I just listened to the Joe Rogan podcast with Dan Gable, one of the most famous wrestlers in the sport. Rogan does a great job leading the conversation at times (as he always does) but also does a great job of letting Gable do his thing. He has a lot of great stories to tell over his amazing career, and some highlights would include:
Undefeated high school wrestler (64-0) Three time State Champ high school wrestler
Was undefeated until his last match in college (117-1)
Won Gold Medal in 1972 Olympics WITHOUT GIVING UP A SINGLE POINT
When you consider he is competing against the best in the world, that stat alone is absolutely amazing
Head Coach at Iowa – 13 National Championships in his coaching career
There are many others, and I encourage you to learn more about this amazing individual here. So, as Dan Gable himself put it:
If you want to be great, you have to be willing to handle the workload.
That is the crux of it. Almost no one is willing to bear the brunt of the work necessary to be great. And this applies within a sport, a career, a passion… people aren’t willing to sacrifice and do the work necessary to really excel. Everyone wants to be a Champion, to be set apart from the rest, but it is a rare individual that is willing to do all of the things necessary to achieve that designation. There are no guarantees, injuries could end your career at any time, you could show up and just be off that day. And yet there are those who still push themselves beyond their own perceived limits for a chance to excel. Sometimes the lessons learned along the way are just as valuable as the trophies and accolades themselves.
Dan Gable was infamous for his hard driving approach to his own career, and then as a coach. As he discusses in the podcast, a family tragedy occurred while he was in high school, and he used this as motivation. He led by example and outworked EVERYONE, he did as many things the right way as he could. Gable was the first guy to arrive, and the last guy to leave the practice facility. He was willing to do more than anyone else, day after day. He made mistakes, he had some controversies, but is still one of the most beloved individuals in that the sport of wrestling has ever seen. He is 72 years old, has had over 20 surgeries but is still going strong, just in a modified way (out of necessity). He is a fascinating individual with an amazing personal story, and I highly recommend this podcast.
So, how do I look at this man’s life and somehow find a parallel to mine? It’s tough in a lot of ways, but I can see it to a certain degree. As I made the statement before in my blog about The Last Dance documentary, I was not comparing myself to Michael Jordan then, and I am not comparing myself to Dan Gable now. But I can tell you I had SOME of those same characteristics, some of the same thought processes, and some of the same level of work ethic. I tasted what it was like to live that way, to be that level for a while. If you read my bio or one of my other blogs, I started out as a high school wrestler before an injury ended that career and sent me down a different path. I poured the same level of discipline and determination into my racquetball career instead, and there I learned what level of work it takes to be great. I was the dominant player in AZ in my time, going an estimated 135-9 in a seven year reign. By comparison, my Pro Tour record was terrible, but I still consider my career a success.
As a coach, I try to instill those same principals in my players. Some of them over the years barely meet the definition of athlete, others were accomplished players before they ever came to college. But I can assure you this, those who listened and applied themselves in this particular discipline took away skills that helped them in many other facets of life. THAT was my goal as their coach, to better prepare them for the world that lies ahead. Success on the court was a happy bonus, but was secondary to life prep. I hope that things they learned on and off the court that has helped build a base that they stand on and can see above the rest of the crowd.
If you want to be great at anything, you need to do a couple of things:
1. See what others who are great have been/are doing. Mimic that.
2. You need to be smart, and stay healthy to continue to train and improve.
3. You need to elevate things to a new level in some way to have an edge
To expand on those three core principals, I believe that you need to follow the lead of those who figured things out before your time, and shorten your learning curve. Don’t reinvent the wheel when things have already been put in place for you to see. Start out by mimicking the things that other successful people in that same endeavor have done.
When I was getting started in my racquetball career, I didn’t have a coach that I could work with. What I mean is, I couldn’t afford a coach to work with, so I took a series of six lessons from a guy that was a good player and the referee on the Pro Tour. I recall asking one great question of him, and his answer gave me a lot to go on. That question was: Of the best players in the world, who am I most able to mimic my game after? His answer turned out to be the perfect one; it was not the most dominant player of the day, or of all time. It was a guy that was a very tough competitor, with a well-rounded game but not one huge on-court weapon. His secret weapon was his fitness level, and this was something completely under my control. It didn’t matter how tall I was, how hard I could hit the ball, or anything else genetics and/or Mother Nature did or didn’t bless me with. I could work, and work and work on my fitness, and soon I was uncommon even amongst the standouts in the sport in terms of my fitness. If I could hang around long enough in a match, I had a fighting chance to win in the end.
As to my second point, I was very diligent about training properly, recovery and stretching, and not playing through injuries, but rather working around them. I allowed myself days off when needed, I traded racquetball lessons for services like massage work and other things that I couldn’t afford to pay for, but knew I needed to have as part of my approach to success. I ate right, all the time. I slept a lot, including naps during the day after hard training sessions. I read books on nutrition, recovery and other training tips. I made it my job to be as educated as possible about every facet of being an athlete.
In terms of elevating things into new territory, I did a fair amount of that too. I did Sports Vision Therapy, and that alone changed the trajectory of my career. I couldn’t track the ball at the high rate of speed at which the Pro’s hit it, so I enhanced that ability, as well as reaction time, peripheral awareness and more, through this program. I worked with a Sports Psychologist, and learned to visualize success, the right techniques and more with the Drs. help. I did martial arts training for flexibility, confidence and self defense. Being one of the smaller guys on tour, I felt I needed to be able to stand my ground when conflict occurred on or off the court, and so I learned how to handle that. I would do the splits warming up to remind myself, and to put at least a little doubt into the mind of certain people that I competed against that I was not just going to roll over if things escalated. I did my best to not seem an easy target, and that I was not going to be intimidated easily. All of these things helped my maximize my ability on the court, even though none of them were specifically related to racquetball. I just implemented them in that arena.
It is up to you what you decide you want out of life. Not everyone wants to be great; some prefer to be unnoticed, safe, in the middle of the pack. I can tell you that at age 50, I am far more interested in being anonymous than ever before. Maybe it is the state of the world today, but the scrutiny now is far worse than ever before, and I just don’t think the headaches are worth the notoriety. And as I continue to embark on my speaking career, I work with a diligent effort similar to what I have always applied, but tempered a little bit because of changed circumstances in my life. I have a wife and a day job, and these two things alone make my world very different than when I was in my twenties and thirties. But I still think I am learning to outwork others in this game as well, and at some point, I EXPECT to rise to the top of this endeavor as well.
I wish you luck in whatever you choose as your pursuits…