15 Jun Youth Athletes: The Hidden Work Matters
Everyone wants to be seen.
They want to be recognized.
They want to be pat on the back.
They want their gold star.
They want the Instagram tag.
Look. I don’t want to discount external motivation. It is a good thing when we examine self determination theory – an athlete needs to know they are competent and talented at something and need the affirmation to some degree.
However, there also needs to be an integrative dance of external and intrinsic motivation.
The intrinsic motivation is the autonomous drive of an athlete to get better. They approach their craft with passion, curiosity and creativity. The way they train aligns with their values, and their meaningful purpose to be involved in team sports.
This could be to connect with others. This could be to express themselves creatively and fully. This could be to see how capable they are of becoming strong. This could be to enter flow state. This could be to bring individual magic into the team collective.
One of the most powerful stories regarding intrinsic motivation starts with a girl running sprints on the pitch on a humid day in North Carolina.
Mia Hamm, one of the best women’s soccer players in the world, was training by herself during her time at University of North Carolina, as her coach walked by her solo training session. He witnessed her tenacity to get better on her off day and later coined the famous quote, “the vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one is watching.”
And she was a champion – record breaking goal scorer, twice named FIFA World Player of the Year, U.S Soccer Female Athlete of The Year five times in a row, World Cup Champion, and Olympic Gold Medalist.
Mia was the quintessence of the hidden work manifesting into accomplishments she never had foreseen while in the midst of churning out her own training.
Alas, maybe the hidden work doesn’t appeal to you.
Maybe it sounds insurmountable.
Maybe you want the glory without the grind.
Maybe running sprints with the sun beaming down and seeing the heat of the turf rising in its hallucinogenic wave sounds miserable.
Maybe getting in 1,000 touches a day in your front yard sounds mundane.
Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at your strength coach who says speed development takes years of plowing through.
If this is you, it’s time to re-evaluate why you aren’t doing the hidden work. Do you love your sport? Do you want to evolve? Do you want to level up?
More critically, do you want to contribute to your team?
Let me shift gears for a hot second and get spiritual on you: contributing to the greater collective is what sports and life are all about.
Everything starts at the individual level to make the world a better, safer and more joyful place to live.
To get athletic on you, the teammate who hustles on a 50-yard recovery run to get back on defense, is able to save their team from a dangerous counterattack.
To get social on you, the person who smiles at the coffee shop barista and thanks them for their service infuses joy in them, then they spread that joy the rest of their day to other humans.
To get financial on you, the 15-year-old who puts coins in a piggy bank for all of her teenage and college years, is able to compound the money and invest in a creative start-up when she graduates.
To get environmental on you, the woman down the street who picks up the trash in the neighborhood park, is contributing to the well-being of the animals and the soil of the Earth.
To get musical on you, the rapper who made beats for years while he was broke teenager living in his friend’s basement, was able to blow up and get nominated for a Grammy by his mid 20s.
Shout out to Logic.
To get Michael Jackson on you, “if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change.”
To get political on you…
Wait, wait, hold up a minute. I vowed I’d never get political on this blog.
Whatever, I’ll dip my toes in: to get political on you, the citizen who pours love into themselves daily, is able to pour love into others.
Yes, that’s political. Sit on it and ponder alone, and don’t ask me to go deeper because it is deep.
So let me repeat: how are you working on yourself behind the scenes so that you can serve others on the grander scale?For athletes, how are you training by yourself so you can shine with your unique role and make a powerful contribution when your team hits the field? Click To Tweet
How are you strengthening your strengths so you can carry the collective on your back when you have to? How are you going into tackles when everyone else is running away? How are you being tenacious in the air when everyone else is scared?
If one individual player isn’t doing their part, the group crumbles.
The defender who makes an error.
The forward who misses a critical shot in the six-yard box.
The midfielder who didn’t sleep and who’s performance in waning.
The goalkeeper who didn’t practice their dives and reactivity.
When on stage for the world to see, the collective has flaws and gaps when one person isn’t doing their job behind the scenes.
For humans (and athletes), how are you making one person’s day better? How are you serving your community? Get very clear on this and take inventory of what you do every day to serve the whole.
As an example, here is a template I use to rank all components of my life:
Physical (am I healthy? Am I strong? Do I have a good immune system? Can I play the full game?)
Mental (am I taking time to rest? Am I meditating? Am I managing my energy?)
Social (how are my relationships? Do I surround myself with people who uplift me? Do I approach people with curiosity rather than judgement?)
Financial (am I spending on a cart full of junk at Target? Am I investing enough for the greater good and to share an impactful message?)
Nutritional (am I nourishing my body? Am I hydrating?)
Sleep (am I well rested to have an energized and focused day?)
Education (am I studying? Am I applying what I learn? Am I a constant student of life?)
Community (how am I serving my community? Am I donating, volunteering, or helping those less privileged than myself?)
Rank all of these. Be strict with yourself. Add other components besides what I just listed.
Be aware of your shortcomings and do the hard work behind closed doors to be better every day.
And don’t just take inventory when something devastating rocks your world.
The news blows up.
A catastrophe occurs.
The zombies come.
Yes, horrific events have their way of jolting our souls and waking us up to what we should fight for, but we need to be harder on ourselves and improve year-round.
This is a lifetime pursuit.
This is a continuous commitment.
This is a daily practice.Even when times are good and life is smooth sailing, still do the hidden work. Click To Tweet
It’s tantamount to an athlete working on their mistakes only when they lose a big game, but any other time? They could care less about becoming better, which isn’t serving them or their team in the long run.
The hidden work is a continuous push for people to analyze their individual behavior and whether or not it’s damaging or enriching the world.
The hidden work matters. It’s your most powerful, best kept secret.
You aren’t doing this for a badge of honor.
You aren’t doing it to show people how virtuous and awesome you are on your Instagram story.
You aren’t doing it for the Likes.
You’re doing it because you know this hard, covert work is woven into the collective and is where the magic explodes.
It’s the work that lights you up, fulfills you, gives you meaning.
It’s the work you do because you know you’re not just uplifting yourself, but you’re elevating others too.