By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 1, 2014
At the gym where I work out, there’s a program called Pro Camp that specializes in training professional athletes. They train basketball players, football players, hockey players, track athletes. And they train high school and college athletes whose ambition is to make it to the pros.
I was standing with the chief of Pro Camp, T.R. Goodman, watching a 15-year-old high school football player go through his workout. “He’s a winner,” T.R. said.
I was immediately curious. I asked T.R. what he meant. What qualities did he see in this young boy that marked him as an athlete with a future? What is the difference between a pro and a non-pro? What did T.R. mean by “winner?”
Of course I was thinking about writers. Athletes and writers face the same challenges. Both—meaning the readers of this blog and the athletes at Pro Camp—are aspiring to be thoroughgoing pros.
Here are the points that T.R. called out:
“Why did I say this young boy is a winner? Because he has tremendous ability to focus. Every great athlete I’ve worked with has that capacity. Not only do they have the ability to focus on a task in the moment, but they can stay in that focused state for a long period of time.
“I train many people who are not professional athletes. The best ones, the most successful ones, bring that ability to focus from their professions. They can transfer it to their training and apply it to their workouts. The difference between the average athlete and the superstar athlete is the ability to intensely focus and to retain that focus until the exercises are over or the workout is over.
“This young kid is only 15 years old, yet he has the ability to focus very intensely on the exercise as he’s doing it and he never loses focus until the workout is over. That’s why I say he’s a winner.”
“So what do I mean by focus, what is it about focus that allows these people to become really successful? I think focus starts with listening. That means that they have the ability to listen and understand what you’re asking them to do, what are the keys to executing the task successfully. In working out, that means understanding exactly what their body needs to do.
“They are very receptive to instruction, they don’t doubt what they’re being asked to do, they don’t question what they’re being asked to do, they accept what they’re asked to do and they do it well.”
“Underlying all of this, supporting all of this, is an inner knowing that they can do what you ask of them. There’s no self-doubt. They don’t wonder if they have the ability to do it. It’s just a matter of time.”
“Another key component of focus is the ability to not be distracted. The best athletes are not distracted by anything going on around them. Their energy is completely directed in the task—not on the task, but in the task. They are immersed. And they have the ability to maintain that concentration for as long as necessary.”
“The last component that these exceptional athletes bring is the ability to evaluate what they’re doing right and what they need to improve on. And they make the improvements without self-doubt. So I guess that could be summarized or characterized as they have the ability to self-evaluate.”
What was fascinating to me about what T.R. said was that he never mentioned athletic ability or strength or speed. The qualities he cited were all mental. They were deeper than mental. They were psychological, emotional, and spiritual. They were qualities of aspiration, of commitment, of intention, of will, of intensity, and of perseverance.
These are all qualities that you and I have control of in our writing and our artistic lives.
We can’t choose how smart or how pretty or how verbal we are. But we can choose what we want and how much we want it. We can choose how hard we’re willing to work to achieve our goals. We can elect to tune out distractions. We can decide how much we’re willing to sacrifice and over how long a period we’re willing to make that sacrifice. We can commit over the long haul and in the face of adversity.
Those capacities are all within our power.
The exercise that his young football player was doing when I was watching him was a drill for the deep muscles of the shoulder, the throwing muscles for a quarterback. He was lying on one side on a bench with a five-pound weight in one hand. The drill was to move the weight very slowly and very smoothly (no jerky motions or cheating by using momentum) through a range of motion that permitted only the small muscles deep in the shoulder to participate. Watching him, you could see exactly what T.R. was talking about. He never cheated, he never took a short cut. He dug deep, moved smoothly through the pain, and didn’t quit or lose focus no matter how hard it got.
It sounds crazy but it was absolutely inspiring to watch him. You wanted to go back to your own workout and work twice as hard and with twice as much focus. It made you feel a little ashamed of yourself for not focusing as intensely as you knew you were capable of.
And you could see exactly what T.R. meant when he said, “He’s a winner.” Above and beyond God-given athletic ability or strength or speed, you could see that this young man was going to achieve great things in any enterprise he tackled.
They don’t call it “Resistance training” for nothing.