Positive intentions may not directly guarantee success, but they do set us on the right path and ensure we are putting our best foot forward to accomplish the task at hand. The results of everything athletes do are largely governed by their intent. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines intent as “having the mind, attention, or will concentrated on something or some end or purpose.” Simply going through the motions breeds complacency, and complacency is the antithesis of success. HOW we do things is just as important as WHAT we are doing.
Training is the foundation of what we do! We MUST train with intent: simply going through the motions will produce lackluster results at best. Training programs are written with purpose, so they must be executed as such. A good coach meticulously plans exercise selection, volume, loads used, tempo, and rest periods to elicit a specific training response. Two athletes can perform the same training program and achieve vastly different results: why? Although two athletes may respond to the same training intervention differently due to a variety of factors, the athlete’s INTENT during the training process plays a large part in their overall success. Each and every athlete must show up and compete during every workout, safely executing the program to the best of their ability.
Initially, the coach must be able to communicate the purpose of the training session or training block as a whole (hint: if the coach doesn’t know, you need a new coach). Is this a strength-focused day where we want the athletes to lift as heavy as safely possible? Is this a power-focused day where we want the athletes to lift a specific % of their 1RM as fast as they can? If this is a sprint day, are we sprinting for speed and acceleration where we would aim for longer rest periods and full recovery? Or is it an energy systems day where we are aiming to train fatigued and increase work capacity? The answer to these questions will help determine what the athlete’s intent should be for each exercise in each training session.
Once the training goal has been communicated, the athlete must do their part to execute the plan to the best of their ability. If the program card calls for 4 sets of 5 reps on the deadlift, are you simply performing your 20 reps for the day for the sake of completion and filling out your program card? Or, are you (as Donny Shankle so eloquently puts it), “pulling the bar like you’re ripping the head off a god-damned lion?” The take-home point is that all reps are not created equally! In the following video, both athletes are performing explosive pushups and squat jumps. Which athlete do you think is putting more intent into each rep and will get a higher return on their training investment? The athlete in the first two clips or the athlete in the second?
A true leader inspires their teammates and training partners to train with purpose as well through their own actions. It is your coach’s job to motivate you, but some of the onus falls on you to push yourself and your teammates as well; after all, your coach won’t be out on the competitive field playing alongside you! Every time we step up to the barbell, we should try to put ourselves in the same mindset and level of focus that we would on the field. That means that on every set, one should have the same amount of focus, respect, and INTENT for the task at hand as when they’re set up waiting for the ball to be snapped, the puck to be dropped, or the pitch to be thrown. Compete every day in the weight room, treat training with the same focus as you would a real game, and this competitive mentality will transfer over to the athletic arena.
You need to have intent in your academic pursuits as well. I hate to break it to you, but scrolling through Tik Tok on your phone with your books open doesn’t count as intentional studying. Truly effective studying requires distraction-free attention to your current objective. If you feel the need to check social media, try putting your phone in another room and setting an alarm (50 min, for example). Give yourself 50 minutes of work time, followed by 10 minutes of scrolling. This will help ensure that you are doing quality work during those 50 minutes and encourage you to work harder because you have something to look forward to! Now, in a 4-hour period, you can accomplish almost 3.5 hours of work, as opposed to 4 hours of haphazard mindless scrolling with your textbook open; there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.
For the purpose of this article, our tactical preparation will refer to practice, team strategy meetings, and watching film. We all love the kill (competition day), but to truly realize our potential as student-athletes we must love and respect the hunt (training process).
There are some very tough but important questions you must ask yourself. During practice time, are you making the most of each rep? Are you being a good teammate and pushing your peers to do the same? Or are you watching the clock counting the minutes until practice is over? During team strategy meetings, are you making notes and asking those hypothetical “what if?” questions to help yourself and your teammates prepare? During film sessions, are you watching the film intently or dozing off in the back of the room? Are you watching your opponents and actively figuring out their strengths and weaknesses? Are you brainstorming tactics you can use to combat them? And the most important question: are you watching your failures or just your successes? It’s easy to watch film and simply pat yourself on the back for all of the good things you do, but this is not where growth happens. Watch the film and your strengths so that you can reproduce and improve on them the next time you’re competing, but spend just as much (if not more) time on constructively criticizing yourself. This is where true growth happens!
You should also be intentional in your recovery efforts. Regardless of your goal, it is in your best interest to have intent with your nutrition. Whether you are looking to lose fat or gain muscle, intentional eating is a huge piece of the puzzle! If you are looking to lose fat, Dr. Berardi of Precision Nutrition recommends mindful eating: something as simple as counting the number of times you chew your food so that your body has time to realize it’s full. Studies have shown that individuals who chew slowly and put their utensils down between bites realize they are full sooner and, as a result, eat a much lower number of net calories. Additionally, following this mindful eating strategy kept participants fuller for longer. If you are looking to gain weight, the same rules apply; simply eating a lot and hoping for the best may work initially but is not the most efficient strategy. Whether you do best with tracking the number of calories you eat or hand portions you consume in a day is up to you. Having said that, you should have some form of tracking system to ensure that your eating strategies are supporting, not hindering, your goals.
Sleep is another huge piece of the puzzle and one of the most effective natural performance enhancers at our disposal. Improved sleep has been shown in plenty of examples to directly enhance sport performance! Conversely, sleep reduction leads to muscle glycogen depletion before exercise (leading to reduced performance and perception of mood state / stress) in both strength and endurance bouts. Effective sleep is more than just about laying down in bed and hoping for the best; exercising proper sleep hygiene leads to improved sleeping. Having your own consistent sleep routine that works for you is paramount in successful sleeping. Some helpful suggestions include sleeping in a dark room, maintaining a cool environment, and keeping electronics out of the room. As a student athlete who may have to travel and stay overnight for away games, having a reproducible sleep routine is critical for your success.
Intending to win tomorrow starts today! Before you go to bed, prepare food for tomorrow to ensure you will have access to healthy choices. Do your homework today to be prepared for tomorrow. Lay out the clothes you want to wear the next day before going to bed so that you’re ready to go. There will be tough days on the practice field, in the weight room, and in the classroom. Consistent efforts over time in these situations will accumulate to something greater when competition time comes: we will have EARNED every. Those who are lazy tend to claim that others who are more successful than them simply got lucky, but coincidentally, luck seems to favour the prepared! Lew Caralla, Head Strength Coach at Georgia Tech University, said it best: “Lazy people do a little work and think they should be winning, but winners work as hard as possible and still wonder if they are being lazy.”
Knowing what you should do in regard to intent is powerful in and of itself, but understanding HOW to do so is the true key. A great technique you can implement right away to assist in your efforts is journaling! Check out Coach Matrixx’s video on this topic.
Too many people walk through life doing things for the sake of completion, to satisfy somebody’s request because they’re “supposed to.” Very rarely, if ever, does this approach produce extraordinary results. While showing up is the first half of the equation, it is not enough in and of itself to guarantee success. Here are some more tough questions to ponder: how many people do you know who “go to the gym” year after year but never get any stronger? How many people do you know who “studied hard” but fail test after test? It is my belief that intention is measurable. It is easy enough to say you intended to get results from training, but were you on your cell phone checking text messages between every set? It is easy enough to say you intended to do well on your test, but did you study effectively or did you have Netflix playing in the background? Though tough on the ego, these are the tough questions we must ask ourselves to push ourselves to a new level of achievement (remember, ego is the enemy). While we don’t expect perfection in everything we or our athletes do, we DO expect perfect effort. Navy SEAL Shane Patton said it best: “Anything in life worth doing is worth over-doing.”
Myles specializes in contact sport performance. He is the head strength coach for Laurier University’s Men’s Rugby squad and helps develop local football athletes to take their game to the next level. Myles also works with dedicated members of the community looking to improve personal fitness.