Summer is the Time to Get Better (or Worse) for Athletes
Updated: May 19
It has been several months since I have written a blog post here, as I have spent what little free time I have working on my second book. Originally, the second book was going to be about teaching mindfulness and SEL skills to children. However, I pivoted on that project and have instead decided to make the second book about self-discovery. I will be posting about it in next few months, as I am hoping for an early 2022 publication date. With that said, I will make a conscious effort to write at least one blog post here per month. I need to get better with this. I plan to use the summer months to do this.
Speaking of using the summer to "get better," I have been planning for the summer months with many of the collegiate and high school athletes I work with. We discuss how the summer months are the time that athletes either get better or worse in their respective sports.
Summer is the time to put the extra work in. It's the time to lift, run, work on the techniques of your game, meditate, etc. Sadly, most high school and many college athletes think that if they simply show up to training camp at the beginning of the season and work, they will get better. This is true to a certain extent. However, it is the athletes that set goals in the summer and work hard daily to reach them that catapult themselves over those who take the summer off.
I do not want to suggest that the summer months should not include some rest, recovery, and relaxation. This type of self-care is important to avoid over-use injuries and to combat mental burn-out. Even if an athlete is competing during the summer months, I recommend some R & R time. It is important to squeeze some time in when we are immersed in a bit of mindless fun and not thinking about our sports.
I often ask the athletes I work with what their goals are, and I then ask them what is the plan to accomplish the goal. We discuss how a goal without a plan is merely a dream. If their daily actions are not in alignment with their goal, they are not going to achieve it. With this in mind, we are currently in the process of having them come up with three goals that they want to work on during the summer. These goals are based on skills that they can work on by themselves everyday that will make them better in their respective sports.
Once we decide what their goals are, I tell them to buy the biggest paper calendar they can find and post it in their bedroom. They write their goals on every date in the calendar for the summer months. At the end of the day, if they have accomplished their goals for the day, they put a big check mark on that date on the calendar. I have them do this for two reasons:
When they look at the calendar and see all the check marks for the days they knocked their goals out, they will feel a sense of accomplishment. This will motivate them to continue on the daily pursuit of these goals.
When they look at the calendar and see spaces where they missed some days, they will feel compelled to get back on track.
Please note that even though I say "every day," some days are built in for rest and recovery days, depending on the specific goals. We are pursuing a growth mindset. This calendar method also reinforces self-discipline.
It is interesting to note that non-athletes as well find this calendar method beneficial in the cultivation of their sought-after skills. For instance, legendary comedian Jerry Seinfeld once bestowed this wisdom to an aspiring conic who asked how Seinfeld consistently created comedic material. HIs advice was to put an X on the calendar every day he wrote a joke, and try not to break the daily chain.
I find that a having a big paper calendar on the wall is more effective than having goals in an electronic planner, because athletes are forced to look at it. One of the tricks to accomplishing goals during the summer is having your physical environment set up for success like this. I discovered how important this was years ago when I was training for marathons. There where days when I would get home from grad school or work that I did not feel like running. I found that if I set my running shoes next to the sofa or the front door, where I was forced to look at them, I was more apt to get out and run. It only took me a few times to realize that running was much easier than sitting there and soaking up the guilt that came from staring at my running shoes while I sat on the sofa!
Here are a couple of examples of the types of goals some of my athletes are going to tackle during the summer:
golfer: work on short game with drills every day (at least an hour)
volleyball player: improve conditioning by running 20-30 minutes daily
basketball player: improve vertical by doing drills 20 minutes daily
basketball player: improve shot by putting up 300 shots daily
soccer goalkeeper: improve side volley by kicking 30 minutes daily
soccer player: stay in a good routine by sleeping properly and good nutrition daily
football player: get stronger by sticking to daily lift plan
As you can see, some of the goals are more subjective than others, but they are all measurable. Getting the goals accomplished every day is the main objective.
Athletes who are serious about getting better and stick to simple plans like this are going to make massive leaps in their improvement. In addition, this teaches them how to plan and accomplish goals in a step by step manner.
Student-athletes can use the summer to stay up late and binge on Netflix and Tik Tok for three months, or they can use it to cultivate strong daily habits that will lead them to success in their sports. Simply stated, they are either going to get better or worse during the summer. There is no -in-between.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com