Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS
I have been very fortune to have met and been mentored by many world-class tennis coaches. On a recent visit to what I believe is one of the best junior tennis training facilities in the world, the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD, I heard Coach Chuck Kriese saying repeatedly, “your comfort bears no fruit.” Now I was really interested in this saying because when it was said to young athletes they seemed to work harder. Interesting isn’t it?
There have been all kinds of books like The Talent Code and Talent is Overrated, which basically state that deliberate or deep practice is the key to continually improving at what you are doing. In my very concise definition deliberate practice is basically engaging yourself to the outer edges of your abilities, which ultimately is what makes you improve. Practicing this way is not easy either, it takes a tremendous amount of mental focus and it is hard to work right at the edge of your ability. I think Coach Kriese summarizes it all by saying, “you have to become comfortable at being uncomfortable.”
Now most of us do not like to practice in this manner because it is mentally and physically demanding not to mention we fail a lot while working at the edges of our abilities. So we retreat to what is comfortable, known, and where we are most successful. The problem with practicing at a comfortable level is that it is no longer deeply challenging. The whole reason to practice at anything is to improve performance and improvement comes from challenging your abilities. I think you see where I am going with this. The young athletes at the tennis center cannot hit balls back and forth and train at a level of comfort all day because it will not make them better. They are constantly reminded that they need to push their limits to continually improve and they understand that. So when Coach Kriese reminds them “your comfort bears no fruit” they are reminded to refocus their physical and mental practice efforts.
Think about how much more you could get out of your athletes or students by teaching them that they need to consistently practice at a level that is mentally and physically demanding in order to continually improve. Now think about yourself when you are training athletes, are you comfortable or uncomfortable in your coaching? I think comfort is a good thing for coaches especially if they are comfortable implementing proven methods and strategies. The coach’s job really is about knowing where the edge for a particular athlete is and taking them there. A coach should not be taking their teaching abilities to the edge each training session. However, I think as teachers and coaches we need to step out of our comfort zone, not in training our athletes, but in educating ourselves. It might be reading a new book, going through an IYCA course, or trying new methods in our personal workouts, either way as coaches our comfort in what we know will not bear the fruit of improvement. The only way to bear fruit of becoming a better coach is to continually grow by becoming comfortable at being uncomfortable.
Alex is a Physical Education teacher and operates a tennis & fitness training business in Pittsburgh, PA. You can learn more by visiting his website at www.AlexSlezak.com.