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The Key Belief that Great Achievers Share

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Over a century ago, legendary psychologist and philosopher William James said, “the greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” Certainly, there are many aspects of life that his statement applies to. However, when it comes to maximizing our potential in sports, there is a central attitude that stands out above all others. World-renowned Stanford University Psychologist, Carol Dweck, calls this attitude the “growth mindset.” Individuals who embody a growth mindset are those who believe that ability is developed, not inherited. Growth mindset types believe that “practice makes perfect.” They believe in their potential to develop as they put forth effort and stretch themselves

Despite the common sense appeal of this way of thinking, most of society has a “fixed mindset.” This mindset believes the phrase “you’ve either got it, or you don’t.” We all know people who think this way. Many of us have had coaches, or teachers, who have told us that no matter what we do, we will never be able to reach the same levels of achievement as those who were born with all the right tools. One glaring problem with the fixed mindset is that it is scientifically unfounded. Modern research has proven that traits and abilities are moldable throughout life. Traits that used to be thought of as permanent, such as IQ, emotional dispositions, and capacity to develop skill, are now shown to be capable of modification.

Unfortunately, individuals who adopt the fixed mindset are not able to tap into human beings’ amazing capacity for change. Their belief that they cannot change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studies by Dweck and others have shown that individuals with a fixed mindset are less ambitious and hard working, less resilient to failure, less confident, and less successful in general than their growth mindset counterparts. Whatever your dreams or aspirations may be, understand that you have the capacity to become the type of person who can accomplish your goals. Yes, it will take untold hours of toil under proper instruction, but you can do it! The first step is to adopt a growth mindset by understanding that wherever you may be at this moment, you have the capacity to develop yourself into a winner. The choice is up to you!

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WinningEdge Challenge for 2014

winningedge-2013-challengeAs the year draws to a close, it is a good time for every athlete to reflect on 2013. Think for a moment on the following questions. “What did I accomplish this year?” “What did I learn?” “How much of myself did I give to my team?” “What could I have done better?” “Did I have fun?” In asking yourself these questions, it is important to remember the following about your results: YOU EARNED THEM. The sooner each of us realizes that we are the source of our own success and failure, the sooner we can make changes for the better.

Think back to the beginning of 2013. If you could go back in time and make decisions differently, what would you change? Would you work harder? Would you play less video games? Would you spend more time at the gym, or on the practice field? How do you think your results would have been different this year if you could have made some of these changes? Would you have been more productive? Would your team have been more successful? Only you can answer these questions.

The reality is that we can’t change anything about last year. It’s over. But, we CAN do something about 2014. Right now is your greatest opportunity to make 2014 your best year yet. Right now you can make a commitment to give your all each day. Each day is an opportunity that will never come again. Don’t kid yourself; there is no “cramming” when it comes to being great. Commit to giving your best self to your goals and dreams. That is how you can live with no regrets. WinningEdge challenges each athlete to make the most out of 2014. You won’t be perfect. No one is. But you can consistently commit yourself to giving all you have. We promise that as you do, your success, your confidence, and your enjoyment of your sport will be greater than ever. Good luck this year! We can’t wait to see how much you improve!

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The Difference Between Tom Brady and the Rest of the Universe

Analyzing others’ success provides us with some of the clues we need to accomplish our own goals. We titled this article, “The difference between Tom Brady and the rest of the Universe,” because we want to emphasize some of the reasons that Brady, and others like him, are so dominant. It’s easy to assume when watching Brady throw pinpoint 65 yard bombs that he is naturally endowed with different tools than the rest of us. This type of conclusion, however, ignores the fact that Brady struggled to even see the field in college. It also ignores the fact that Brady was a sixth round pick in the NFL draft, having 198 players chosen before him.

tom-brady-nfl-combine1If Brady’s abilities were always there, wouldn’t they have been apparent sooner? The truth is that Tom Brady relentlessly pressed on through adversity, honing his skills and gaining experience, until he became so good that no one could doubt his ability.

If perseverance were the only factor that led to Brady’s success though, there would be a lot more all-world quarterbacks. Plenty of athletes give everything that they have during their careers and still don’t get the results they’re looking for. One major difference between Brady and other dedicated quarterbacks is the strategy that he used in going about his goals. For starters, Brady didn’t get there alone. People like Bill Belichek, Charlie Weis, Wes Welker, and others, have been keys to Brady’s success. In his career, he has consistently put himself in a position to succeed by surrounding himself with greatness. In fact, he is so dedicated to surrounding himself with greatness, that he restructured his contract (took less money) so that his team could afford to have other top performers on their roster.

This commitment didn’t start in New England, though. Brady has been doing it his whole life. Before Brady ever stepped into a collegiate locker room, much less an NFL one, he sought out private quarterback training from a man named Tom Martinez. Martinez was a master quarterback coach who worked with Brady from the time he was 13, until the Coach’s recent passing this February. He played such a crucial role in Brady’s success that Brady’s father, Tom Brady Sr., once said, “Tom Brady would not be the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots without Tom Martinez.”

martinez-coaching-brady-300x247 We were fortunate enough to have Coach Martinez as part of our Winning Edge staff before his passing. He was very excited to see the impact of bringing his knowledge to the masses. We hope that we can help carry the torch by providing our athletes with the tools that they need to be successful. One of the most important messages that we can pass on to all of you is that nobody succeeds by themselves. Guys like Tom Brady are where they are because they sought out the best coaching they could find, and worked relentlessly to master what they were taught.

Working relentlessly to master what you’ve been taught doesn’t mean that you mindlessly go out and throw the football until your arm falls off. Rather, it means that you engage in extremely focused practice, working on the exact skills that will help you succeed on game day. We had the opportunity to see how Brady practices firsthand, when Coach Martinez invited us to a few workouts in which he trained him. Although these were just informal off-season throwing sessions, Brady and his receiver, Wes Welker, were extremely methodical in their approach. Before we get into how they practiced, think for a moment about how most quarterbacks and receivers practice in the off-season. The vast majority go out and work on the execution and timing of various routes in their offense. There is nothing wrong with that. Practicing accuracy and route running will improve execution. However, guys like Brady and Welker aren’t interested in just “improving execution.” In their workouts, every drop back, throw, and route was an attempt to replicate a real game situation. They even practiced their signals. Rather than saying “ok, let’s run some slants,” Brady gave Welker a hand signal and said something like, “let’s run this play against Cover 4.” When they had perfected that specific situation, Brady would say, “OK, imagine the same coverage, but the linebacker over-plays you. Work your adjustment to that.” They continued working on extremely specified situations for about an hour before Brady told Welker, “This is the last one.” It wasn’t. They were still on the field for about an hour after that “last one.” They didn’t stop until they had executed each play with exact precision. Watching Brady and Welker practice gave us a better understanding of why they have accomplished so much. In a couple of hours they got more done than most athletes do in a week or a month.

When you practice each scenario to the point that execution becomes automatic, you are prepared to dominate on game day. Great players know that world-class performance requires world-class preparation. Everything that Brady and Welker did had a reason and a purpose. They would never waste their time mindlessly “playing catch.”

brady-super-bowl-300x232They are interested in being world champions. Every moment in practice was focused on developing the exact skills necessary to win games in the fall. Winning Edge 7-on-7 leagues are designed to give players that same quality of practice. Our leagues provide an environment focused on replicating real game situations. Every down is designed to make players practice the real life scenarios that they face in the fall. We look forward to watching you improve as you participate in this environment. But improvement doesn’t happen by itself. In order to get better, you’ll need to develop a plan for each situation and practice your execution of that plan until it becomes second nature. There is a champion within you, waiting to be unleashed, if you are willing to practice like one. Only you can take the steps necessary to let that champion out. You can do it! The decision is up to you.

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The Most Important Book for Any Athlete, Parent, or Coach

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One of the most inspiring books that every athlete should read is The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. In this book, Coyle investigates places around the world where impossible amounts of talent spring up, seemingly with no explanation. Statistically speaking, talent should be spread out across the population. That is how most genetic statistics work. Sure, some populations tend to be taller, or fatter, or any other specific variation; but within that population, there is usually randomness to the statistics. For example, it is highly unlikely for everyone in a single neighborhood to be over seven feet tall. We all know by experience that genetic variations, such as height, are more spread out.

Yet, when it comes to talent, isolated pockets of expertise are far more common. Coyle calls these places “talent hotbeds,” and he found many in his investigation. He looked at a slew of these “hotbeds” in fields ranging from academics to skate boarding. In each, the ratio of elite performers was drastically out of the range of statistical probability. For instance, one humble tennis club in Russia, called Spartak, produced more top-20 women players than the entire United States combined!

How does sort of thing happen? According to one common understanding of talent, some have it, and some don’t. Yet, the existence of “talent hotbeds” flies in the face of that type of assessment. If talent were simply a genetic variation, then places like Spartak would be as common as the previously mentioned 7’0 and taller neighborhood. It simply wouldn’t happen. In the case of talent however, hotbeds are the rule, not the exception. What is even more interesting, though, is that Coyle found that these hotbeds all tended to share the same characteristics. Whether it was the soccer-crazed ghettos of Brazil, or an expensive world-class music academy, the students and teachers all seemed to be operating by the same set of principles.

In The Talent Code, Coyle assimilates these principles into three central ideas. The first of these is what Coyle refers to as “deep practice.” Deep practice means practice that is focused on challenging individuals at the very limits of their ability. Scientific research has shown that this type of practice causes physiological changes in the nervous system of those who engage in it. When someone consistently engages in a challenging activity, specific neural adaptations occur that create more proficiency at that specific task. One of the ways this happens is through a process called “myelination.” When individuals push themselves to the edge of their ability, a neural insulator, called myelin, wraps itself around neural circuits causing those patterns to be more efficient. As these patterns become more efficient, the ability to perform challenging tasks (such as hitting a curveball, or executing a back-hand-spring) becomes easier.

This is why practice makes us better. It comes down to science; when someone practices, their body is developing neural adaptations. The more one challenges themselves, the better they will get, period. This process never really stops for the elite performer. Extensive research by authorities on human expertise have shown that it takes about three hours of deliberate practice per day, for roughly ten years, to become world-class in any field.

The second principle that Coyle discusses is “ignition.” In order for someone to be willing to put in the ridiculous amount of work that it takes to be an elite performer, they have to want it really, really badly. Many times, this deep desire or “ignition,” happens as a result of being close to something really exciting. For example, Larry Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings as a youngster. Experiences like that helped Fitzgerald develop the love for the game that drove him to his current success. Ignition also comes from experiencing the thrill of competition. Michael Jordan grew to love basketball during his boyhood battles against his brothers. He later attributed the dedication he had as an adult to the “love of the game” that he developed in his early years. Another way that we become ignited is when we see people whom we consider to be “like us,” achieve great success. Baseball in the Dominican Republic has almost become a religion as a result of the string of successful Major Leaguers that have come from the island. There are many examples like this. Coyle argues that having role models that we can identify with helps us to see our own potential. It creates a fire within us as we ask to ourselves, “they did it, why can’t I?” Regardless of how one becomes ignited (there are countless ways beyond what we’ve mentioned), it is abundantly clear that those who enjoy the highest levels of success have a fire burning within that causes them to work much harder than the average player.

The final principle that Coyle points out as universal to all great successes is “master coaching.” In all of his research, he noticed that the great performers always had great coaches who taught them. No matter how much someone works at something, if they aren’t working on the right things, they won’t reach the highest levels of success. Whether by luck or design, elite performers have the opportunity to cultivate their skill under the watchful eye of a “master coach.” The qualities of “master coaching” are too numerous to be covered in this article (we will get more in depth in another entry). To summarize though, Coyle points out that these coaches are often those who have come very close to achieving great success themselves. For one reason or another though, these coaches didn’t reach their objectives. Their failures caused them to ask questions, and in that process these coaches acquired golden nuggets of information that they are able to pass on to future generations. That story is true of Bill Walsh. It is also true of Tom Brady’s private coach, the late Tom Martinez (whom Coyle writes about in his book). These coaches tend to be more observant than instructional. They know how to say the right thing at the right time. In pursuing your goals, try to find a master coach to help you along your way. Make sure that you are always placing yourself in an environment in which you can develop your potential.

We can’t be too complimentary of Coyle’s book. Every parent, athlete, and coach should become familiar with its concepts. It is one of the major inspirations behind our company. We incorporate these concepts by providing an atmosphere that allows players to practice the exact skills that they will need on game-day. Greatness is cultivated just as much in the off-season as in the regular season, and we have built our business trusting in your commitment to improve all year long. We believe in exposing athletes to the best coaching available. Our objective is to create our own “talent hotbed,” as we see a disproportionate number of you go on to have success in high school, college, and beyond. Winning Edge is determined to help its athletes reach their goals. Reading this book will help you along your path. It will take the “mystery” out of elite performance. Once you understand and incorporate the principles of The Talent Code into your life, you will begin to accomplish goals that may seem impossible today. You can do it! The decision is up to you.

Click here to purchase The Talent Code

Click here to read Daniel Coyle’s blog (it’s a must-read!)

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The Real Reason for Steve Young’s Success

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Steve Young once told a Salt Lake City newspaper that great quarterbacks are born, not made. This is a very perplexing comment coming from Mr. Young. You see, Steve was a great athlete coming out of high school, but he was not yet a great quarterback. In fact, he started out 8th on the quarterback depth chart at BYU. Fortunately, Steve didn’t practice like he believed that great quarterbacks were simply born. Instead, Steve worked as if his life depended on his ability to cultivate his skill. Coaches saw Steve honing his throwing ability hour after hour, on his own time at the practice facility. In addition to the time he spent on his own, Steve was fortunate enough to have the most sophisticated offensive coaching staff in the nation at his disposal. He was learning how to be a quarterback from legendary coaches like Mike Holmgren, Norm Chow, Ted Tollner, and LaVell Edwards. These coaches have left a trail of Super Bowls, National Championships, NFL MVPs, Heisman Trophy Winnners, and All-Americans along their path.

You see, it wasn’t that Steve was blessed with some type of superior genetic makeup. Rather, Steve worked extremely hard in an environment that was so successful in developing quarterbacks that it came to be known as “The Quarterback Factory.” LaVell Edwards didn’t have so much success with quarterbacks because he was a genetic expert, finding the most biologically “gifted” athletes and enticing them to come to BYU. Rather, Coach Edwards assimilated a coaching staff and developed a culture at BYU that was second to none in producing great throwers. Names like Robbie Bosco, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, and others can attest to this.

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The rest of Steve Young’s career flies even more in the face of the idea that great quarterbacks are born and not made. After college, Steve Young had brief stints with both the USFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Neither of these places had much success in cultivating quarterbacks, and Steve Young was no exception. His early years as a professional were underwhelming, at best, for someone who showed so much promise in college. In fact, by 1987, Young was considered a “bust” and the Buccaneers opted to draft quarterback Vinny Testaverde to replace him.

Fortunately for Steve (and for 49er fans), Bill Walsh saw promise in the struggling quarterback, and he made a trade to bring him to the 49ers. For the next three years, Steve had the opportunity to develop under the tutelage of the greatest offensive mind in the history of football, while sitting behind and learning from arguably the greatest quarterback of all time in Joe Montana. By the time Steve Young became the full-time starter, he was prepared to be an elite NFL quarterback. More than a decade later, Mr. Young retired as a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. What is clearly apparent in Steve’s story though, is this- he worked extremely hard in environments that cultivated his ability. Steve Young was not always “Steve Young.” This is good news for all of us. Whatever your aspirations are, find a coach who can help you develop into the type of player you want to be, and then relentlessly work to be the best you can be.

You can do it! The choice is up to you.