When excellence becomes tradition greatness has no limits.

Aristotle: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

In 1954 legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant was in his first year as coach at Texas A & M when he decided the team needed to get away from every day distractions on campus in order to concentrate on football. Off they went to what we would today refer to as a branch campus located in Junction, Texas. The area was in the midst of the worst draught in recorded history. On each of the 10 days of camp temperatures climbed to over 100 degrees. The conditions were brutal. Each day Coach Bryant demanded perfection and continued practicing those young men until it was achieved to his satisfaction. A group of over 75 young men began the camp. Only half of them completed the entire 10 days.

In today's world of athletics we know the associated medical risks of practicing during such extreme conditions and take precautions to prevent heat related illness or death from occurring as a result of athletic activity in such weather conditions. There are others lessons to be learned from stories like The Junction Boys and one of those is the focus of today's writing.

We will be here all night until we get it right!

If you have participated in athletics, chances are you have heard a coach exclaim this sentiment. In search of excellence the same technique or play will be rehearsed over and over until it becomes ingrained and becomes habit. There is some truth to this, but there is also a counter-productive element inherent to it as well.

There is a well known "shooting drill" used in soccer that sees a goalkeeper facing repeated shots in rapid succession from a pool of rotating teammates. The poor goalkeeper may face 30+ shots in a 2 minute span and becomes exhausted long before the drill is concluded. This might be a productive and rewarding exercise for those shooting on goal but what about the goalkeeper?

Most goalkeepers I have worked with in this drill can maintain proper technique for 5-7 save attempts during a rapid succession of shots. From that point forward their technique begins to break down. For the majority of the shooting drill the goalkeeper will be using flawed or improper technique in defending against the shots on goal. This means the majority of the time, the goalkeeper will be reinforcing poor technique or poor muscle memory during this drill. How do you suppose this drill transfers to live game competition from the goalkeeper's perspective?

Striving for excellence is not about the quantity of repetitions as much as it is about the quality of repetitions.  To become technically excellent we must perfect proper technique and establish proper muscle memory. This requires mental and physical freshness when performing the task at hand. The elusive search for a perfect repetition when the mind and body are tired might be achieved but at what cost?

The challenge for us is to perfect the technique so that it becomes second nature, so that we can execute it without thinking. To do so the focus during training must be on the quality of repetitions performed more so than on the quantity of repetitions. Now, we also want to achieve as many quality repetitions as possible. One of our goals must be to strive to develop endurance and staminia while performing quality work. Our goal should be to achieve technical excellence for as sustained a period of time as possible.

Just as important as technical excellence is the ability to perform the technique properly under pressure of game conditions. Therefore in our training environment we must continually redefine each athletes comfort zone they establish for performing the technique in. It is necessary to begin with no time limit and no pressure in the form of defense. From there time conditions and low pressure from teammates can be added in. Training must progress gradually until athletes are asked to perform with technical excellence under competitive game conditions. Throughout training the emphasis must remain on quality of repetitions over the quantity of repetitions being performed.

As Aristotle once said, "We are what we do repeatedly." Our goal is technical excellence and this is what we must strive for each and every day with the understanding that only when excellence becomes tradition do the doors to greatness open to you.


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  2. Just want you to know that the same sentiment goes in many areas. As a school pincipal, i can see using this article as a springboard for discussion on a culture of excellence in the classroom and school. Thanks!

    1. I guess I should have proofread this for speling errors, sorry! Rushing is no ecuese!

  3. Makes you think about what you are doing. Makes me want to focus on getting the technique down before I focus on if the shot is accurate or the pass is close enough. Good article coach!