I’ve always been fascinated by people who are the very best in their field. One of the most visible sets of people that fit this criteria are professional athletes. With my experience in playing and coaching ice hockey, I’ve been able to get a closer look than most at what it takes to be a professional or semi-professional athlete. These men and women have development and practice down to a science. They know what it takes to be the best they can possibly be.
You may not be playing a game in front of thousands of people or getting paid millions of dollars, but I think we can all take some lessons from the pros when it comes to our own personal development.
THE PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE SCHEME
First of all, let’s look at how athletes practice. The first thing that most people don’t really think about is that being a professional athlete means you spend about 80% of your time practicing, training, and preparing and only about 20% of the time actually performing the skills you spend so much time practicing. We only get to see the finished product and very few of us get a look at what goes on behind the scenes. Athletes train for hours nearly every day to prepare themselves for the couple hours of performance that we all get to see. I’m not as interested in the final product as I am the work that it takes to get to that point.
Secondly, professional athletes approach their practice in a systematic way. Granted, the structure may be dictated by a coach, but no professional hockey player would just spend a practice session monkeying around without a plan (monkeying around WITH a plan, like improving stick handling skills, happens all the time, though). Practice sessions have a logical progression that allow the athlete to work on very minute skills that, when put together, equal the ability to do their job at a highly competitive level.
Now, I understand that most of us don’t have a job where we have the luxury of practicing all day and then executing our skills in front of lots of people who want to give us money. Most accountants I know don’t sit at home for eight hours practicing only to go into work for two hours in the evening. Doesn’t quite work that way in the real world. However, let’s forget about our careers and jobs right now and think about another way we are all professionals.
We’re all professional humans.
This is what we do and are every day so why not treat our personal development like the pros?
How can we go about treating our personal development in the same way pros approach their own development?
PRACTICE LIKE THE PROS
Deliberately Practice: Athletes break down their practice into the various skills they need to perform. And then they break down those skills even further. Breaking complex skills into simple parts that can be practiced over and over is what separate people who do amazing things from those who don’t.
Unfailingly Practice: Athletes show up for practice no matter what. I’ve gone to many a hockey practice when I was sore, tired, and didn’t feel like being there. But not going to practice isn’t even an option. It doesn’t even register into the realm of possibilities for professional athletes. You need to make a commitment to your development that goes beyond immediate gratification.
Practice With a Plan: Athletes and coaches approach the development of themselves and the team with a plan. On the coaching side of things, the practices that happen at the beginning of a season are very different from those that happen at the end of the season. Have you done an audit of your own skills and abilities to see what you need to work on the most? What is happening in your daily life that would benefit the most from improving a specific ability? You can’t practice effectively without a plan.
IS IT THAT SIMPLE?
But wait, athletes have coaches!
Seriously? You can’t make that argument when this whole website is being run by a life coach. Life coaches are to “regular people” what sports coaches are to athletes. Granted, I realize that the vast majority of people who read this blog will never hire me. I’m perfectly fine with that and will continue to write free articles for everyone to enjoy.
Let me give my quick little schpeil on how I see life coaching, though. In the past, personal development and your job went hand-in-hand. People would find a secure job and they would develop the skills necessary to move up the ranks in that job. Eventually, they’d hit a ceiling or retire with a decent pension and hopefully some savings to live off of. No need for a life coach when your employment situation was stable and your job would happily provide you with opportunities to develop the skills you need to work your way up.
But that is changing. In the new economy most of us will never have that life long job that will provide for us forever. We aren’t going to have our salary needs and our personal development needs met by our employers anymore. Instead, our personal development is going to become just that, personal. The steps that we take to improve ourselves are going to be what set us up for success in an economy where our job situation is constantly shifting with the winds of uncertainty. A job isn’t going to nurture you along anymore. You are going to have to take the initiative to improve yourself. And that’s where a life coach comes in.
But I digress.
The last argument that I can see forming on the lips of everyone reading this article is, “But athletes make tons of money and can afford to spend all their time getting better at their job! I have a job and a family and responsibilities! I can’t just sit around reading philosophy and learning another language all day!”
I worry that my answer is going to seem harsh, but I’ll take that risk. And that answer is:
Are you going to let the excuse that you’re busy and have responsibilities be the reason you don’t take control of your own life? Are you saying it’s only worth the effort to become the best person you can possibly be if you’re being showered in Benjamins? You don’t believe that and neither do I.
Sure, it’s tough to find the time to improve yourself when you have real life demands that require your time and attention. But if effective personal development was easy there wouldn't be a humongous self-help industry, I probably wouldn't be writing this article, and there would be little reward for putting in the time and effort to improve yourself.