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Behavior Change

November 19, 2012

Athletic development is, at its core, about something far more fundamental than even physiology: it’s about behaviour change and the ways in which this effect causes the body to adapt.  One of my coaching mentors, John Hayman of the University of Delaware used to relate an anectdote he picked up from an old teacher: “if you did a full body stretch every time you got up, you would be as flexible as a cat is”.  Carlos Castaneda, in his series about the Yaqui indian sorcerer Don Juan described how one “stalks” the being that they wish to become – which I interpret as adopting the behaviors of that creature/being/state.  Continuing in the feline theme, my old friend Reem Mourad was briefly obsessed with the way in which his kittens devoted themselves utterly to the development of hunting skills – every moment of every day – play IS practice, a little bit louder now: “PLAY IS PRACTICE” — so therefore, should practice be play?  

So, I think that athletes are first and foremost animals that embody the behavior patterns common to athletes.  How do humans adopt consistent behaviours?  Well, I think that focusing on the chronic (exercise daily or regularly) is better than psyching oneself up for the “acute” (hopping off the couch one day and doing a 4-hour session).  How many people have we seen fail to achieve the big race by training inconsistently and focusing on tackling big “epic” workout?  How many “confidence builders” lead to injury?  And humans are very social, and therefore exchange behaviors with their peer groups – so our support and peer groups are of a huge importance – building an athletic culture.

So, behaviors that cause a physiological shift are key to athletic development, but I think that the overall habits of an athlete are more important than “optimal” training loads.  So cultivating behavior patterns that settle into a humans core are those which stimulate the transformation to athlete.  This is not to say that the “physiologically correct” workout is not also that one that is most compatible with optimal development because they may in fact be identical.  In the end, consistency in behavior is more important than “correctness”.  And play is practice.

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