Practice is about finished before your coach suddenly blows the whistle and yells, "Everyone on the line!" And you know what's about to ensue: 10 (or more) minutes of hellish conditioning.
When I was a young hockey player, I always hoped my coach would forget about conditioning, and the Zamboni doors would open—that signals the end of hockey practice—before he remembered. More often than not, I wasn't so lucky.
Conditioning stinks. There's no way to sugarcoat it. You will be gasping for breath. You will be dripping sweat. And there's a good chance your coach will be chirping at you while they're watching with what appears to be a slight sense of enjoyment.
After a particularly tough practice, extra conditioning may sometimes feel like punishment. It can even venture toward the sadistic spectrum when a coach pulls out a puke bucket, expecting at least one athlete to lose their lunch.
It's no wonder why many athletes dread Gassers, Sprints and other end-of-practice conditioning drills, just like I did when I was younger. However, it's time to change your mindset. We know it may sound like a stretch or even a bit crazy, but athletes should embrace end-of-practice conditioning. Here's why:
It's an opportunity to get better
Rather than looking at conditioning as a punishment, look at it as an opportunity to get better. A better-conditioned athlete will perform at a higher level during critical moments late in a game or during particularly exhausting plays. You'll be able to maintain your strength, speed and power for a longer duration, recover faster between plays, and even fend off common injuries.
As a team, a group of better-conditioned athletes can wear down an opponent even if that opponent has more skill or talent.
"You can't practice like a poodle and play like a pitbull," says Rick Scarpulla, strength coach and owner of Ultimate Advantage Training. "You have to practice harder than you play."
So next time your coach lines you up for conditioning, don't just do the minimum amount of work that's required to avoid getting called out by your coach or teammates. Push your comfort zone as much as you can during every single drill. It will be tough, but you'll be better for it.
It builds mental toughness
Your body has an incredible ability to perform. You just need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Conditioning helps you learn how far you can push yourself and builds the mental toughness you need to fight through fatigue.
"The weakest point of most athletes is the mental game," says Scarpulla. "Your mental game is built when you're successfully able to do things that are uncomfortable and you don't necessarily like to do."
This has tremendous value in sports because it gives you confidence that your body can perform in tough game situations. When your opponent is giving up, you can fight through fatigue and win the battle. Mental toughness built from conditioning will also improve the quality of your workouts because you will have the toughness to push through difficult sets and routines. And of course, it will make you an all-around badass.
It creates a strong team environment
Conditioning is designed to push you to your physical and mental breaking point. Each of your teammates is busting their butts and facing the same level of discomfort not for themselves, but for the greater good of the team.
"One of the biggest things is not wanting to let each other down and playing for the team and not playing for yourself," adds Scarpulla. "You gotta want to win for the team more than you want to win for yourself.
Experiencing these tough situations together as a group also builds a sense of camaraderie.
You might push yourself a bit more if you see one of your teammates crushing a drill. If someone is slacking, you band together and get them fired up to finish the drill with all they have.
It proves to your coach that you're a hard worker
Finally, conditioning is the perfect opportunity to prove to your coach that you're a hard worker and they can rely on you in the most critical points of a game.
"Coaches can read your level of enthusiasm," explains Scarpulla. "When you're giving 100 percent in a drill or situation, such as Gassers, that is very uncomfortable and they know you don't like, that proves to coaches that you're a hard worker."
Want more playing time? Attack conditioning drills with your full effort. Want to start a game or play on a better line? Earn it by working hard. And if you're a top athlete on the team, don't rest on your laurels. Lead your team in conditioning, and prepare your body and mind for playing at the next level.
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