Fundamentals – The Building Blocks to Athletic Success: Mondays with Matt

Hello All and welcome to this week’s edition of Mondays with Matt! Over the past few weeks, we have been talking about the importance of the basics – of fundamentals and of practice. Last week, we focused on the practice part of the equation. This week, we are going to have a discussion about the importance of fundamentals. Mastering the fundamentals of your trade, no matter if you are an athlete/student-athlete or taking part in any other vocation, is critical to be the best that you are capable of becoming. Understanding and being able to perform the fundamental task of whatever activity that you are doing is the critical foundation upon which you can succeed at any given activity. So, today, we are going to discuss the importance and flexibility of fundamentals. The keys to success for mastering the fundamentals are to:

  1. Practice
  2. Work hard
  3. Know your trade and your job
  4. Know your strengths and weaknesses
  5. Be flexible and adaptable

In whatever task that we are aiming to achieve, no matter our age and no matter our goal, we measure ourselves to both internal and external benchmarks of success. While the external perceptions of what success is may be out our control, the internal perception is not. In prior lessons, I have quoted Hall of Fame college basketball coach John Wooden and mentioned his Pyramid of Success. For the purposes of this lesson, Wooden’s now legendary definition of success is what will be used to illustrate the importance of fundamentals: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

So, we now have an idea of what success can look like. Yes, it can mean accomplishing the goal set at a predetermined time. Yes, it can mean accomplishing a team or individual achievement. Yes, it can mean wins and losses – especially in sports and recreation. However, it also means being happy with the result of some action by knowing that you put in the time and effort – physically and mentally – to be the best that you are capable of being at that task. How does one reach that internal level of self-satisfaction? Following the 5 keys to success listed above is certainly part of the equation. But there is more. What are you practicing? How are you practicing? Why are you practicing? For what are you being self-aware about and for what do you need to be flexible on? The answer to all of these questions is the fundamentals.

What are the fundamentals? If you say the word enough, it becomes just that – a word. It becomes this vague concept of something that you are supposed to do. No, in order to master the fundamentals, you must know what the concept of fundamentals entails. To put it simply, the fundamentals are any set of basic activity that are necessary in order to perform a task. Think of what you do in a sports practice or when working on homework. You are practicing the fundamentals. Math equations, musical chord progressions, sports drills – these are all examples of fundamental development activities. In short, fundamentals are the foundation upon which success is built. Mastering the fundamentals allows you to begin succeeding at an activity. Mastering the fundamentals allows your skill level to grow and for your talent to show. The fundamentals are the foundation on which talent sits.

Think about it, can you be a great goal scorer in soccer if you do not have ball control? Can you help move the ball upfield if you can’t dribble or accurately kick the ball? Can you be a talented baseball player if you can’t hit or field? The answer is no, not really. And that’s ok. You can be good at other things. You can add value in other ways. Now, for anyone reading this that is discouraged by those last few thoughts, keep this in mind. Yours truly here fit into many of those categories. I was not talented. I practiced the fundamentals and was decent at them, but not great. Yet, here I am, talking to you. You see, I added value in other ways. I helped others. I worked on the skills and fundamental skills that I was good at and nurtured them to best achieve success. I became the best that I was capable of becoming given my ability. I was able to do that by working hard, practicing, being self-aware and adapting to my environment. No, I was not talented and was not successful in the way that a better player on my team was. But I was part of that team and I added value my mastering the fundamentals that I could in the manner that I knew how.

That’s what understanding and practicing the fundamentals give you. Yes, they can be the more boring skills to practice. But practice them you must, for it is the foundation to all other successes that you will experience in life and on the athletic field of play. There is a saying that you want to work on the small things, for the sum of all of the parts of the small things will come together and form something bigger – something important. That same principle applies to practice and practicing the fundamentals. Focus small, achieve big. Even if you are only one small part of that big. You will have accomplished success, in the nature of Coach Wooden’s philosophy.

When we talk about being part of a team – in school, in sports and in life – we talk about having one heartbeat. One goal. One vision. The same goes for developing your skills. While it may seem that skill development comes from many different places, it comes from one. To develop talent, to add value and to develop skills, you need to work on the fundamentals of the activity. You need to practice them. See, the process is one heartbeat. One goal. And that goal is to be as successful as you are capable of becoming so that you have self-satisfaction and that you add value to what you are taking part in. That is why practice and practicing fundamentals is important – in sports and in life.

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