I was talking with my nine year-old cousin recently about baseball and math. Basically, he likes baseball and he doesn't like math. We were working on his homework (fractions!) and he got a few wrong. Here's a snippet:
Me: You got a couple wrong.
Him: That's ok. I'm almost done.
Me: What about the ones that are wrong?
Him: I never get them all right.
Me: Why not?
Him: It doesn't matter. I'm not that good at math.
Now, this is a pretty smart kid we're talking about. And though his math ability is much lower than it should be, it isn't because he isn't good at math. It's because he hasn't learned how to be good at math.
No one makes him work out the problems. No one makes him show his work. No one asks him to put the ideas into new contexts. No one even makes him use a pencil! But worst of all, no one has told him it doesn't matter if you're not a "natural" at math.
In his mind, he believes math is something you're either good at or not good at. He doesn't realize that math is just a process, something that anyone can learn. (Yes, Optimal Training applies to math, too.) Since he believes he's not "good at it", he doesn't see the value of working hard on the homework to get better.
I started to give him a lecture, but that wasn't going to work. Instead, I decided to ask him some questions about baseball. What makes a baseball player good: talent or hard work? His answer: talent (of course). What about all the hours playing baseball with their dads/friends/teammates? His answer: that's not work, that's play.
He's wrong. It is work. Because it's fun we don't always think of it that way, but it is work. In fact, it's often higher quality work than what you do in a structured practice, because a lot of the wasted time and energy is eliminated. Anyway, we talked about this for a bit, and then I asked him a couple questions.
If a baseball player gets 3 hits in 10 at bats, what is his batting average? .300. If a pitcher pitches 6 1/3 innings, how many outs did he get? 19. He was doing his fractions homework, but because it was in a different context, he didn't even notice.
How does this pertain to Optimal Training? Two ways:
1. Don't assume the main factor in success is talent. Even though you can't always see it, successful people are working very hard at what they are doing. They often just disguise the work as play because they enjoy it.
2. Don't confuse hard work with working hard. For example, it's okay to play a game of soccer or ultimate frisbee one day instead of going for a run. (Watching that Champion's League final, I saw when Inzaghi came out that he ran over 10,000 meters during the game! How's that for a good workout!)
Physically, soccer or ultimate is probably as good a speed workout as you would have done on the track, and it's often easier on you mentally. Similarly, going for a hike on a rest day may suit your needs equally well. If you make your training more enjoyable, you can work hard without making it feel like hard work.