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9 Ways 2020 Was A Growth Year For Athletes And What’s Next In 2021

The most common statement from coaches in 2021 will be: “Where did this guy come from?” Athletes will say this more than ever: “I didn’t know I was capable of that.”

These 9 things made 2020 a growth year for athletes of all ages.

1. Quiet work returned

Players discovered that working solo is a road to deep work. A dad shared that his son utilized his meager home garage gym to train like Rocky Balboa rather than Ivan Drago. The intensity of workouts became priority one when “simple” was a necessity. Engaged work still beats fancy training. Here’s to rusty weights.

2. Beautiful basics came back

The imagination of players grew in 2020. Throwing the ball against the wall is back in fashion. Shooting baskets with just you and your imaginary shot clock rebuilt the ability to conceptualize situations and enjoy sport. Thirty years ago adults were at the plate in game seven of the World Series, 3-2 count, 2 outs with Eckersley on the mound. Now many young people have been in the box versus Mariano Rivera in that seventh game.

3. Inner drive replaced outside noise

When playing was possible there were few distractions. College recruiters were off the road. Athletes played the game at its essence and not for the goal of “being seen.” Practices followed suit. Dyron Rolling of the Admirals, a premier Northern California program, observed, “My players are diving into skill work like never before.”

4. Gratitude increased

Being on a field, connecting with teammates was felt by young athletes and sensed by coaches. Jimmy Meuel of Head First Baseball said the look in his player’s eyes “was like a kid running down the hallway on Christmas morning.” What was under the tree was replaced by the joy of cleats on grass and dirt.

5. Perspective improved

The game became the challenge to be mastered. Development of skills, habits and the value of sport increased, even if field time decreased. One athlete mentioned the simple pleasure that is running hard through first base.

6. Ingenuity sharpened

Finding places and ways to play required more than following a set schedule. The daily question wasn’t “what does my programmed calendar say?” Athletes woke up, made calls and organized their way to play. More than a few athletes set up old fashioned pick up games at withered parks, and loved it. “It was like being a kid in the backyard again,” a 5th year college senior said. Mud football makes a comeback in 2021.

7. Unique learning was everywhere

The internet was full of sharing and productive conversations with sport-minded people. The number of “teachers” who stepped up to give virtual knowledge deserves appreciation. Athletes learned from the sheer number of those willing to be impactful mentors. Giving time to the young athlete watching from home on a phone was the example of many and one to follow.

8. Athletes trained like inmates

Some have called it going in to the “lab.” Athletes worked on skills and strength will come out of 2020 with surprising physicality. A college athlete said, “I didn’t know I was capable of doing what I’m now able to do. The chance to train opened my eyes to building my body.” Serving time gave time to strengthen the body.

9. Specific planning grew from necessity

Setting goals methodically, with only achievement of the goal to strive for elevated the importance of goal-setting. Players had months to shoot for personal bests. Jim Oliver of DIB in Fresno gives his players 60-yard run times, exit and arm velocities to shoot for. His players are hungry for the next challenge. Measurable and attainable mid-term goals create self-guided “strive plans.”

What’s Next?

2021 will be full of pleasant surprises for athletes and coaches. Players who went quiet and deep in their work learned lessons that will serve a lifetime. Expect coaches at every level to ask, “where did this guy come from?” He came from 2020, where training hard, specifically, while enjoying sport’s essence, built intentful workers and giving teammates.

Striving in sport and the joy of the game is the reward of a challenging 2020. For athletes, coaches and our sports, the best is yet to come.


Thrive in sports, college and life.

1% better today.

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