"Why 5:59?” – “Because it’s harder than starting at 6” - - Coach Sean Leveroos
There’s a great scene in Rocky Balboa (aka Rocky 6) but you won’t find it in the standard movie. You have to dig and find the bonus scenes – do it, it’s worth it. I am self-confessed Rockyaholic. I mean it, I’ve watched (and sadly forced my little sister to grow up watching with me) all the Rocky movies more times than anybody should honestly ever watch anything, but I digress. This one scene has Rocky chatting with the young man he has sort of taken to mentoring. They talk as they unload freshly purchased food from Rocky’s truck to his restaurant. The topic of mental toughness comes up, its value in life and the need to train it into your behavior. “Working hard makes your head strong”, Rocky says it almost in passing, but really, he’s laying out the philosophy by which all his success was attained. He goes on about how he used to stare directly at the street lights for 30 minutes without blinking, and how he used to squeeze a ball until his hand was about to explode, – why? Because it was hard. Because he wanted to condition himself to be able to do hard things. He wanted, as he stated, to “teach himself to be uncomfortable”. He discusses how he intuitively knew that being ok being uncomfortable might come in handy someday. So, when life threw an external challenge at him (Apollo Creed’s speed, Clubber Lang’s power and outright meanness and Ivan Drago’s…well…invincibility) he had more than confidence in his ability to deal with it psychologically, he had actual experience. Maybe not with that exact situation, but experience dealing with difficulty. Experience being uncomfortable. You have to do tough things to be tough. You have to actually do things that are a little bit harder to become hard enough to deal with what life will through at you. Self-validation is so much stronger and more powerful than self-confidence. To have self-validation, you have to actually have done the work. Without the work, your self-confidence is nothing more than false bravado, a dangerous platform to live your life from.
We need to build our youth’s self-validation. They need to know they are capable of tough things. This can only happen if we keep placing them in situations that are just a little tougher than their current comfort zone. This doesn’t mean pushing human limits and forcing them to extremes, that is not only foolish and irresponsible, it is straight out wrong. Challenging them with something that is just a little more difficult than they are comfortable with can sometimes be exactly what is needed to spur their realization that they CAN dig a little deeper. This will help build the foundation for them to have that validation, that honest proof, they will know that they can – for real. That’s a powerful realization. A potential game changer for teenage growth.
Enter the 5:59 Workout
I was fortunate enough to be brought out to Tuolumne, California this past January to key note for the Summerville Bears Quarterback Club fundraiser dinner. The Quarterback Club was a new venture created to harness their community’s great local businesses and strong alumni and have a vessel for them to come together and strategically find innovative new ways to support their local high school football team. This is a common concept in so many towns throughout North America. Key note speakers are often brought in to talk on the value of football, share their experiences and inspire supporters to keep donating. They bring someone like me in to speak to help. Little did they know how much help I would end up getting out of that visit. I got a powerful reminder of something I always intuitively new, but hadn’t consciously acted on in a long time.
As per customary for me when speaking with amateur football programs I do what I can to get to know a bit about the program, chat with the coaches and if possible check out their facilities. I just love to learn and see how each program goes about their business and what makes them unique. I always end up steering any conversation I have with coaches to team workouts. Not necessarily football practices but other workouts. Weight programs, running and any other form of general preparation work that is done to help build and prepare these players physically and mentally. You see, when it comes right down to it, I love football, but the training aspect has been my lifelong obsession. Even at the age of 41, with my playing days long behind me I’m still like a kid in a candy shop when talking athletic development and learning news ways to do things ‘better’. The truth is, it’s rare when something ‘new’ really does hit me so powerfully that I actually take it and implement it immediately into my daily life. My visit to the little town of Tuolumne did just that.
Winning seasons and championships are very impressive and are usually great experiences and memories for the players, coaches and everyone involved in the program to cherish. Anyone who knows me or has heard me speak though, knows those are very low on my concerns and motivations for having a high school football program.
I see The Summerville Bears as a successful program for so many other reasons. Their numbers are high (and they are a small school, in a small town) – which means lots of kids are participating. Community support is strong – it’s a huge bonding vessel for the town. Most importantly though, the kids buy in. They buy into the overall program philosophy, and the one philosophy that really caught my attention was – the 5:59 Bears Barbell Club.
Many programs do morning workouts, from high school right through college. they usually fill two fundamental needs
1) The practicality of using time efficiently in an already slammed daily schedule for student athletes.
2) To develop mental toughness as a group, by getting up and getting something difficult done when you would much rather be sleeping in.
As stated, I’m a huge human performance nerd. I am fortunate enough to have many friends in the field and am well read on all the research regarding optimal training times to maximize performance etc. That’s not what this is about. There are two major realities that need to always be remembered.
1) The point of amateur athletics is not to produce professional athletes. Therefore, the main focus should not be based purely on optimizing their conditions to maximize their athletic ability. It’s to use sports as a teaching tool to help prepare our youth for everything else much more important they will go on to do with their lives. Even if they do go on to play pro ball – they still have to know how live right?
2) Winning team sports (particularly football) isn’t usually about having the perfect conditions to perform at everybody’s optimal levels. It’s actually usually the complete opposite. The winning teams tend to be the ones that can deal with the most shit and not let it rattle them. As Rocky Balboa so eloquently put it – “it’s not how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, that’s how winning is done.” That’s not making sure everything is optimal, it’s being trained to be tough enough to stay focused on your task no matter what hardships have happened or what other issues are creating an immediate challenge for you.
That’s the real value. Tough morning workouts help give young athletes the validation that they CAN do difficult things, because they ARE doing difficult things. Not extraordinary super human feats, just a bit harder than their current comfort zone.
At the college level, these workouts are mandatory. It’s all part of the deal, part of having your scholarship or committing as a walk on. There is no choice after you make that decision. College football is big business and is a true year- round machine. If you are a college football player, football is your life, or at least a huge part of it from sun up to sun down.
High school football, as serious as it is in some parts is still just that though – high school football. It’s PART of their teenage years. Hopefully there’s a ton more going on in their life than just football 24/7 (Other sports and activities – please? Please?) Football is not their job, learning and growing up is. Morning workouts for that matter are usually not a mandatory thing, at least not at Summerville High. It is an encouraged challenge that is open for any and all that choose.
Coach Leveroos, started the BBC in 2006, his first year back at the school. The workouts began for the usual reason of busy student schedules and finding a non-conflicting the time. As expected, early buy in was tough. Getting up that early and working hard is usually the last thing most people want to do voluntarily, especially teenagers. Over the years the numbers and commitment has grown. It has become so successful that the BBC is now open to anyone and everyone at the school who would like to partake. Boys, girls and I’m sure any adults that want to start their day off right are welcome. But why 5:59 I asked him? “Because it’s harder than starting at 6” he replied. This is where these kids are getting a double benefit and I have been reminded of a valuable lesson.
Starting your day with some sort of physical exercise helps wake you up and prime your entire body to be more focused and vibrant. Starting it at 5:59 gives you that mental edge that you have already done something more difficult than most people are ever willing to do. Not super human, not death defyingly extreme, just more difficult. This lets you see most everything else you encounter the remaining of the day as easier than getting up at 5:15 to get that workout done. That’s not selling self-confidence, that’s real proof. By the time most people are starting to gather themselves to think about waking up, you’ve already done something, something that matters, something that was hard. You do that consistently enough you build people that are more comfortable doing hard things, hard things just become normal, allowing you to take on a little bit more, dig even a little deeper.
I’ve gone back to doing morning workouts, and not just when I get up either. 5:59 is my deadline to start – why, because it’s harder than waiting until 6. It sounds silly but it makes a big difference, not only does my body feel great the rest of the day, but my will is strengthened again. Little issues that made me stress, don’t some as heavy, challenges aren’t as daunting. I’ve moved to making even my workouts themselves just a bit harder. What was programmed to be a high paced 45- minute workout needs to get done in 40 – why? Because it’s harder, not impossible, just harder. A 15-minute timed work protocol within my workout now must be completed in 13, again, not impossible, just harder. Making things just a bit harder has spilled over to other parts of my morning routine as well. I take cold showers now – why? Sure, it wakes up my entire central nervous system, but bottom line, it’s harder than sliding into a comfortable warm environment, mornings are easy once you’ve embraced a freezing cold shower.
I want to thank Coach Levroos for reminding me once again of the greatness of getting up and starting your day right. It’s a benefit to anyone who truly wants to make their days better. I also want to thank coach for sharing the simple yet powerful wrinkle of the 5:59 start. This simple psychological tweak can make a massive difference, particularly with our youth. Yes, we need to get them active and in particular young athletes need to put their training time in, but we really need to build their will. We need to give them the proof, as often as possible that they are capable of doing things that are hard, harder than the think they can. Moring workouts themselves are tough, starting them before most all other teams would is that much tougher. It’s not the one minute that really matters, it’s what it symbolizes.
It’s time we realized how dangerous it is to build up our youth’s belief in themselves with hype and comforting words. Let’s not let them head into the ring of life like Apollo smirking as he enters round one against Drago winking back to Rocky arrogantly stating “be back in a minute”. We all knew Apollo had NO CHANCE, come on! Even Apollo knew it. He thought massive self-confidence and sheer belief in himself would be enough, it wasn’t, and it never is. On the other hand, Proof and validation through daily difficult work on the other hand will help give you the Rocky like toughness to face whatever is in front of you with real conviction, not false belief. This is where the sustainable champions live. True toughness is not only repeatable but it is also transferable – carrying you through every aspect of your life. It also doesn’t require any talent or really any financial means. Sometimes all it takes is just one minute – oh and maybe a clock.