Have you ever noticed that the greatest athletes in the world almost look as though they aren’t trying? Have you noticed that the best hitters in baseball look as though they swinging at less than 100%? The game is easy for them and all of their movements seem to be slow and smooth. Then how is it that they are able to produce such amazing results? Young athletes are raised to believe that their level of success is directly proportional to the amount of effort the put out. Think about it! In all the different aspects of our life (here in America) we applaud the blue collar worker. We root for the underdog, we appreciate the guy who tries hard and “gives it his all”. Some of us take pride in how hard our life has been and wear our struggles as a badge of honor. At the same time we despise the people who make life look easy. We immediately believe that they must be cheating or getting over on someone because after all “life is hard!”
This conditioning is also apparent in sports. Our young athletes are always told to, “Give 110%” and we expect them to look like they are giving everything they have at all times. The crazy thing is we never stop and ask, “Does this really create results?” We simply believe that if we try hard enough we will succeed. We don’t ever question whether this advice is true or not, we just simply take it for what it’s worth and then go about our lives trying hard to “make things happen” and all the while we are actually getting in our own way of really producing the results we want.
I know, I know, I sound crazy. Before you completely dismiss what I am saying give it a chance and read through the rest of this article. I mean what if you could produce the results you want with far less effort then you are already putting forth? You’d be crazy not to do it, right? I mean why would anyone try to break down a wall to get through it if they could simply open then door and allow themselves to pass right through?
For years we have watched top athletes perform and we are all amazed at the ease and effortlessness for which they play. We have the belief that their superior athleticism allows them to play the game with less effort then the rest of us. Have you ever stopped and considered that maybe their effortlessness allows them to be more athletic? Maybe we have had it backwards all these years. Maybe if we back off on our effort level a little we might be able to perform our mechanics much easier.
The more I study baseball and human performance the more I begin to realize that, “effort” actually stifles results. That the harder we try the farther we actually get from our goals. Now before I start to explain why I want you to understand that I don’t mean that you shouldn’t play hard. There is a big difference between running your fastest to first, diving for balls, and playing the game right and putting out maximum effort when you play. You should always play the game right however you should do it in a way that allows you to produce the results that you desire.
I began to really understand this concept while working with my martial arts instructor. In a drill called, “sticky hands” a student (me) is to keep his hands stuck to the hands of the instructor. The instructor will take the student through various blocks and movements performed in the art. As the drill progresses the instructor begins to move faster and faster. What I realized was the faster my instructor moved the harder I would try to keep up with him. The harder I tried the worse I got at being able to perform the proper movement. When I began to understand that I needed to slow down, to use less effort my body began to perform movements I had just learned at an incredible speed. I was able to keep up with the instructor even though I had just learned the movement. However, once I began to “try” it was all out the window and I couldn’t even perform basic movements.
I began to wonder how this could help my hitters. I have always preached mechanical repeatability and I started to wonder that if this approach would not only help their bat speed but also improve their ability to repeat their mechanics? As I tried it myself I found that indeed my bat speed increased dramatically and it was far easier to repeat my mechanics. In addition I found that the ball was coming off the bat much faster and I was hitting balls much further then I ever was trying to hit the ball as hard as I could. I then experimented with my running. Time and time again my times were substantially faster when I ran at 80% then they were when I was running at 100%. I was convinced! I began to share my findings with my athletes. Just as I thought each athlete had significant improvements in bat speed, exit velocity, and repeatability.
So how and why does this work? Why is it that our long held belief that effort creates results is wrong and that creating results has nothing to do with exerting maximum effort? From a physical stand point effort creates muscle tension. When an athlete exerts their maximum effort the muscles in the body tense up which leads to a decrease in the athlete’s control over fine motor movements. When this happens the athlete is unable to repeat proper mechanics. In addition muscle tension creates friction. The muscles can not move with any fluidity. They actually have to fight each other to perform the movement. Think of a car with it’s parking brake on, you can hold the accelerator down and the car will be giving a lot of effort but it won’t be going anywhere or producing any results. If you simply release the parking brake you can then produce more results with far less effort. The same is true in athletics.
From a mental stand point, effort comes from a place of doubt. Truly confident athletes don’t have to place maximum effort into their movements because they know that if they just perform the movement correctly they will produce a desired result. You see when we “try” or when we really give a lot of effort toward a goal we are not confident that we will attain that goal. We think that we have to try to “make it happen” because if we don’t then it won’t happen. Successful athletes believe that whatever happens things will work out their way in the long run. That they will produce a desired result and therefore don’t have to force themselves to produce that result. This confidence, this belief in themselves enables them to play with the ease and effortlessness we all witness. There is not doubt that they will produce the result they want and as such they almost always produce that result.
The same is true as I write this article. As I sit here I am not trying to write this. I am simply allowing the thoughts in my head to produce the result that I want. If I were to try to write this I would be blocked, I wouldn’t be able to communicate what I want to get across to you.
Coaches across America love to see effort. They love to see their athletes trying hard but the ones who play are the athletes that produce results. Many coaches preach about effort and giving it all you have but time and time again the athletes who play produce results, the ones who make it look easy are the ones who progress onto higher levels of play. You basically have to ask yourself one question, “Do I want to look like I’m trying hard or do I want to produce results?” The answer to that question could make the difference in your career. The answer to that question could finally allow you to produce the results you desire.