May 23, 2018

Applied Minimalism: What Athletes Know About Focus

To be great at sports we must focus on the essentials. But we must not miss the bigger picture.

Benson’s Law of Specificity is a classic lesson in minimalism. Benson understood that to achieve specific goals, we must practice the thing we want to improve in. To get better at sprinting; we must sprint. To deadlift more; we must deadlift more. A successful athlete must, therefore, say no to the 50,000 plausibly beneficial movements and focus on the truly essential few. Attention must be honed to a sharp edge and distractions filtered out. This requires discipline, order, and the mother of all progress—repetitions. Anything not directly helping to contribute to the overarching goal must be placed on hold. After all, saying no is the only way to fully say yes. 

Tunnel vision will take you places.

However, the athlete must eventually enter the off-season, either by conscious decision or from an inevitable injury or burnout. It’s now time to reject dogmas, reverse the rules and build a solid base, consisting of diverse activities (known as GPP or General Physical Preparedness). Learn how to hold a handstand, run a marathon, practice yoga, belly dance, skip—all perfectly valid options for growth. This is about widening the athlete’s perspective beyond the narrow window of their usual training conditions. It’s about leaving the tunnel. By becoming more of a generalist, the athlete can indulge in their ‘what if’s?’ 

What else can I do?
Is the grass really greener? 

However, with this approach, you cannot progress in anything to a high degree. You will be scattered, fragmented, and spread too thin. I mean, how many high performing sumo-gymnasts do you know?

Like in life, it’s a question of balance and compromise. Specialism comes with a price which must be paid. Choosing is always simultaneously an exercise in not choosing. But if you strike an intelligent balance, you can enjoy the harmony of being a well-developed athlete and human being.

Published by George Maguire in Lifestyle

Photography by Victor Freitas

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