You need the complete package. Be niche but versatile.
Tennis player Kevin Anderson has worked hard on his versatility to become one of South Africa's top professional athletes. Picture: Getty Images
It has been a really bad year for sport across the globe and one can’t help but wonder if the next generation of sportsmen and women will be sub-average in their performances and achievements.
Malcom Gladwell coined the ’10 000 hours’ term, which has become somewhat of a rule.
You need to put in 10 000 “quality hours” of skill development in perfecting your craft in order to be extraordinary in your space.
Most South African clubs practice for one to two hours, two to four times a week.
If we take two hours of training, three-times-a-week and a game, then we are looking at eight hours of training a week.
Based on Gladwell’s guidance, that would equate to 22.3 years of not missing a single week’s training to clock in your hours.
If, as parent, you want to set your child on a path of future success because he or she absolutely loves a chosen sport and wants to one day become a professional athlete, at age 10, little Thabo or Lisa would need to put in just under three hours of work every day for 10 years.
This doesn’t take into account holidays, getting sick, injuries, exams or a year off due to Covid etc.
You can quickly see that the chances of completing your 10 000 hours is quite difficult, but then again, if it were that easy then everyone would be a professional athlete, right?
In South Africa, every other Tom, Dick and Jane owns or proclaims they have an academy structure.
But academies should at least have these essentials: a sports scientist, doctor, mental toughness coach, biokineticist, recovery coach, eye vision coach, physiotherapist, nutritionist, technical coach, head coach or manager and assistant coach.
Tell me one professional club, let alone an academy, in South Africa that has all these professionals on staff?
Not even the mighty Kaizer Chiefs have all these staff full-time.
The Springboks have a good deal of specialists but not full-time staff. Many are part-time or contracted.
If clubs are calling themselves academies, what definition are they going by?
If they are offering better qualified coaches, better facilities and better training equipment then my question is, should this not be the norm? And, if it isn’t, then how do you become a professional athlete if the odds are stacked against you?
The most important advice I ever got from my parents was my mom telling me I should go to university and study something, and preferably something in sport.
The next life-changing advice was from my father: “Son, if you can’t become a pro, become a businessman and buy the club”.
I run a sports science business today and every day I am living my passion in developing the next generation of athletes.
The best advice I can give you is, be crazy and obsessive over your sport, but get the education behind your name.
Education is critical for athletes and you need something to fall back on.
Now that we have discussed the most important thing, which is education, let’s focus on your passion and how to get to the next level.
Kicking a ball for three hours a day is not developing your talent.
How many football freestylers do you know who are professional athletes? There are very few.
You need the complete package. You need to be niche but versatile.
Start with understanding the physical metrics for your sport.
If you play rugby then you need to aspire to Bok norms. If you want to be a professional footballer, then Premier League norms.
Understand your speed, agility, strength, flexibility, co-ordination, injury risk, gait analysis, all-round strength, sports specific and position specific.
If you don’t know what metrics your position needs, then how can you expect to compete at pro level?
Next is to is to find a skilled technical coach, preferably an ex-professional athlete who has a business in this space.
Tennis and golf coaches have the perfect model because they are generally former pro’s and have the highest Tennis or PGA qualification in their space.
Learn all the behind-the-scenes things that the books don’t teach you and get a better perspective on life as a pro through your coach’s past experiences.
He or she will also teach you what the golden thread is to becoming a full-time athlete.
Just remember, he or she won’t have all the tools you need to succeed, but knowledge is added to the bigger picture. so find a great coach.
Unfortunately, there are few internationally qualified coaches in South Africa and even if they are qualified, many lack the experience and trophies to support your dreams. So do your homework and find a coach that can help develop you as a person.
Ronaldo attributes much of his success to coach Sir Alex Furgeson, who was invaluable in him becoming a sporting legend.
Last but not least, find a great mental toughness coach.
Many South Africans have gone overseas to try out at a club, but many have come back dejected. Many have lost opportunities because they did not have the discipline or mental toughness to push through challenges in the football space.
This I believe is one of the most underrated assets you can add to your skills so, in achieving 10 000 hours, don’t see it as kicking a ball for three hours a day, but rather take all of the above and divide your time up to make sure you are working on all these areas of performance.
This will give you the best fighting chance of becoming a professional athlete.
Sean van Staden
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