Almost all the players who have put the time and effort into their development this year have reaped the rewards of that investment by moving up a level in their sport . One of the first things you notice when you move up a level is the speed of play. Everything’s faster. The players move faster, the ball or puck moves faster, decisions have to be made faster. Time is compressed and space shrinks. Moving up means playing a faster game; playing at a quicker tempo punctuated by more explosive bursts in the action. Here are three things to remember when you’re making that jump or preparing your players to kick it up to the next level.
1. Speed isn’t rushing. John Wooden used to tell his players, ” Be quick but don’t hurry”. In his book, The Answer To How Is Yes, Peter Block talks about the tendency to rush when we don’t know where we’re going. Block notes a tendency to rush when we’re lost. ” When I’m driving and I’m lost I always speed up. If I don’t know where I’m going or I’m going to the wrong place I want to get there faster.” With less time to react and less space to move it’s natural to try to play faster or force the action. With practice players can develop a tactical awareness and the perceptual skills to recognize what’s happening and know where they want to go next. Things may be moving just as fast but the game seems to slow down.
2. Physical ability and technical skills matter. Here’s a few reasons why. When I have the physical ability to move faster I can open up space between myself and an opponent on offense or close it down and increase the pressure as a defender. Superior technical skills help me create space when I need it and operate more effectively in the tight spots when I have to. I need both and I want to develop them together as well as separately. It’s the blend of these two that matters.
3. Time and space = victory. AH Naylor develops this beautifully in a post in the Profession Sports Psychology blog. Time allows players to settle themselves and find optimal targets. Space gives players a sense of comfort and freedom. When the game speeds up time is compressed and space shrinks. Players feel the stress and as the research is showing us stress has a major impact on our decision making. Naylor expands the idea to apply it to how we approach the overall training and development of young athletes. Well worth a quick read.
When I’m working with young players who are preparing to make that jump I find it helpful to come back to that equation as a way of putting their training in context and helping them make a connection between the work we’re doing in the gym and the results they’re looking for on the field.
In the beginning that faster game can be a little daunting but ultimately that’s why we make the leap; the challenge and enjoyment of playing at another level. Eventually as skills and ability grow the game slows down. We know where we’re going, we have the skill and ability to get there and we know how to make time and space work to our advantage.
What have you learned about jumping to the next level? What would you want to remember in preparing to make that leap?