The Art & Science of Pursuing Perfection

“As soon as you have the mindset that you know the answer you’re looking for, you miss the opportunity to observe.”  

-Matt Jordan, Canadian Institute of Sport

Sean holding a brüks bar during the Sounders game.Last week I flew out to Seattle, WA for the Seattle Sounders Sports Science Seminar. This is a bi-annual event that the Sounders have been putting on for the past six years, in attempt to bridge the gap between sport-specific coaches (i.e., a soccer team’s Head Coach), and performance coaches (i.e., coaches who specialize in conditioning, recovery, nutrition, and injury prevention). Over the years, its reputation has grown and is now one of the most respected sports science conferences in the United States. We were honored to be one of the four official sponsors and provided snacks to all 100+ attendees.

In the world of elite sports performance training it’s really easy to get caught up in pursuit of the holy grail of data, or the “magic training metric” to build a successful team. Basically, the concept that if we can just find one specific performance related number or combination of numbers -  like running distance covered at practice, number of high intensity sprints, optimal age, previous injury history, etc. - that leads to reduced future injuries, or leads to a future success, we’ll have IT figured out.

Sonsorship banner from Seattle Sounders Sports Science Conference, 2015.

Spoiler alert... There is no exact formula or specific number. The reality is, even as cheaper technology leads to tons of accessible data on athletes and performance, more and more brilliant people are blogging about their thoughts on nuanced topics, and we have inside access to programs from top-flight teams via social media, there still isn’t ONE answer.

I by no means have all the answers. In fact, I generally have more questions than answers. But, after my week in Seattle surrounded by some of the smartest minds in sports performance (like Dave Tenney, Patrick Ward, Brandon Marcello, Matt Jordan, & Alan McCall) I realized that no one has them. People I highly look up to that have been doing this for decades still haven’t found it. When I was first starting out I would ask these very specific questions about a particular injury or a scenario and get answers that ALWAYS started with, “it depends….” I thought this was just because people were being guarded with their answers and didn’t want to give me it. This happened time and time again and it always left me feeling slightly disappointed in myself for not being worthy enough and in my mentors for not trusting me with the answer.

It was during the trip that something clicked in my head. The beauty and joy in coaching is the journey of each new discovery, not the final destination! We’ve all heard some variance of that phrase before, but for me it really hit home after the seminar. Brooke, my soon-to-be-wife and business partner, and I, are first time business owners with no formal business or culinary training. I’m a former track athlete working in soccer (a sport I’ve never played). Some people might consider these to be challenges. Challenges that can be so big and scary they might not be worth pursuing. Nope, not too big and scary for us! We view these as opportunities for growth. We truly believe it is the hardest times when we are pushed far outside of our comfort zones that we really develop and change. If we spend all of our time too afraid of making mistakes then we’ll just stay stagnant.

I’ve learned the importance of continuing to search for a better of way of serving the people I work with, be it elite athletes or consumers enjoying our bars. I won’t ever give up on the pursuit of continual improvement, but at the same time I won’t allow myself to get so attached to that end goal, that I close myself off to new discoveries. My recommendation is to always try and keep it simple, focus on the foundations, habits, and culture associated with the desired outcome. Then slowly add, adapt, and refine your base as you learn. When in doubt go back to what you know and what has lead to previous success. Whether you are trying to come up with a predictive model comparing accumulated training workload to hamstring injuries or finding ways to introduce more regular exercise into your lifestyle, chances are you already know what you need to do. But can you do it better and with more consistency and focused effort? It depends…

Sean with UNCC soccer player Brandt Bronico,  who’s in Seattle for the summer  playing for the Sounders U23 team.

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