Thursday, June 12, 2008

Eric The Intern's tips for excellence in sports

I was recently reading that athletes (among them - Roger Clemens - go figure) in certain sports at elite levels are taking Viagra to boost their performance. Apparently the little blue pill has supplanted creatine at the top of the list of legal "supplements" that athletes (and baseball players) are taking on a regular basis. Apparently the stuff opens up the blood vessels in your body and allows you to breathe easier and...blah blah blah. Frankly, I don't buy it. Not only do I not trust big pharmaceutical companies, and I feel that Pfizer doesn't need this kind of boost in business. (Remember when it was discovered that Sudafed was being used by hockey players, and they would have to stop using it at the Olympics because Silken Laumann had a cold and used Sudafed and then got busted, and then kids across Canada started taking Sudafed before games without really having any idea why, but just because Joe Sakic once did or something? Ridiculous. Run-on sentence.) Also, I feel that it's more likely these athletes take Viagra to counteract the impotence that is a side-effect of steroid use, rather than simply on it's own merits for athletic enhancement. And anyone who writes a comment on this blog using the words "stiff competition" or "chicks dig the long ball" will make us all cringe. Got it?

So Viagra is out. This is all because yesterday, I tried my hand at tennis coaching. What people didn't understand was that my program takes a while to become effective. It isn't an overnight fix-all. And it isn't intuitive at all, since we have been taught that for peak athletic performance we ought to do the opposite of what I advise. But do my program for a year, and I think you will find that this is the new way to become amazing. My pupil yesterday, Ottawa's premier tennis player, the sweet and talented Petra Januskova, decided not to go with my training regimen. I wish her the best of luck anyway, and I harbor no bitterness. But I will post my plan here, so others can make use of my vast knowledge of physical fitness and sporting excellence.

Step One: Diet. You know how you see baseball hitters in the on-deck circle swinging three bats at once, or sometimes a bat with those big heavy rings on the end? That is so that when they get up to the plate, the one bat they have to swing there feels lighter in comparison. The same goes for food. If you eat, say, four hot dogs before working out, you will, as a person, feel heavier. Not only that, but you will feel sick, and nauseous, and you may well throw up. Now, initially this seems like a bad thing, it isn't! This is the same theory as the three bats. If you have an intensive practice after scarfing three Big Macs, and then come game time you don't eat several Big Macs, you yourself will feel lighter. I discovered this when I played in the Ottawa waterpolo all-star game in 1997. You see, we had just come from the Chinese Buffet, and we were stuffed. But my family showed up to see me play, and they had brought me food - a double quarter pounder meal with an extra cheeseburger from McDonalds. And I didn't want to be rude by not eating it. So I choked it down on top of the Chinese buffet. I had to swim underwater to the opposite side of the pool on the first play of the game, and when I cam up I could barely breathe. I got into a fight and was ejected on the first play. The next game - I hadn't eaten so much, and I was WAY better! I wasn't ejected until the seventh play! See? It works...

Step Two: Cigarettes. While I don't condone smoking as a habit, it can be very effective as a training tool. You see, after a cigarette, you start to have more trouble breathing. Physical exertion becomes more difficult. Stamina is sapped from your body. You know how long-distance runners train at high altitudes because the thin air makes it more difficult to run and breathe, and therefore they feel that much better when they run at sea level? What they are doing is conditioning their bodies at a certain level that is beyond what they would ordinarily need for competition. Cigarettes can do the same. Have just one before you train, and it's like you're instantly transported to Denver's Mile High Stadium for that one session. Have a whole pack, and you're WAY ahead of the game. Then when you play your game without smoking, you will already have been conditioned at a much higher level than everyone else.

Step Three: Mental preparedness. No matter what the sport, you must be mentally prepared to face your opponent. And that means that before the game, you must condition yourself to HATE that opponent. In the case of tennis, I instructed Petra yesterday to attack her opponent. And not in that metaphorical, namby-pamby sort of sports-psychologist "attack" the oppponent sort of way. In the literal, seriously attack sort of way. I told her to hit tennis balls directly at her opponent. Now, you would hope that no one gets injured (Petra does hit tennis balls awfully hard). But the main idea here is that you become more focussed on destroying that opponent than you are on actually winning the match. And before long, when you are tired from pelting the other girl with tennis balls, you'll start playing real tennis just out of exhaustion. But by then, your opponent will be so frightened of you, she won't be able to play at all. And the wins will fall into place on their own. I used this theory when I played baseball. As a pitcher, I would throw as hard as I possibly could, without aiming, to the first batter in every game. When that batter walked (usually on four pitches...sometimes on just one), every other batter in the game was about half a foot further back in the batter's box than they usually were. And the wins just fell into place on their own.

Step Four: Psychological warfare. Tennis, like baseball and football and almost all other sports, is part athletic and part mental. You must have the skills to hit the ball, but you also must be mentally prepared, since the match itself is like a chess game. If I hit it there, and she hits it there, then I will have to do must think several moves ahead. And it is far easier to get into your opponent's mind than it is to master your own. I used to do this on the chess team. I would mutter under my breath the whole time, "I really want to make out with Keanu Reeves" or some such thing. And it gets into the opponent's head right away. Physical intimidation works wonders, but mental intimidation is your bread and butter. Wear freaky clothes. Like lingerie, or hip-waders. When you hit a tennis ball, don't do that loud grunting Maria Sharapova thing. Instead, make that Xena Warrior Princess noise before returning a serve. When I played football, I used to get a face painter to paint Hello Kitty on both my cheeks before a game. The tight end lined up across from me would wonder about that the whole game. And by the time he became used to it and managed to ignore it, it would be the fourth quarter and we would be winning.

I don't know if Petra listened to any of my advice. She certainly seemed reluctant to work with me on perfecting a brand-new jump serve. And she has chosen to continue working with her current coach, much to my chagrin. In all seriousness, however, this girl is a major talent, internationally ranked #342, and yet has had trouble finding sponsors so she can afford to attend the tournaments that will allow her to to turn pro. Tennis is an expensive sport once you reach that level. Anyone interested in sponsoring her, please let me know. Send me an email and I will forward it to her right away - - now here's yesterday's video:

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