We have all had mentors in our lives. People who have guided us through those tough transitional times. Although I am a firm believer that every chance encounter, long term relationship, even brief conversation shape the people that we are, these people that act as shepherds when we are at our most lamby shape who we ultimately become.
In the realm of fitness, athletics, and any physical endeavour coaches, trainers, and experienced peers/teammates usually fill the role of mentor to those new to sport or training. In most things in life, usually the first few lessons you learn will be most important. For some reason, my journey through my illustrious sporting career (I sucked at absolutely everything) has been filled with some of the most insane, borderline psychopathic mentors one could ever possibly have a nightmare about. Some of the advice I am about to share has helped mold me into an asshole with a really bad attitude. On the other hand, some of these pieces of advice have also forced me to solve training issues with the same amount of emotional investment that a calculator puts into a division problem. This has given my own training a laser like focus that has made the pages of my numerous training notebooks resemble the inside of Russel Crowe’s crazy shed in “A Beautiful Mind.”
“Wait… did I do three sets of five or five sets of three last week… I know I wrote it down in here somewhere.”
“Son, if you don’t start eating until you are going to burst and lifting weights everyday, you are going to get killed next year.” All 150lbs of 13 year old me nearly crapped my pants when the football coach said this to me while I was attending an interest meeting in 8th grade for high school football. I was already terrified because I had never played a down of football in my life and wasn’t sure I could actually survive an entire practice (I basically had an asthma attack everytime I thought about physical activity). But, I took the advice to heart and I have been a total mess ever since. I honest to God can’t remember a time I have taken more than a week off of training since that day 14 years ago. So, I got a gym membership, a couple body building magazine subscriptions, a bucket of “Insano-Gain 10,000” weight gainer, and worked my ass off all summer. I came into football camp a burley and intimidating 165lbs and absolutely destroyed the weight lifting testing with a gravity defying 160lb bench press. Needless to say, I got my ass handed to me all season… literally. It was some sick joke of the cosmos that the JV and Varsity teams practiced together. My first full contact drill in full pads was against a kid that, at the time, seemed to be 11 feet tall and foaming at the mouth. The last thing I remember was his eyes rolling back into his head like a shark that had just tasted blood and was in a meat fueled frenzy. When I came to, I quickly realized that my ass took the brunt of the fall. I can’t think of a faster way to get friends in high school than having to sit on a big rubber doughnut for a couple weeks because you broke your ass bone.
“Steak-Umms and peanut butter. You need to mix ’em together and eat a shit load of ’em. We need a group of crazy, tractor pushin’ son’s-a-bitches out here.” Coach Emory said this with blood pouring out of what I expected was a completely broken nose. He didn’t think we (9th grade JV football linemen) were hitting eachother hard enough in practice so he jumped into a full padded, full contact drill and ran face first into the crossbars of some poor kids facemask. The force of the impact led me to believe that either Coach Emory was dead or that the kids helmet was liquefied. neither happened. Coach Emory didn’t even seem to notice that his nose line was now on the wrong axis and still had the wherewithal to scare the living shit out of us with his words too. You better believe I went home and tried this recipe for success. That was the first and last time I ever ate a Steak-Umm with peanut butter on it. Now with the literal message out the window, this piece of advice had a much deeper impact on me. I realized that if something hard needed doing, you have to be a little nuts to get it done. After that day, I laid every hit as hard as I possibly could and ate to the point of food coma every chance I got.
Yes, it looks the exactly the same on the way out, too.
“You guys ever seen that movie ‘Jacobs Ladder?’ Sometimes, life is a lot like that.” Once you get past how profoundly depressing this statement is, it is actually pretty awesome. This probably would not have had as much of an impact on me if it wasn’t said in the high school weightroom. Something about that coach comparing the environment we were in to an almost inescapable journey through hell really knocked some screws loose in my brain. I realized at that moment that in order to get anywhere in my athletic career, I had to commit 100%, make sacrifices, and almost work myself to death on a daily basis. Even though I sucked at football, I worked my ass off and got to play in college. I knew my only chance of playing was to give the coach no other option. I knew I had to be the strongest and work the hardest to stand a chance.
There will always be those better than you, stronger, smarter, whatever quality you idolize to reach whatever your goal is. The great equalizer is work. Work done with a serial killer like focus. If your friends and family aren’t asking you all the time “Why are you doing this?” and “What the hell is your problem?” then you aren’t doing it right or hard enough.
A different kind of hell.
“I’ve only got one rule, don’t forget your playbooks.” This taught me a very valuable lesson… if someone in a position of power over you has one rule… only one rule… for the love of God don’t break it. Coach Mac is somewhat of an Urban Legend in D3 college football. He has been everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. Like an apparition that can take the form of your greatest nightmare but is also a wealth of important and incredibly useful information. Well, during one film meeting in college, Coach Mac called out a player and asked him where his playbook was. “Sorry coach, I forgot it this morning.” Even though we had 30 minutes of film still scheduled, Coach Mac sighed, looked at his feet, and simply said “I’ll remember this. See you guys at practice.” Then he walked straight out the door. There was a brief moment where you could literally cut the sheer panic in the room with a chainsaw but everyone took the attitude of “Well, how bad could this be?”…
45 minutes into practice, we were still doing up downs (aka burpees if you are using cool new age fitness terms). The world was a blur of pain shrouded in mechanical movement. At this point, every survival mechanism in my body either skipped town or killed itself and I was just moving. Coach Mac was lying on a bench, looking up at the sky, blowing a whistle every 15 seconds or so. One of the guys keeping count said he lost his ability to put numbers in order around 350. It only stopped an hour and half into practice because the head coach came over and said: “Coach Mac, we got a game this weekend to get ready for.” After this onslaught, we were expected to still run team and individual drills. Everyone looked like they were trying to stop a speeding dump truck by throwing wet spaghetti at it. When that practice was finally over, Coach Mac just had one question: “Is anyone going to forget their playbooks ever again?” I word vomited something that resembled a response, but I don’t really remember what it was. It may have been actual vomit now that I think about it. I don’t know exactly how many burpees it was but I am willing to bet even the most hard core CrossFit enthusiast would have said something like: “Maybe you guys should scale that down a little.”
“Don’t spill your candy in the lobby.”I did my first powerlifting competition in 2005. I was still playing college football, got my application in about a day before the deadline, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know I had to have a singlet until about 24 hours before the meet actually started. In case you were wondering, your singlet options on a summer weekend in Standardsville, Virginia are not many. When trying to figure out opening attempts, I basically just wanted to go for new personal records and state records right off the bat. I was then informed that if you fail all three attempts at any lift, you bomb out of the meet. When I asked the guy (still good friend, Mike Hill) that got my buddies and I interested in the meet he just said: “Don’t spill your candy in the lobby.” After I laughed for about 10 minutes straight, I realized the implication this simple piece of advice had, not only to picking attempts at a meet, but for the entire scope of training for just about anything.
Simply put, training is meant to develop skills. Sport and competition is meant to showcase the mastery of these skills. One major, intangible skill is the ability to dissociate yourself from the given competition sport task. Constantly training for anything in a constant state of high arousal (all Jak3d up, bro!!!!) does nothing but promote faster burn out. A very common psychological quality elite athletes in any discipline share is being as cool as a cucumber when not competing. But, as soon as the first whistle blows or the bar is loaded, they look like they want to eat everybody in the stadium and have a fire in their eyes that would make our Sun say, “Calm down, man.” So, that a-hole you see stomping around, snorting like a dumbass, and screaming one liners from shitty alternative metal songs around during pre game/in the warm-up room is probably going to suck. Most of the time, this act is meant to either look cool to everyone else (it doesn’t) or is meant to convince the athlete that they aren’t going to suck major ass when the competition/sport begins. They definitely dropped their snowcaps at the ticket booth.
Because you will need something to distract from how awful the newest Batman movie is.
Just wanted to share some tidbits and gems of knowledge I have acquired over the years. Not every piece of motivational advice is softly spoken with a gentle hand on your shoulder. In my experience, lessons screamed in bouts of frantic panic while your soul is being separated from your body through a strainer made out of rusty steel and fear have a much more profound effect. Yes, I still carry my playbook with me everywhere I go… just in case.
Sprint. Kill. Eat.