The Many Looks of the "Elite" Player

        As many of you already know, I am currently in Florida working the Vero Beach Classic.  The Vero Beach Classic, or VBC, is a huge tournament ran by a company called Prospect Select.  There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 teams playing at several picturesque locations in the Vero Beach area.  My primary responsibility for the week is in scouting, but I am always on the lookout for topics to write about.  Last night provided the perfect opportunity with the Topps Showcase.  The showcase featured approximately eighty elite players from Florida, other areas in the United States, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.  I went in with no preconceived notions about what I would write about and wanted to just kind of see what I see.  Quickly, a theme emerged.  Below are my thoughts.

        The elite player.  In sports, we are fascinated by what the best do and how they do it.  How do they swing?  What pitches do they throw?  How many hundreds of jump shots do they take?  We all want to know in hopes of bottling a secret formula allowing us to suddenly be able to churn out elite players like a factory churning out donuts.  I myself just read a book called How Champions Think.  Although the book is one of the best I have read in sport psychology, the implication that all champions think a certain way lends itself again to this factory mentality.  Twitter is peppered with tweets from coaches and messages like, "Do you want to be good?  You better be willing to take 1000 swings a day before games because that is what Joe Blow from Cocomo does! #TheGrind."  I even saw one recently, which many of you probably liked, that had the implication that a player's hydration choices have an effect on whether a college coach would recruit them.

        In having the opportunity to watch the best collection of young talent I have seen at one location last night, I was excited to see what these elite players look like.  How would they prepare prior to the showcase?  How would they warm up?  What does the body language of the elite player look like?  The answer: Every elite player is different.  Prior to the showcase getting started, some players were joking around with each other.  Others were already quiet and focused.  Some looked like nervous balls of energy, and others looked like they could lay down in the grass and take a nap.  Some players had sleeves, wrist bands, necklaces, glasses, etc.  Others went natural.  The differences didn't end there.  Some BP swings were quiet and controlled, and others were loud and violent.  Infielders all had their own way of going about catching and throwing the baseball.  Players ran really fast 60's.  Some clearly had coached form, and others just let it happen freely.  One could argue that the players who ran with uncoached form were "raw" and would be even faster if they knew how to run, but there is something to the freedom of letting the body do what it naturally does.  Maybe becoming too technique oriented would prevent their body from just going and doing what kids naturally do every day in playgrounds around the world.

        If my point isn't clear yet in what I have written, here it is:  There is no one way to be elite.  No matter how many studies are conducted, everyone is different.  What works for one player may not work for another.  We need to be aware of this as coaches.  Let's stop creating robots and start coaching human beings.  Celebrate the individuality within a team sport.  It is what the forward thinkers in sports are already doing.  Right now, they are viewed as the exceptions.  They are the Steve Kerr's, the Pete Carroll's, and the Tim Corbin's of the world.  My hope is that one day their way will instead be the rule.  Celebrate the individual nature of being elite.  If you are player, find what makes you elite.  Then do it...over and over again.  The consistency of performing would be something that I would argue elite players have in common.  All of the players I saw last night were elite in their own way.  No two players were identical.  Each had something different to offer.  And guess what?  That led to some coaches liking them and some not...which is fine!  The commonality in all of the players last night was they are uncommon.  That is what being elite is!  This absolutely ties into my thoughts on what sport psychology is and how it can best serve those in sports.  Every athlete is different.  To think that certain mental drills and skills work for everyone is to do a disservice to the athletes.  Coaches, do you want to work on the mental side of the game just to say you do it, or would you like to be as effective as possible?  The concept is not dissimilar to teaching everyone to hit the same or to pitch the same.  Some coaches do this, and some are as effective as possible in coaching the individual.  Let's move beyond this surface level understanding of sport psychology and into something deeper.  Let's help individuals perform as well as possible and to enjoy the experience.





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