Achieving efficiency in athletic movements is one of the most important principles in maximizing performance. Yet it’s also a concept that’s difficult to grasp, especially for younger players.
The drive to efficiency isn’t “fun.” It’s actually a lot of work, and usually starts with a lot more failure than success.
It also often requires breaking down a skill and working on a particular element until you get it right. Only when you can do it well is it inserted back into the overall skill.
Take pitching, for example. A pitcher may be over to throw the ball over the plate with decent speed, getting hitters out and winning MVP awards. A physically stronger pitcher may even be able to bring impressive speed naturally.
But until that pitcher develops a more efficient approach to how she throws the ball she will never find where her ceiling is.
While parents or coaches may understand that, players may not. Efficiency is kind of an abstract concept for them, especially these days when everyone is more focused on outcomes (Did we win? Did I perform well?) than development.
So, here’s a way of explaining explaining efficiency in terms they can understand.
Tell them to think about an LED light versus a traditional incandescent light bulb. (Depending on age, by the way, players may not know what “incandescent” means so you may need to reference an actual bulb at your home or somewhere else. Remember, they’re growing up in a world of compact florescents and LEDs.)
Let’s assume both lights are throwing out an equal amount of light into the room. Ask them what would it feel like if they walk up and touch the LED light. The correct answer, of course, is nothing. It’s like touching a table.
But what happens if they try to touch an old-fashioned light bulb? They’re going to get burned.
Then ask them if they know why one is hot and the other is not. It’s because 90% of the energy being consumed by the LED is being converted into light, while 10% is being lost as heat; the incandescent bulb is the opposite – 10% light, with 90% lost to heat.
In other words, the LED is very efficient because almost all of its power is being used for the purpose intended, while the traditional light bulb is very inefficient since most of its power is being wasted on something that is non-productive.
It’s the same with athletic skills. The more extraneous movements an athlete has, or the more things she does that get in the way of efficient movement, the less powerful she is. Even if she is trying as hard as she can.
But if she works on becoming efficient in the way she transfers the energy she has developed into the skill she is performing, she will maximize her power and effectiveness.
If you’re challenged with explaining the need to be efficient, give this analogy a try. Hopefully it turns into a light bulb moment for your player.
The other day I was reading an article’in the NFCA’s Fastpitch Delivery newspaper. It was written by Megan Brown, Ph.D., an assistant coach at Brown University, talking about what softball players can learn from UConn basketball.
Basically, it talked about an approach they use to improve pitching performance during practice, which improves performance during games. While the article was about pitching, it can be applied to other areas as well. I’ve been playing around with it a bit this week, and I think it’s pretty effective so I thought I’d share.
The crux of it is to ask the player to rate her effort on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being standing around talking about it (as you will be doing at that time) and 10 being putting every fiber of your being into the pitch, hit, throw, whatever.
The typical answer will be 5 or 6. If she says 6, you then ask the player what it will take to get that effort level up to a 7. How do you go that little bit harder?
Once she gets to 7, ask what it will take to get to 8, and so on. It really seems to help players loosen up a bit and worry a little less about “perfect” mechanics and a little more about going hard.
Of course, being a movie fan and a music fan, the whole idea of “turning it up” couldn’t help but remind me of this great scene from the classic movie “This Is Spinal Tap.” Sorry about the commercial in the front, but it’s worth waiting it out:
It’s very easy for players to slip into their comfort zone when they’re practicing or playing. Unfortunately, for many that comfort zone may be far less than they’re capable of achieving when pushed.
Maximum performance requires maximum effort. To help players get there, ask them to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, and then see if you can get them to make turning it up to 11 a habit.