Most athletes I work with have some sort of physical testing standard they must adhere to every year. While these testing standards can be very motivating to athletes who are out of shape or deficient somehow, they can be restrictive to athletes who are pushing their potential.
They can also be limiting by keeping athletes stuck in comparison-mode, looking at the athletes in their immediate team or training group instead of looking at the “best.”
Early on in my Olympic career, I remember that we had “physical testing” at the beginning and the end of every season. As a young athlete, it was good to have these simple tests as “standards” to reach. When I was finally on the World Cup and the Olympics was always right around the corner, It was a way to see just how taxing the World Cup season was on us and what we might be able to improve going into the next season.
The general idea was…if you improve your physical testing scores…you should be better in your sport.
At first, this seemed like a cool thing to shoot for each year. The idea was, this year, you did X many push-ups or pullups. Next year you want to beat your number. It makes sense, right?
Well, sort of.
Potential versus Quota
One year, I remember where training for the physical testing got in the way of training for the season.
If I remember correctly, improving last year’s physical testing score was tied to money for the next season. It was kind of like working for a sales team.
In the world of sales and selling, companies will put in place “quotas” every month. You have to sell ‘x,’ or else you get fired. If you hit ‘x’ in month one, you should hit ‘y’ in month two and then ‘z’ in month three. Miss ‘z’ and they might fire you.
This approach tends to creep into sports, and it can be distracting for athletes who are doing their best just to focus on being the best in their sport.
I remember training every year for the pullup test. At my best, I could do 14 pullups in ten seconds. We had other athletes who could do eighteen in ten seconds. More pullups in less time were supposed to correlate to faster start times; however, it didn’t always work out that way.
Sometimes we had athletes get injured training for the test. Not from doing starts which we had to do on race day, but the actual test itself. At this point, training and scheming for the test took us away from the actual results we wanted to the point of injury. Not good.
The NFL Combine Is The Ultimate Quota
Every year, the football world drools over all the draft-eligible football players’ combine scores, and it’s big business too.
Shaving a tenth of a second off your Forty Yard Dash time can mean millions of dollars on your contract.
Doing well at the combine can make a college prospect go from a mid-round draft pick to a first-round draft pick.
But let’s not forget that every year…many of those athletes who do well in the Combine DON’T make it in the NFL.
And on the flip side of that…many athletes who make it in the NFL didn’t have excellent combine scores.
The most famous Combine story is Tom Brady, who got picked 199th overall and has become the greatest quarterback in history.
Focus On Your Potential
While testing standards and Combine scores are excellent…they really shouldn’t be your main form of motivation.
Just like the quotas that sales teams use to keep their bottom-dwellers active, don’t think that just because you hit the minimum means you’re going to make it.
When you focus on your potential, THAT’s where your best results will come from.
I see this every year. Athletes who shoot to just get by rarely make it. In fact, that’s where most of the problems start.
When you shoot for your potential, those physical testing standards take care of themselves. Or they don’t matter at all.
I get it; sometimes, a physical testing score can open the door to a team or a program. You may be incredibly talented, but maybe you’re just not all that strong…yet. We see that all the time in the NHL. When they first introduced Combines in the NHL, many people were surprised just how weak some of the most talented prospects were.
But after the Combine was a thing for a while, hockey players realized, “Now I have a number to hit.”
The physical standards can be excellent, but a common thought among all the coaches in every sport is…” It would be cool to put all of this year’s winners through the combine.”
I can imagine Tom Brady, at his current age, might do BETTER than he did when he came out of college.
Other athletes would probably surprise just how POORLY they did even though they now had a Stanley Cup, a Super Bowl, or an Olympic Medal in their hands.
Focus On Your Three Key Abilities
(For our free course on your Three Key Abilities, Click Here)
Remember, success in sports isn’t just about your physical ability. If you spend all summer working on your bench press just because it’s on the testing schedule and forget to be a student of the game overall, you’re going to lose.
Conversely, just because you’ve focused on watching a game film all summer doesn’t mean you’re going to have all the physical abilities necessary to survive when the season starts.
When you ask yourself, “What is my true potential here?” you will quickly surpass any ‘standard’ that can be put in front of you. You will also do things like show up early and stay late. You’ll do an extra rep when one isn’t asked for by your coach or trainer.
When you focus on your potential, you’ll ask questions like, “How can I improve my recovery?” or, “How can I train longer, faster, stronger, better, etc.?” (Hint: Having a Whoop strap will help with this. If you’d like a free WHOOP strap and your first month free you can get one here.)
When you focus on being the best YOU can be without comparing to others, the ‘others’ all start to melt away. You pass them. Why? Because they are doing the minimum, most likely. Especially your immediate teammates. (unless they are already the best in the world).
Quotas and combines, and standards are all distractions to the athletes who are willing to push for their potential. So make sure you go for yours.
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Olympian Jonathan Edwards
Founder - The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint
Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Creator of "The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint": The world's only mental performance training program for aspiring athletes with big dreams. Over nineteen years he has worked with athletes who have gone on to or competed in NCAA D1, D2, D3, MCLA D1 and D2, the Olympics, NHL, MLL, NLL, NFL, and others. Feel free to link to this article from your blog and share it with an athlete, parent, or coach who would benefit from these concepts.