This post comes with a warning. If you happen to hear an alarm go off as you read it, it is because it is the NERD ALERT. What I am writing about pertains to two books I have read as of late, the way they have shaped my thoughts, emotions, and expectations, and how it relates to the Philadelphia Independence. While I will keep it light and fun, I do want it to be an intellectual conversation that provokes brain stimulation. A pro athlete yes, but dumb jock, no!
Now that you are hearing the alarms (whoop, whoop, whoop), let’s get started. The last time I wrote it was one week into preseason and we were flying. Double days….check, ice baths…..check, practices in freezing cold temperatures and cutting winds…check. The making of a great first month was well underway.
Today, we are two weeks in. We have played our first game (a 1-1 draw against the University of Maryland) in front of our most faithful fans at USTC and we loved the idea of getting to kick other people (practices have been getting pretty heated)! 14 days of training and there is so much to talk about. Where do I start? Where do I end? What do I want to focus on? For these answers, I call forth the BOOK WORM in me….
In between sessions, all the Cheesesteaks rest our weary minds and bodies in our players lounge. We eat lunch, we gossip about pop culture, we watch soccer games, and many of us read (that includes me). Most recently, I have read two books, “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin, and “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell. Either one of these books alone would sufficiently rock your world but the combination is so tantalizing that I can barely contain myself. They both speak about the emergence of talent/greatest in a wide variety of fields (music, sports, chess, business, etc). Where it comes from and how it is achieved. Considering we are professional athletes performing at the highest level this is of extreme interest to me.
While I could spend at least 25 blogs writing on this one subject (I won’t bore you), I will focus in on the big question. Talent, is it BORN or is it MADE? Are we, the members of the Philadelphia Independence here today because we were born to play soccer or is it because of a combination of circumstances, the most important of which is PRACTICE? The answer (in my opinion) is absolutely because of practice, and not just any practice, deliberate practice.
No one is born great. No one becomes great by accident. Tiger Woods was not born one of the greatest golfers of all time. Yes, he was born with a certain IQ and genealogical makeup but I believe this has little to do with him winning 14 major golf championships. It has everything to do with Tiger’s father placing a putter in his hand at 18 months of age, it has everything to do with Tiger having the proper resources to know who the best teachers are, deliberately practicing with these teachers, and focusing hours upon hours on perfecting his craft.
There is a magic number to greatest: 10,000 hours. This is the amount of time it takes to become great at any one thing. That is A LOT of time. No one becomes an expert without this magic number, not Warren Buffett, not the Beatles, not Jerry Rice, not Mia Hamm, not Benjamin Franklin, not Picaso….NO ONE.
Where am I going with all of this? I want to relate this concept to the Philadelphia Independence, to the WPS, and to all the young female soccer players out there who have a dream to one day play soccer professionally. There is a reason each Cheesesteak has made it to this level and I truly believe if every young girl who comes to watch our games adopts certain principles, she too can someday achieve her dreams.
Here goes……We are the Philadelphia Independence, the hardest working team, without a doubt, in the WPS. Why are we a championship team? Do we have the most talented players? No (not on paper). Do we have the best grass field? No (I love our turf field (it provides a huge home field advantage) but you don’t see World Cups being played on turf football fields). Do we have the best cleats? No, everyone is sponsored by Puma. Do we have the most practices, with the highest competition level, with the best coach? YES! YES! YES!!
There is no way around this principle. There are no secret formulas. There is no easy way out. Deliberate practice makes perfect. Paul Riley knows how to build great teams. He has coached men, women, boys, girls, of all ages, from all backgrounds. He knows this fact better than anyone else out there.
Deliberate practice. What is it? There are three practice zones: the comfort zone, the learning zone, and the panic zone. In order to be deliberately practicing we must be in our learning zone. We can’t constantly work on things that we already have down pat (comfort zone) and we can’t work on things that are too far out of our reach (panic zone). We must focus on things that we need to improve and find challenging to improve (learning zone) and we must be able to repeat this, over and over.
I think this is where Paul is at his best. We leave practices feeling both physically and MENTALLY drained. Pushed to our limits. He makes us think, every drill of every practice. You cannot just go through the motions. You cannot cruise your way through a session. He is demanding in the greatest way possible to the point where every day you are able to prove your level of contribution. You are constantly on the ball, repetion, repetition, repetition. Ball skills are drilled into your head and no longer can we as American soccer players rely on our athletic superiorities.
With deliberate practice, your skills grow exponentially and soon what is in your learning zone is now in your comfort zone and what was in your panic zone is now in your learning zone. You begin to master the game. The improvement is tangible and inspiring. Paul makes his players better. He molds them into students of the game that are significantly better players than they were coming in.
So, when I say that by the end of the year we will be the best team in the WPS, it IS NOT by accident. It is because we are the hardest deliberate working team in the league. While other teams go home after a morning session, we train again. While other teams are warm in their beds, we are out running in the cold and in the wind. While other teams are watching television in their living rooms, we are standing in trash cans full of ice water to alleviate the pain in our aching muscles.
Yes, sometimes it is not pretty, and yes, sometimes it is not fun but that is what makes our team great. We know for a fact not every player could thrive in this environment. It takes a special person to have the inner strength and motivation to do this day in and day out and still have a smile on her face. Philadelphia is not a place for the weak at heart or, more importantly, the weak in mind. Philadelphia is a place for individuals that love the process, that love getting better, and love being in an environment where you are constantly required to be at your best. This is true for the entire organization….from head coach down to the mascot. Don’t even think about bringing your B game.
I love this team.
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