Growing up, hard work was a badge of honor.
“That guy is a hard worker.”
If someone was willing to sweat a little more or go a little longer...they were deemed successful.
But I’ll tell you what I figured out about that over the years…it’s a pretty dumb way of looking at things.
I grew up working on my family’s farm, so there was a lot of hard work to be had.
I can’t count how many times I made a big job even bigger, sweating (during the summers it felt like an oven out there) and straining like crazy trying to get chores done so I could play ball.
My dad would always have to correct me and more often than not I had to start from scratch all over again!
It turns out the Mr. Fix–it gene (that my dad, brother and nephew all posses) was never activated during my childhood. When it comes to fixing “stuff” or driving big things (tractors and farm trucks) I was about as awkward as Justin Verlander running the bases or a former President throwing out a first pitch.
In my efforts to get things done as fast as possible I often made a ton of errors and only after my dad corrected me did I do it the right way. So I learned the hard way that smart work beats hard work.
As a young athlete I remember how I spent my time versus how my peers in the same position spent theirs.
I focused about 90% of my time on preparation. I read books on hitting and the mental side of sports. I dove deeply into sports nutrition and learned how to eat to improve performance and health. I ran sprints outside even in the winter and really learned how to develop my self physically.
And I took batting practice and fielding practice with purpose, not just swinging or throwing as hard as I could.
The things that were within my control nutrition, off-field conditioning and focused skill work allowed me to separate myself from my peers, quite noticeably in fact.
My peers focused about 20% of their time on those things…instead spending more time just hanging out at the field without much of a plan. They would waste time working on things that would not help them improve. As an example I remember a former Detroit Piston player that was supremely talented but during practice he would spend an inordinate amount of time shooting half court shots and shooting from behind the backboard. That situation might come up 1or 2 times during a season! Meanwhile this guy was a very average free-throw shooter. Undoubtedly he could have improved his foul shooting with the unnecessary time spent on his trick shots!
Away from the field my peers often focused their attention on other “fun things” that took precedence over physical and mental preparation.
Now make no mistake… I am not advocating an obsessive-compulsive mind-set where you shut-off all other social outlets but you’re not going to excel with a 4-Hour Workweek mind set.
In fact, while I did work smarter than my peers it wasn’t smart enough. I eventually pushed to hard for to long and lost track of what I was actually preparing for. I lacked guidance once I left the farm I adopted a very isolated mind-set where I pit myself against the world and tried to do everything by myself.
This is why I am so eager to help coach young people. I want to be there to help guide them through the peaks and valleys of physically and mentally preparing for life and sport. The right coach can make a world of difference in the life of a young person.
I am currently working with a young swimmer and this young man is a “hard worker” by anyone’s definition. He would often show up to our workout having already spent 90 minutes in the pool and was due for another 90 minutes after our session. This young man is definitely putting the work in. He just had his end of season finals and he improved significantly across the board (finishing second in the free-style to a boy that is a year-older and winning the breaststroke). I asked him if he expected to perform that well? He said he did expect to perform well and I told him that he should have those kinds of expectations because he puts the work in. He also has expert guidance from swimming coaches that understand athletic development. This “technical” work in accordance with his dry-land training allowed him to perform his best when it mattered the most.
I have come across many young athletes that say they are going to “win championships” or “play Division 1 college sports.” And yet, they spend most of their time hanging out at the mall or playing video games. Those kids are dreaming, which is fine but they should temper their expectations because they aren’t in sync with their work habits.
So how can you start working smart…well, here are a few thoughts to help you:
Decide where you want to go and develop a plan to get there. Then work the plan.
Understand that being busy is not a point of honor. Anyone can be busy…the better question is ‘who gets more of the right stuff done each day?’
Go into your day with Most Important Tasks…2-3 at most. Do those before doing anything else.
When you spend time on something you’re actually saying ‘this is the most valuable thing I could be doing right now.’ Think about your activities that way and look for ways to spend less time doing the things you decide aren’t really that valuable.
I think Abraham Lincoln summed up the way I feel about this very well:
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
He didn’t suggest shying away from the six hours of work…he simply suggested using those six hours more wisely than most would.
That’s how you get better results than the rest.
And the most important lesson to take from this article... while working hard is a prerequisite to being awesome at anything you must find a mentor, parent or coach, that has your best interest at heart. A trusted mentor will help ensure you are heading down the right path to accomplish your goal.