Minimum Effort

I don’t have a set schedule of when I will post articles or what I will write about.  The ideas for my post usually come from things I read or are inspired by things I hear or see from athletes or other coaches.  The idea for this article came to me when my wife and I were talking about people wanting to do great things with the minimum effort possible.  I have been thinking about it for a few days but this morning I came across a quote that I really liked.  I shared it on Facebook then realized it went really well with what I was thinking about for this article.  The quote is by former NFL wide receiver, Jerry Rice:

Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t
— Jerry Rice

Scott Moore training with 1984 Olympian, Brett Barron

Scott Moore training with 1984 Olympian, Brett Barron

I just found this quote today but when I was competing, this idea is what helped me get through the toughest workouts.  There were so many times when I was training for a big competition and I was physically and mentally exhausted, it would have been so much easier to skip practice or skip a run or even slack off on a run.  Some days my best effort may not have been as good as on other days, but if I started to back off I would always ask myself, “Do you think X athlete from Y country is slacking off, or is he working harder than you are because he wants it more?”  That would always help me push harder.  Like I said, my best effort may not have been as good when I was tired as it was when I was fresh, but that’s what competition is all about.  You have to be able to push hard when it hurts.  Sometimes you have to dig deep to find the ability or even the will to go on when it hurts, but how can you do that when it counts if you are not willing to do it when it does not.  I never liked losing, does anyone?  I could accept losing to a better player, or getting caught by a good athlete, what I could not accept is losing and knowing that I did not do everything possible to put myself in a position to win.  I always said that if I did everything within my ability to win and lost, I might be upset, but I would be able to hold my head up and be proud of the effort, knowing I gave it everything I had.  I would still be upset for the loss but if I did everything within my ability, I could look myself in the mirror and be proud.

I’ve never understood how anyone can expect to do anything great with a minimum effort.  No one has ever done anything great by only giving the minimum effort possible.  I know those of you have just learned the principal of judo, Seiryoku Zenyo‘ which basically mean “maximum efficiency, minimal effort” may argue that by putting forth the minimum effort in the attempt to do something great is following one of the principles of judo, right?  Not right.  That just means that you should not expend more effort than is necessary to perform a technique.

People tell me they are training hard because they go to practice two or maybe three times a week.  My thinking is ok, cool, but most everyone in your club is doing that, what else are you doing?  Mind you, I’m not talking about the average student learning judo and competing in local tournaments for fun and exercise, I’m talking about the people trying or saying they are trying to make an Olympic/Paralympic or some other national team.  How can you be doing what everyone else is doing and expect to be above average?  The short answer – you cannot!  It’s not realistic that you can put in the same effort as everyone else and somehow be better than the crowd.

Obviously there may be other factors that help you rise above the others in your club, like maybe you are blessed with a greater level of athletic ability or you have a knack for the sport, you just pick it up and are better than the others in your club.  That’s great, and maybe that will take you a little farther than some others, but I’ve got news for you, that does not make you special, at least not outside of your own club.  In most cases, everyone who wins medals at the World or Olympic/Paralympic level has greater athletic ability or affinity for the sport than the average person in their club.  Talent without real effort will only take you so far.  When talent and athletic ability are equal, it’s effort, preparation, and determination that will prevail.  There are of course many other factors that play into it as well, but if you are waiting for the “big game” whatever the “big game” is for you, to give your best effort, you have already lost.

2000 Paralympic Champion, Kevin Szott after a training session before the 2004 Paralympic Games.

2000 Paralympic Champion, Kevin Szott after a training session before the 2004 Paralympic Games.

There is a drill I do at the end of practice when we are preparing for a competition where I have everyone in a big circle run in place.  I yell a number and that is how many push-ups everyone has to do.  I usually count down from 10 to 1, then back up to 10.  That’s 110 push-ups.  That’s not a ton but we do it at the end of practice, which means they have done randori (sparring) and probably a few other drills, so everyone is already tired.  During the drill I tell them they control how fast the drill goes. They have to do 110 push-ups no matter what but they can control how much time they spend running by how hard they work.  They start running in place and I will not call a number until I am satisfied that everyone is pushing hard and getting their knees up.  If they dog it, they run longer.  It’s not necessarily the result, but the effort.  Some may not be as tired so they are really moving but some may be tired and even though they are giving everything they have, they are not moving as fast.  If I see the effort I will yell the number and if they keep it up I will yell them faster, but if they dog it, I will make them run longer.  I also have a rule that everyone counts out loud together.  If I catch someone not counting, I will call that number again.  If I ask, “what number was I on”, and someone tells me a lower number to make the exercise shorter, we start over.

One of the things I tell them is that you do not win tournaments at the tournament; you win tournaments in the dojo.  You win tournaments with preparation and hard work.  You win by learning to push harder than you ever thought possible.  If you never push that hard in the dojo, you will never be able to do it in a tournament.  Winners are created by effort, winning is not done by accident, at least not most of the time.  I have pulled throws out of nowhere when I was about to be thrown, but I’m talking about overall.

I know it’s hard, that’s what makes it special and worth doing.  When I was talking to one of my athletes/friends about his decision to quit his job to move to the Olympic Training center to make a run at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, I told him that when he is walking through the tunnel into that stadium with thousands of screaming spectators, all his sacrifices, all his hard work, all the pain, all the disappointment and frustration will have been worth it!  If he does not make it, it will still all have been worth it, or at least I hope so, because even though he will be disappointed and crushed for missing out, he will be able to hold his head high knowing he did everything he could have done and be proud of himself for the effort and all the amazing experiences along the way.  I wrote about him a while back in “Step Outside…”

Achieving anything worth achieving requires sacrifice.  You have to sacrifice your time, your energy, time with friends, drugs and alcohol (I’ve never understood drugs anyway but especially not for an athlete), and lots of other things.  I always thought, if it’s not helping me reach my goals, it’s hurting, so I can do without it, at least for now.  I’m not saying you can’t go out and have fun with your friends or go to dinner and a movie with your girlfriend of wife, I’m just saying that even if you like to go out and party every night or if you love eating fast (fatty) foods, if you are serious about winning, maybe you can put that stuff on hold for a while.  I love Buffalo wings and cheeseburgers and all kinds of other fattening foods, but when I was training for a tournament I did not eat any of that stuff.  I had to eat clean to make weight, but I also wanted to make sure I was eating food that would give me the most benefit for training and competition. If you think of your body as a machine like a race car, food is the fuel you use to make the machine run.  If you want your machine to run at its highest potential, you don’t put crappy fuel in the tank, you put the cleanest, best fuel you can get in the tank so the machine runs clean.  If you are drinking and eating fast food before a major competition, I seriously question your desire to win.  You cannot perform at your best if you are putting that stuff in your body.  After a tournament, I always gave myself a day to eat whatever I wanted then the next day I got back on my program.

United States' Travis Stevens reacts after losing against Germany's Ole Bischof during their men's -81kg judo contest semi-final match of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 31, 2012 at the ExCel arena in London. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/GettyImages)

United States’ Travis Stevens reacts after losing against Germany’s Ole Bischof during their men’s -81kg judo contest semi-final match of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 31, 2012 at the ExCel arena in London. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/GettyImages)

Deciding you want something like a national, world, or Olympic/Paralympic medal is the first step, the next step is to actually do the work necessary to get you there.  It’s great to have hope but in reference to competition, hope is not enough.  If hope is all you do, you will not succeed.  I hoped I would make the 1996 Paralympic team, so I did the work necessary to make that a reality.  I hoped I would win a gold medal, so I worked really hard but won bronze instead.  I was very proud of my bronze medal but it is not what I went there for, so I went home and worked harder and went to more camps and even moved to Colorado after winning the 1998 World Championships so I could train with my Paralympic coach full-time and train at the Olympic Training Center on a weekly basis. So in 2000, I hoped I would win a gold medal again and this time, because of all my hard work and added experience, I did.

My point is this, if you want something, you have to work for it.  It takes a great amount of effort to do something truly great.  If you sacrifice and work hard, victory is not guaranteed, but failure almost certainly is if you do not!

As always, thanks for reading!

I’ll talk to you soon…