, he instead competed, winning after a 19-hole playoff. Eight days later, he had major knee surgery.

Virtually every great champion will have his or her own story of competing and winning while not healthy. Pushing the body beyond the limits normally defined by physiology happens every day in the life of a champion. Champions play at only one speed and with one goal: the speed is full throttle, and the goal is victory. Sickness or health, these goals do not change.

The flip side is that a champion would never compete if he or she knew that victory was not possible. Taking one for the team in order to perform at a mediocre level, with no chance for victory, is not part of a champion's approach to sport.

As for those athletes who are not at the champion level (and that's virtually everyone, whether on a team or as an individual), competing while extremely sick or injured is not the right decision. Take it from the playbook of a champion: why would you ever compete if you or your team did not have an absolute chance and ability to win? Furthermore, what is the risk-to-reward ratio when considering the rest of your career?

In the rarified world of the champion, the decision to play or not play has its own set of rules and parameters. A champion's reasons for playing or not playing should not apply to everyone, and certainly not if you are anything but a professional who is getting paid to go to practice every day.

With rare exceptions, playing at any level other than full capacity brings on the potential for additional injury, not to mention a subpar performance. For the mortals of sport, show your strength and mental fortitude by missing the game, recovering, and returning to your sport at full capacity - when your body is ready .

Overtraining in young athletes: not worth an injury

A few years ago, I worked with a young high school runner who experienced severe Achilles tendon pain every time he ran too long or too hard. His parents and three different coaches all wanted him to recover, yet pressure from this group of adults for him to continue running was also very strong. Fortunately, one of the coaches recognized there was a problem and asked me to help with a pool training program.

As I began working with this high school runner, I told him to stop running completely and let his Achilles tendon recover. I also suggested a new doctor.

However, his parents and school coaches were not on board for this "unusual" approach of allowing an injury to heal. There were the standard protests about the team needing this runner, getting noticed by colleges, and that old standby argument: "he loves running so much" that we could not force him to stop.

Needless to say, everyone was impatient with the slow pace, and this young runner lasted only a few weeks in my program. My telling him not to run wasn't what anyone wanted to hear.

Yet even when exercising at low levels in the non-weight-bearing environment of the pool, this young man still had to be careful. Unfortunately, the agenda for him was out of my hands. He eventually disappeared from my schedule and continued to run and work out.

Six months later, I learned that he had developed so much pain walking was difficult. The family consulted a new doctor, who recommended surgery.

Whether or not he continued running, this young runner may still have needed surgery. But the fact that he would not stop running, and that the adults in his life were not as adamant as I was that all running be immediately stopped, means we all failed.

This story demonstrates what can happen when too many coaches and agendas mean no one - and everyone - is in charge. It also makes one wonder: why do we push through pain? Unfortunately, this talented runner's push to continue running, with correspondingly poor results, did nothing for his team, nothing for his college prospects, and certainly did nothing for his long-term health.

As it stands currently, a year and a half later, this athlete is still sidelined. I would bet everything I have, double or nothing, that in every state and every town in this country, this exact scenario is currently playing out. The question remains: why?

Who is in charge?

With statistics and trends over the last 20 years pointing towards an increase in overuse injuries among kids who are playing sports, the obvious next step is to determine the causes and then do everything possible to reverse the trend. Pinpointing the exact cause will be difficult, while the answer is simple.

I will start by dissecting a year-round training program. Generally, sports programs have two areas of coaching influence. The first comes from the discipline coach. Using rowing as an example, the discipline coach teaches a kid how to row, which includes the proper use of technique and tactics. Technique involves the skills necessary to get in a boat and row. Tactics are how the game is played - or, in the case of rowing, how the race is managed.

The second area of influence comes from the conditioning coach. This individual might be hired privately by the parent to help a child get into shape for sport. Or, he or she is a paid coach hired by a high school to prepare athletes for all sports during a school year.

There is a potential third coaching influence: a specialty skills coach. For example, some baseball teams have a batting coach. Or a parent might hire a batting coach for some "extra" swing work. Whatever the case, it is possible that a child will have one or more coaches from the sports side and then a conditioning coach who either comes with the program or is hired privately.

Given all of these coaching possibilities and influences, the first question to ask is straightforward: "Who is in charge?" With a potential of two or more coaches - each talented and with an agenda - telling a kid what to do, the possibility is very high for a problem developing. This is generally not a concern if the coaching staff all works together under the direction of a head coach. However, problems start to arise when there are outside coaches. It doesn't even matter if all of the coaches are the "best".

Too many workouts, along with too many directions, can cause problems, even with the best of intentions. It can lead to over training, confusion, extra pressure and potentially end a kid's sports life forever.

The simple answer to the question in the first paragraph is to drop one of the teams and one of the extra coaches. Let your young aspiring athlete get more rest, perhaps some unstructured play, and then with the "right" type and volume of exercise and sports participation, you will see fewer injuries and more success.

Is aggressive sports training worth the price?

As adults over 50, we all "remember" how hard we used to work and practice our sport. Many of those workouts ended with the coach asking for one more sprint, just as we thought that we had nothing left. Presently, many high school athletes are asked to do the same workouts that we remember, but their seasons last for twelve months not two or three. Kids sometimes play on two teams, the weekend team and the school team. One program leads to another program. Additionally, there are conditioning coaches and a plethora of private coaching and training programs available to increase a child's chances for athletic success.

While I am the first to say that being in shape is a requirement for success and injury prevention in sport, I am also next in line to say that intensive training is a primary cause of injuries among high school athletes. What I have observed over the past 20 years with youth training are two concepts that have been pushed to the limits: More is better; and doing more means working harder. Working harder translates into doing everything faster, higher and stronger. When combined with increased volume, the potential for injury is greatly increased.

In the book called Until it Hurts, by Mark Hyman, Dr. Lyle Micheli from Children's Hospital in Boston estimated that in 2009 75 percent of the kids who came through his office had overuse injuries. In the early 1990's that figure was about 20 percent. This means that even with all of our knowledge and advances in physical training and coaching, the system is failing. Kids might be in better shape and able to perform at higher levels, but they are also sustaining serious injuries at ever increasing rates.

What is too often forgotten is that kids are still growing and their bodies are not meant to take the continual physical stress of organized and ultimately repetitive training programs. It does not matter how knowledgable the conditioning coach is or how perfectly the program is taught. The act of continually putting kids through year-round aggressive training is not the right approach, and it has not been the right approach for the past 2 decades.

I am working with an injured college senior who had to stop rowing one year into her college career. Four years ago, her high school team was second at nationals and she went to college with the expectation of continuing her successful ways. Unfortunately, her career was cut short due to a back injury caused by excessive training.

Her year round program consisted of rowing at various intensities, along with participation in one of the local, well known and highly regarded private conditioning programs. Her trainers pushed her hard to develop the necessary strength and power for rowing, and her coach made sure that she put in the necessary practice on the water. She took on all of this work with a body that was still growing.

The result was that her team almost won a national title and her rowing career ended.

My client is now bothered daily by back problems that make sitting or standing for long periods of time uncomfortable and she can no longer row. While no one can say for sure that this was her destiny, training or no training, it can be said that she worked extremely hard year-round, nearly achieved the ultimate goal for a high school rower and paid a heavy price.

Landis & Armstrong - Part 2

Steroids and Doping: A Different Angle...continued

It is easy to be either realistic or cynical when watching all of our heroes or those we look to for leadership or inspiration tumble down the harsh slope of their own crushed reputation. Let's remember that everyone seems to have a skeleton in the closet, the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the room. That's the reality. We're cynical because we have become used to and almost expectant that anyone and everyone in the limelight will be accused of illicit or immoral behavior.

When a sport's generation of future Hall of Famers gets nailed - as did baseball with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, et. al., the cynicism only increases. Look at the constant skepticism about Albert Pujols. He must have put up 10 years of hitting numbers akin to Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams because he's juiced, a lot of people say and Sports Illustrated investigated in an infamous Spring 2010 cover story - yet he's been clean as a whistle.

Perhaps the realism or cynicism is our problem. As fans, maybe it is our unreal expectation and desire for athletic stars to perform superhuman feats that is the cause for the problems of sport? Sporting events are merely games and entertainment. Yet, we continue to put sports heroes on the highest of pedestals. Show me any human being worthy of such praise and adulation and I will show you a chink in the armor.

What troubles me more than whether or not Lance Armstrong doped, along with what appears to be the entire cycling world, is the affect of these accusations on the thousands of people around the world fighting cancer. For these people, the Tour was not merely about a bunch of people trying to be the fastest to the finish line, but life and the inspiration to live. This is not a game for the individual who is fighting cancer.

Lance Armstrong has become bigger than the Tour. His victory over cancer, the inspiration he has provided those fighting cancer along with the millions of dollars donated by his foundation, trumps any Floyd Landis catharsis or attempt at cleaning up the sport. If every Landis accusation is true, then all the cyclists at the top were competing on the same playing field and Lance was still the best. He still won.

The fans and the purists might shake the hand of Landis and say "thank you" for cleaning up the sport that we all love. All of us as fans, might look forward to the day we are guaranteed a "clean" competition.

But what about the people who do not care just about entertainment and games? What about those looking for any and every bit of inspiration and energy to persevere and live another day?

"On their behalf, I would ask Floyd Landis and any other disgraced whistleblower, Jose Canseco included, "What motivated you? A pure desire to clean up the sport in which you competed, excelled, loved and lost because of your mistake? Or clearing your name and making money?"

It's a fair question that demands a fair response.

Landis & Armstrong - Part 1

Steroids and Doping in Sports: A different Angle (Part 1)

The past six months have been heartbreaking for sports fans and cancer patients who have hitched their loyalty, aspirations and hopes to one of the greatest sportsmen this country has ever known - seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. The recent whistle-blowing comments of disgraced tour champion Floyd Landis have cast a shadow on a career that has literally helped thousands, if not millions of cancer patients through funding, greater public awareness, and, most of all hope.

This blog is not an easy one for me to write. For while I will never promote the virtues of doping or steroid use in sports, I also have to ask myself and the sports world at large: Why are we so focused on disgracing individuals after their careers are over and what is the cost? Especially when the vast majority in their sport - particularly cycling, which in the late 1990s had an estimated 90% performance enhancing use rate, according to the French newspaper Sud Ouest - was using performance enhancing drugs at the same time?

We all watch sporting events hoping that every athlete is playing on even ground. We assume that the rules of sport are being followed, allowing us to enjoy the competition and cheer for our favorite athlete. The accusations that came and continue to come from Floyd Landis, if true, implicate the entire top tier of the cycling world. If true, one could say they all knew the game, they chose to compete under those conditions, they all chose the potential consequences and, most importantly from a competitive perspective, they were all racing on equal ground. (Which the Sud Ouest estimate from the late 1990s makes abundantly clear).

However, as fans, we remained in the dark. We just saw great cyclists working very hard doing what appeared to be superhuman feats of endurance and strength. Climbing Category 1 inclines in the Pyrenees Mountains after having already raced 1,500 to 1,700 miles is the height of superhuman performance, in my opinion. We marveled at their perseverance and painful push towards victory. We were all inspired or left in awe.

Now Floyd Landis is coming clean. He is letting the world know that everyone was doping, most prominently the king of the modern cycling world, Lance Armstrong. My question to Floyd: Why? Even if everyone is guilty as charged, what is the reason for Landis' continued push to implicate the entire upper echelon of the sport? Is it so that he can feel better about himself, or is it for the "greater good" of cycling? As easily as it is to argue the latter - and, from this, cycling will certainly become cleaner - one must remember that, in 2009, Landis threatened Armstrong by email with this very "outing" if Armstrong didn't pay him what Landis claimed were back wages. That, in my mind, is blackmail.

An admitted cheater wanting to clear his name by bringing down the rest of his competitors is either committing the ultimate act of selfishness or falling on the sword to do what he considers best for the fans and the sport of cycling. While Landis might feel good now about his admissions, how do the fans of cycling feel? What about the fans of Lance Armstrong, who are not only sports fans, but also cancer survivors? continued - please go to part 2

5 Napkin Burger

Thus far, I have written about disciplined eating and taking care of your health. Now I would like to make a departure that may surprise you, and say a word in favor of the occasionally unhealthy meal. In general, what causes weight problems is not the meal you ate last Friday night, but the meals you are eating every day. If you have control over your diet and you are losing weight or have reached your desired weight, having a hamburger with french fries every six months will only be a blip on your overall diet plan. Simply stated: "With discipline comes freedom". We can use this mantra for many things in life, but with dieting and our desire for eating, it means an infrequent splurge is okay.

For example, this past June, I had the pleasure of eating the best hamburger of my life. It tasted very good and it came from Five Napkin Burger, an aptly named establishment on Manhattan's West Side. This burger oozed with taste. I did not ask for the cheese to be put on one side, the meat on the other side and the empty, special low-calory bun in the middle. This was a burger with all the things normally associated with a hamburger: cheese, onions, french fries etc. I even started with a lemonade and finished with a cold beer. In the end, I left nothing on the plate.

Knowing this meal would be filling, I walked the 15 NYC blocks to the restaurant and at least that many back to the hotel. It was all part of my plan for a guilt-free, glutenous evening of taste bud satisfaction. I do not have weight problems and I do not want to develop them. That's why I walked to and from the meal - my way of allowing myself to have such a meal. I also ate my normal breakfast and just a snack for lunch. I had heard so much about this restaurant. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

Comfort foods are necessary for our mental health. They make us feel good and take away the stresses of life. Unfortunately, most of those foods do not sit atop any weight loss plan. If you want to lose weight, start your diet today and stick with the plan created by your nutritionist or doctor. Do not splurge or deviate from the plan. Then set yourself up for an early evening gustatory delight. If possible walk to your meal and back home. Cut back on your lunch and be sure to exercise, then enjoy a guilt-free evening. This will only work if you have the discipline and plan to keep you on track and honest with yourself and nutritionist for the next 6 months. On a human note, having patience, working and waiting for something ads to the pleasure and success of the experience.

Time in the doctors' office

I recently walked into the doctors office for my yearly physical. While sitting and waiting to see the doctor, I wondered if the people who sit in their doctors' offices or pass through hospitals know that exercise will help them feel better and prevent some of their ailments. When I see someone with what appears to be muscle weakness, I know that with just a little strength training, their life would be so much better. I see people who are overweight and wonder if they do regular aerobic exercise. If not, why?

Superficially, it appears that the majority of people seeing their primary care doctor could use a dose of exercise and a reduction in food intake. These observations make me wonder why more people do not take care of their health. Why spend time in a doctor's office if many of the reasons for going can be prevented? Why rely on pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications for your daily health when, in many cases, exercise and proper nutrition can help to render you prescription medicine-free?

At some point, we will all start suffering from the advance of age. Why not slow that process and do everything possible to avoid the suffering? If you fall in the no-exercise, unhealthy-lifestyle category, you can keep up with business as usual and increase the chances for an undesirable end to your life - which only increases the chances for your loved ones to spend many hours of their time and energy helping you through the final days or years. Knowingly increasing your chances of needing help in your later years, I cannot think of a more selfish way to go through life.

We only have one chance. Why not live every day with the idea of winning in life?

Habits

Changing a personal habit is probably the most difficult task for any of us. Unfortunately, some of our most difficult habits to break, including smoking, overeating, and poor food choices, relate directly to our health. There are also habits which form our responses to situations and events that impact our ability to live, work and interact with society, colleagues, friends and partners. Habits enable us to get to work on time and "do the right thing" when required. Some habits are considered bad and others good. We relish habits and even take comfort in the fact that "somethings never change."

Habits give us comfort. They are known quantities, our friends. They allow us to act and respond without thinking. Early in life, most of us learn what is right and wrong; from those lessons, we develop good living habits. Habits can also give us excuses for our actions. We can say, "I'm sorry, it was just one of those old habits." Habits can lead us to both success and failure.

However, when it is perfectly clear that a habit is bad and changing it can only be an improvement, why are some of us unwilling or unable to change? Is it fear? Lack of self-respect? Has the habit become an addiction?

Fortunately, change is possible. We are able to adapt and learn new habits. However, this takes a lot of work and effort. This is where most people fail, because they are unwilling to do what is necessary to change or improve habits. Ironically, some people are even unwilling to change habits detrimental to their health and life.

Habits are internal and independent of the thoughts and actions of others. They require a personal decision to change. A personal decision by you. For example, an old friend and life-long smoker who loved to smoke, decided that he would quit smoking as soon as one of the athletes he was coaching won a World Cup Ski Race. All of us who worked with this man constantly pushed him to stop smoking. We were just as repeatedly frustrated in our efforts. Then one day in the early 90's, one of his downhill racers won a World Cup event in France. On that day, he kept his promise and smoked his last cigarette.

Those of us willing to change or reshape our bad habits will move forward in all aspects of life - personally, professionally and athletically. We are the ones who learn from our mistakes, a key element to success. With a little luck and hard work thrown into the mix, we can then reach our personal goals, achieve greatness and perhaps even a level of distinction in our lives.

Success & Internal Desire

A recent client of mine was relatively healthy (blood pressure controlled by medication) and physically strong and fit for someone over age 80. He came to me at the request of his daughter. His goal was to improve his general fitness, and to fulfill a long-held dream to get back on his skis - a sport that he loved through much of his life.

As I soon discovered, the real challenge was not his physical fitness and strength, but his desire to live and to make the best of his remaining life. His wife had died, taking the wind out of his sails 6 months before our meeting. Prior to her death, he was quite active. Before he underwent hip surgery in his late 60's, he was an avid skier.

Initially, each of his workouts was a struggle. His caring and supportive daughter had to literally force him to exercise and move his body. Despite being physically strong and with working joints and good muscle mass throughout his body, he had gone from a walk to a combined walk/shuffle almost overnight. He was only a shell of his former self. His eyes were often distant; rarely was he fully present during a workout session. He came to his private sessions and attended some of our classes to appease his daughter's desire for him to experience as much time as possible with his kids and grandchildren. The problem was that it was not his desire to attend, nor to exercise.

His obvious joy for skiing and love for his daughter and grandchildren were still not enough motivation to get the best of the remaining years. I pushed him and did my best to cajole him into making an effort at his exercise and to improve his walking. During this time, I learned that organized exercise had never been part of his life. Furthermore, spending money on himself did not come easy, compounding his lack of enthusiasm.

During his workouts, I often wondered about his thoughts and feelings and where his memories were taking him, even though I just wanted him to exercise. Part of me yearned to shake him awake and back to the present; another part practically demanded that he desire and choose his current life. Even though I pushed and pushed, it was impossible for me to break him away from his thoughts for longer than a few moments. I could see that he was enjoying the images of his life as he gazed out the window between sets.

Suddenly, I noticed a slight change in his approach. He was coming on his own two days per week and seemed interested in improving. He made some progress in his balance and coordination and had stopped being so obstinate with his daughter. He was engaged more with the moment and with the others in class. He had stepped on the path towards improving his fitness.

So it seemed. Six weeks later, he did not come to the club as expected. His son-in-law found him lying peacefully on the floor. He'd left this world to join his wife.

With such a caring family, this man was still unable to muster one last stand at life. I realized yet again that success begins with an internal desire. It seems that even with every secret, key, approach, exercise regimen and tip to life sitting at our fingertips, the true power to live life still comes from within. It is an internal decision that must be accepted and relentlessly pursued; otherwise, we are destined to go through the motions and perhaps dying while we should still have some time on the clock

Developing Your Skill - Lessons From a Violinist

During a sporting event, have you ever let your mind wander beyond the competition to observe the pure skill being displayed on the playing field?

Have you ever wondered how many practice hours that an athlete completes before taking his or her first run down the Olympic downhill course? The hours build up over many years. Each succeeding hour layers atop the preceding hour; when combined, they result in the seemingly effortless performances, we watch every weekend.

Recently, I experienced the same wondrous feeling at a different venue. My friend, Bob Childs, makes violins. Every year, he puts on a series of concerts in which the musicians perform on his instruments. At the particular concert I attended, there were ten violinists and a squad of other musicians playing various instruments to fill in the symphony of beautiful and mesmerizing sounds.

I sat in the front row and watched each musician intently. I watched the violinists' fingers move up and down the neck of their instruments, hitting every note. I wondered how they could return their fingers back to the exact same place on the neck to repeat the same note over and over again, without looking. And while moving their bows in rhythmic progressions over the strings - slow to fast, titillating to exquisitely tender.

There are no frets on a violin or cello to guide the fingers into position, as there are on a guitar. A violinist or cellist learns to produce such beautiful sounds and notes through thousands of hours and many years of practice. He or she learns, refines and masters a piece, or a series of pieces, much like an athlete trains and prepares for a sporting contest.

At this particular concert, it was not just an individual playing, but a group, much like a team of athletes. The musicians worked both individually and together. One would start out and the others would fill in with rhythms, much like a well organized team supporting and working with each other all the way to the goal - a complete team effort. A symphony of moving skills and dynamic performances on the playing field.

Of the many thoughts I entertained during the night, I came to the realization that in my life time, I would never be able to learn how to play the violin or cello at the concert level. Yet, I am thankful that some people chose to develop a skill to such a level that it can entertain, move and inspire everyone who comes to see them perform.

ATP Rankings are for the fans

Can Federer return to the top of the tennis world? For those interested in tennis or competitive sport, this is the debate. Given that Federer has a proven track record of dominating the men's circuit, his skill and ability to win cannot be questioned. Thus, where might Federer look to regain his advantage and return to the number 1 spot?

In my soon to be published book, The Champion's Way, I identify a variety of factors that separate the champions from the winners and the winners from the rest of the field. Federer certainly qualifies for the champion category and even at the number 2 level in the ATP rankings Federer is still effectively at the top of the tennis world.

An athlete of Federer's caliber is not interested in the rankings. Winning is what matters to the champion and if winning puts a competitor atop the world rankings, then being number 1 in the rankings is a result not a goal. Thus, the first step in Federer's return to the number 1 position, in the ATP rankings is to ignore the rankings and focus on winning tennis matches.

Next, because winning at the level of Federer takes such an enormous amount of energy and effort, reassessing the structure that makes it possible for the champion to win is necessary. For example, it could be as simple as changing the conditioning and practice routines or something more complicated such as assessing the desire to win and the requirements behind that desire. Does Federer still have the desire to put out the effort it takes to continue winning?

Every athlete wants to win, but only a select few are able and willing to put in the necessary effort that makes it possible to win and especially to win regularly at the highest levels of sport. Federer remains a threat in every tennis match he enters. Barring physical injury or retirement, his days of winning the tennis majors and other tournaments have not ended. Whether or not he retakes the number 1 spot in the ATP rankings is irrelevant to his career.

What drives your life energy?

In my previous blog relating to diet and exercise, I ended with a handful of questions that I will start to address in this blog. The first question is a rhetorical question that really is asking what drives us every day to get out of bed and live life?

To answer this question, there are two sets of factors one external and the other internal. Externally, there is your job, relationships and the basic need for food. Internally, there are your personal goals and aspirations. Satisfying either of these two factors takes a conscious effort. For example, you must get up and buy food if you want food or you must call your friends if you want to have friends. If you have a personal goal, you must do the work to reach that goal. If these are the things that drive your life energy, then what are you doing to improve your chances of success?

I will suggest that the basis for your life energy goes one step deeper and that is your health. It is not just the things that you must do or that you would like to do that drives you through life, but it is your daily approach to your physical fitness. What are you doing on a daily basis to ensure that you have the energy to live your life and pursue your goals? If you are like most Americans, you are not doing enough for your health, yet you push your body to the limits to satisfy your daily needs and to reach your personal goals.

When you are young, it is easy to get away with less focus on your health and more focus on your life needs and pursuits. What happens if you reach your goals and you no longer have your health? The answer is simple, you have nothing, unless health does not matter and the satisfaction of reaching your goals is your only pursuit. The irony is that you could have had both and you could have perhaps even achieved higher goals, if you had balanced your health along with the desire to achieve.

Taking care of your health will drive your life energy. The results are both immediate and long term. It will make it possible for you to strive for all of your life goals and ambitions and then enjoy that for which you worked so hard to achieve.

Exercise & Weight Loss

In 1979, my exercise physiology professor told me that, under normal circumstances, weight loss was a matter of calories in versus calories out. Fast forward 31 years; things have not changed.

This basic equation still governs weight gain and loss in otherwise healthy individuals. What has changed or evolved over these years are the many books touting special diets and exercise techniques along with different sorts of things to ingest including the latest pills that influence what your body absorbs.

The common thread with the many specialized weight loss techniques is the commitment to some kind of program. With such programs you commit your wallet and time to the latest fad or pill. Purchase the literature. Purchase the goods and take your chances that someday longitudinal scientific studies will not come out and say that those special pills and the diet du jour are the causes of an awful disease or condition.

You could also commit yourself to a simple program of regular exercise and eating less. This straight forward approach requires a physical commitment and mental commitment. Physically, one must make the time to start exercising and stop lifting copious amounts of healthy or unhealthy food into their mouths. Mentally, one must decide that living and striving for a healthy and comfortable life is worth the effort. If one were truly committed to their personal well being, it should be relatively easy to wake up one morning and change eating habits and start doing regular exercise.

Regular exercise and diet is an interactive system. On the surface a very simple system. It may or may not cost extra money. It requires a basic knowledge of how to exercise and what to eat. You could start with the simple mantra: Eat less - Move more! You could write this phrase on the back of your hand or on your kitchen table for a reminder. You are in control of bringing your hand to your mouth. You are in control of standing up and putting one foot in front of the other and moving. So why not take charge?

As far as what to eat, many books have been written on the amounts of proteins versus fats and carbohydrates that you should eat. Books have been written on the content of different foods, from natural to man made. All of this information is helpful as we do need a balanced and safe diet. However, in the end you could eat 3000 calories of meals containing the proper balance and types of carbohydrates, fats and proteins along with free range everything, hormone free, certified organic and healthy and do nothing for exercise and still gain weight because you did not use more calories than you ate.

Nevertheless, given everything we know about simple exercise and diet, fad diets, pills and special programs the statistics still suggest many people are failing in their attempts to lose weight. Healthy, highly intelligent and driven individuals capable of performing super human feats of hard work and effort to build successful companies are failing along with those individuals with less drive and motivation. Why are so many people failing in their attempts to lose weight?

Is it the industry? Everyday the industry is coming up with new fitness routines and fun programs to get people motivated. We tell you that strength and endurance training along with a healthy and balanced diet and 8 hours of sleep will help you to live longer and have more productive lives. We translate this into things like more time with your kids and loved ones. We tell you things like greater mobility and perhaps no need for assistance as you age. We tell you that the science says you are less likely to get the diseases that no one wants to get at any time in life. Yet all of this is still not enough.

Is it the fact that as a society we are getting soft....not just around the mid-section, but in our life energy? Have we all fallen into the trap of being so over worked and coddled and catered to, that we really just do not want to or cannot put out the effort. Is it that we would rather entertain ourselves and listen to our ipods? Is it the expectation that everything in life is supposed to be easy and when it is hard we give up? Why does everything have to be fun? Why does everything have to feel good in order for us to take part in an activity or to achieve a goal? Are there no longer things that we do just because we should? Perhaps this is the disease that needs to be cured.

Champions

In order to start writing about champions and winning, it is necessary to have an understanding of the terms that I will use throughout these blogs. I have found and observed that words associated with sport, like other words and such in our society have taken on shades of gray.

With this muting and nuancing of words and their meanings comes confusion. Borders and parameters go away and virtually any meaning for a particular word becomes acceptable. With respect to sport, this hinders individual progress, dulls the outcomes and perhaps robs us of future great champions.

A sporting contest, implies a competition between individuals or teams where the performance is measured and scored. This means at the end of any single, completed contest there are only three possible results, a tie(no decision), a win or a loss. The individual or team who has the best score or time is the winner. Unless otherwise noted in a particular blog, winning is defined as first place.

The word champion has various meanings in sport. In the Olympics, there is the Olympic champion also known as the gold medal winner. This well earned title lasts a life time, but after 4 years there is a new Olympic champion replacing the victor from the previous Olympiad. For some, Olympic victory is the single biggest victory and potentially the only big victory in their careers and for others it is one of many victories. Similarly, for example, golf and tennis have their US Open Champions and defending champions and multiple champions.

There are end of season champions at virtually every level of team or individual sports. These champions are given such titles as club champions, league champions, city champions or NCAA champions. In general, the title champion is conferred on the winner of an end of season event or a single contest deemed worthy of producing a champion versus a winner. For the purpose of these blogs and unless otherwise noted, the definition of a champion goes one step further than the winner of a single event or season ending event as described above.

Champions are those individuals who win and win and win. They win throughout the season, they win the playoffs, season ending titles, Olympic gold medals, world championship gold medals and any major event that defines their sport. Further, they seem to do this on a regular basis, more than once. The champions are regularly on the top of their sport. They are on the top because they win. They are the athletes to beat.

The research for this book was based on individual sports versus team sports as individual actions were easier to measure. For example, we can look at the Los Angeles Lakers or the Chicago Bulls over certain periods and call them champions. When we start to pull those teams apart individually, we find Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. These are and were the individuals on their respective teams who represent the champion mentality that I found in my research. Yet, Kobe had Shaq and Jordan had Scottie Pippen. These two great champions were surrounded by teammates whose presence and skills made winning championships possible. In the case of Kobe, some have argued that it was Shaq and not Kobe who led the Lakers to victory. With team sports the one caveat is that winning and losing is dependent on an entire team.

Losing is a term that defines the other side of winning. Losing has nothing to do with one’s humanity. It is a result of a contest on any given day that presumably could even change after the next competition. After losing a competition, an individual or team then become the losers. Any reference to losing or loser is simply a definition of the other side of winning. With every winner there is a loser.

We can say that time just ran out for the losing team. We can say that it was a hard fought competition in which there are no losers. There are a variety of ways to describe the results of a competition, but for the purposes of these blogs the definitions will be kept simple.

Winners are the individuals who win a specific competition. Losers are the individuals on the other side of that victory. Champions are the athletes who win and win and win. They win at every level and they do so consistently over a period of time.

The Champion's Way

The Champion's Way is a book that was written based on my doctoral dissertation. The idea for this research came after leaving a coaching job with the US Ski Team to pursue a doctoral degree at Boston University. I went back to school for personal interests and to have an impact on how athletes are coached and developed.

At the time of my research, there was a dearth of information about winning in the educational, scientific and general literature data bases. In fact, at that time most sport psychology books rarely even used the word winning let alone defined winning as first place. Thus, I decided to focus directly on the concept of winning. I wanted to learn how and why some people win, while other seemingly very talented athletes never win.< /p>

Through this research much was revealed about athletes who win. In fact, I was able to differentiate between champion athletes and athletes who win occasionally or athletes who never win. Champions are defined as the multiple - expected winners. They are the athletes who win regularly at every level, including the highest levels of their sport.  There are differences between career champions and champions for a day. 

Understanding winning and defining winning are critical to discovering and staying on the path one must take in order to become a champion.  After reading The Champion's Way coaches of youth sport, beginners, elite and professional athletes will be able to better serve the individuals and teams that they are coaching. Parents of young and aspiring athletes may also benefit from this knowledge. Athletes themselves will have a better understanding of what it takes to win and to become a champion in their particular sport.

Lastly, understanding the path to becoming a champion can also help those in search of general fitness and potentially those who have high aspirations completely outside of the sports and/or fitness worlds. In the following blogs you will learn about champion athletes and the path one must take in order to become a champion. These blogs will be based on my original dissertation research and my continued research and interest in human potential. These blogs will give you a glimpse of The Champion's Way

Steve



The Champion's Way

The Champion's Way is a must read for parents, coaches, young athletes and for anyone interested in how champion athletes win over and over again

Available on Amazon