I have been working as a performance coach with the Academy in Limerick FC for the past couple of years. I really love it as it covers some of the core areas that get my fires burning. Coaching, improving performance and mindset, as well as the dynamics of teams. One of the areas I have incorporated this year is a monthly challenge to test their physical and mental fortitude.
All of the coaches have to be able to carry out the task also a month later. I started with a 5 minute plank to warm them up and then I introduced my curve ball. Juggling. This one was for me as much as them, but I knew it would be a serious effort to master the art of a 3 ball juggle, having tried and given up on this many times before.
Outside of the obvious metaphors of keeping all of the balls in the air, this challenge was going to require repetition of a skill every single day for a minimum of 14 days to master it. Skill acquisition in sport, life and business, is an area that is hugely ignored because quite frankly it’s difficult. It requires you to drop the ball and pick it up, over and over and over again. I set up a nice little system whereby I had 3 golf balls and positioned myself against my bed so I didn’t have to bend down when I dropped them, which I did hundreds of times.
How often will you fail at something over a thousand times and keep going? I had a sheet which explained the theory behind learning to juggle, but like learning any new skill, you can’t learn it by reading it in a book. Every night I stood there throwing golf balls in every direction, followed by an array of colourful language. I threw, re-adjusted, threw again, picked up off the bed and started again.
Every single part of the process was mindful and done consciously. I was aware of exactly how high I threw each ball, when I would release the next one and how far down my fingers exactly I needed to roll the next ball. With every go I was creating new neural pathways, but it just would not click. I could get all 3 balls transferred to the opposite hands once, but there was a huge block with managing to getting them moving continuously. This is usually where I would give up and also where a lot of the Academy guys threw in the towel. There was a crew of 16 to 19 year olds going to be watching me have a go at this in 2 weeks time and that was all the leverage I needed.
Then after exactly 15 days I had it. I don’t know what clicked, but it did. It had now gone from my conscious to unconscious mind. Instead of focusing on every single minute detail, the process had now clicked and I could throw them in the air for 10 seconds without even thinking of the steps involved. To say I was proud was an understatement. This for me was a massive breakthrough and showed me the value of consistent and continuous application to learning a new skill. 10 seconds soon became 30 and then a minute. I could juggle! Two weeks later in a room full of teenagers I nailed it for 30 seconds solid.
Of the group of 25, disappointingly only 7 had mastered the skill, of which two were coaches. The other 5 guys had shown me they possessed the mindset required to excel. People can talk all day about resilience and dedication, but when you throw a challenge like this in front of a group, there is nowhere you can hide. The results are glaringly obvious and if you applied yourself every single day, using the tools provided, you will succeed. Simple as that. I’m currently in the middle of learning to do a single leg squat as I continue with goals that stretch the body and mind….as well as showing these young kids I still got game.
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