A question I like to ask coaches is, “Think back on a player that you coached or played with over the course of multiple seasons that improved more than anyone. What are the one or two factors that allowed the player to grow the most?” Merrimack Coach Monique LeBlanc’s initial answer was these players outwork everyone. Hardly a surprise that improvement is born out of the fruit of labor, but what I really listen for are the concrete examples of hard work. Telling young people to work hard is such a cliché. Giving tangible examples and uncovering what hard work means in the context is more helpful. I came away with a higher appreciation for discipline at the end of the conversation.
One Player’s Relentless Effort
In the pre-season Merrimack had four hours per week that players attended workouts for. Players could volunteer to do more if they chose after those four hours. One player took full advantage. She would ask Coach LeBlanc to work with her in the mornings, and Coach LeBlanc would happily accept the opportunity to help. In the afternoon, Coach LeBlanc would peak her head in the gym or be conferring with the assistant coach and discover that the same player also put in an hour with the assistant coach. During the season when time became more of a constraint, the coaches had to decline her requests for additional workouts.
In the beginning, it was clear that this player had a solid mid-range shot. Coach LeBlanc admitted to me that the coaching staff pondered if she would ever stretch the range to the college three-point shot. The degree to which the coaches were chasing down misses did not indicate the player had any consistency. Through her tireless efforts, the player eventually became a knock down three-point shooter and all-conference player. And on top of all of that she was a walk-on.
Effort Defined in Deeper Detail
Coach LeBlanc remembers another player that improved on the Bucknell men’s team while she was an assistant coach for the women’s team. Without actually coaching him, at 10:00 A.M. Coach LeBlanc knew exactly where the player would be. Without fail, he was in the gym. He never worried about soreness, or his diet being thrown off, or a loss of an hour of sleep.
The words I wrote in my notebook from Coach LeBlanc were, “Discipline gets shots up every day.” Nothing will distract these elite improvers from their routine. And that routine went beyond the normal high demands that are pressed upon a collegiate athlete. It was the extra stuff that put these players on the path to improving more than anyone would have forecasted.