An Independent School • Grades 5-12
From psychology to philosophy in the weight room
From psychology to philosophy in the weight room

by Rick Huegli, head strength and conditioning coach

At the end of every sports season our strength and conditioning program does strength testing for our student-athletes. The students have trained for nine to ten weeks, and we find out their best one-rep max for the hang clean, the bench press, and the back squat. Weeks of training have prepared them to attempt their best with the understanding that they are going to do their best with confidence and safety in mind.

Testing is an important part of the strength and conditioning program, and a real opportunity for character growth. I like to tell the students that nothing good happens when we play it safe. Rewards come when we take a chance, when we stretch ourselves, when we get out of our comfort zone. When athletes do this through deliberate practice, they grow.

During strength testing, I had a conversation with a student as he was preparing to attempt a new maximum amount. We talked about confidence and taking a chance.

I told him: "You're a skillful piano player. As you were learning your piano technique, you weren't skillful. But you were confident that the drill and the lesson would get you there if you practiced, took chances, made mistakes, kept working. Improving your hang clean, you need to understand your technique and practice it. You have to trust the process and take chances by attempting to execute with attention to technique and being comfortable about missing a lift." Helping students navigate this chance-taking and growth are the intrinsic highlights of my job. They begin the program full of enthusiasm and some anxiety, and they progress from inexperience to experience. I consider it a four-year construction project with students.

The work of two pioneering psychologists has been helpful in articulating the program's philosophy of chance-taking and growth. In "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" Carol Dweck presents the concept of an open or "growth mindset" as opposed to the closed or "fixed mindset." A person believing in fixed mindsets sees talents and abilities as static. You are who you are, and your fate is to go through life avoiding challenge and failure. Those subscribing to a growth mindset believe that people are able to develop intelligence, become smarter, develop skill, and increase talent. You are a fluid work in progress.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth, author of "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance," who grew up being told by her father that she was no genius, ended up winning a MacArthur Genius grant. She discovered that what we eventually accomplish may depend more on our passion and perseverance than on our innate talent. Her theory that "talent x effort = skill" and that "skill x effort = achievement" concludes: "Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them." It's about the psychology of achievement. "Talent – how fast we improve in skill – absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the same time, effort makes skill productive."

Dweck and Duckworth's work inspires our training philosophy in Lakeside's strength and conditioning program: We are going to try difficult things and we're going to fail. But we are going to try some more. Students who embrace this philosophy and process are going to grind, to practice, and, over the long term, are going to grow both physically and mentally.

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