Coaches may be familiar with and have been frustrated by young athletes not taking the opportunities to develop basic skills serious. These athletes are missing out on the opportunity to improve because they fail to grasp the concept of compounding.
A parable about compounding poses the question: would you rather receive $1 million today or have a penny today and double the amount every day for 30 days? Invariably most people choose to take the $1 million. They fail to calculate the long-term benefit of compounding the penny.
Typically the parable is used to demonstrate the rewards of financial investment but has relevance to skill investment in sport too. For sport the parable could be rephrased: would you rather have a championship today or improve a new skill today and double that improvement every day for 30 days?
While taking the $1 million or championship today may be appealing that outcome is finite and short-term. Choosing short-term outcomes shortchanges the opportunity for continued performance and additional outcomes.
Choosing the penny or basic skill today may not be as appealing for the short-term but by being patient with the process over the long-term can accomplish several fruitful outcomes.
Young athletes typically don’t grasp compounding because they don’t understand the steps required to improve from their current self to their ideal self. From experience they know their current capabilities and they know the image of the top performers representing the outcome they would like. Through lack of experience they don’t know the long-term path required to get from their current to their ideal self.
Through lack of experience the young athletes don’t understand that every time top performers are presented with an opportunity to earn a new penny they take it. Top performers become and remain top performers because they have and will take advantage of every opportunity to earn and compound a new penny. Young athletes may feel that they have previously earned a penny for a skill and so slack off. By doing so they shortchange themselves on the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly benefits of earning new pennies to compound.
The idea of compounding was presented to speed skating athletes I work with by Bryce Tully, Mental Performance Consultant with the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic. His lesson was that athletes tend to think of outcome terms, but they operate best in process terms. Most of the athletes motivation and drive will come from proof of daily progress, which is the foundation of confidence.
To begin the process of compounding Bryce asked the athletes to identify one thing they would like to be better at by the end of one month. He had the athletes identify 3-4 simple activities that they could do per week that would contribute to improvement. The athletes then decided how many times per week they would perform those activities. The athletes chose a technical element to improve through activities that ranged from drills to video review performed 2-4 times per week. Weekly debriefings of the activities has assured a compounding effect by monitoring compliance and tweaking activities as required.
The interim results of the compounding exercise has so far garnered positive results. The athletes have embraced the exercise and chronic technical errors are diminishing, and so they are beginning to see the value of earning a penny.