Author Archives: Thom Van Vleck

The 10,000 hour rule

by Thom Van Vleck

I just got done reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell.  He has had several best sellers, this one is “Outliers”.   The 10,000 hour rule is just one of many great chapters in the book and I could not agree more with his conclusion.

First, it takes 10,000 hours to master anything….even for the so-called “natural”.  He cites numerous examples, but one of my own examples is the actor Eddie Cantor.  He said, “It takes 20 years to make an overnight success”.  Too often we look at successes and we don’t realize how much work went into that effort.  Sure, some have more aptitude than others but you aren’t them.  If you want to be the best at whatever it is you want to be good at you MUST put in the hours to be successful.

Second, and this plays right out of the first, is there is no such thing as “natural talent”.  In studies done on the the greats in any given field, lifting, throwing, music, etc…..there is a DIRECT STATISTICAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HOURS OF PRACTICE AND ACHIEVEMENT.   There is no short cut!

Third, the elites tend to love what they do so they want to spend the time doing it.  That is the secret to getting in the hours.  Finding the intrinsic value in what you do when you do it.  If you are looking at what you are doing (lifting for example) as a chore and only at the eventual outcome then you are not likely to achieve your highest level of success.  Find the value in each and every workout or practice session.  I often think of the Marines when we would do our group exercises.  We would chant over and over, “We love it!  Good for me!  Good for you!”.  Find that joy in what you are doing or eventually you subconscious will begin to sabotage your efforts and you will not master your talents.

I have spent too much of my life admiring the “natural talents” of others when that energy could be better spent on my own “10,000” hours.  So, embrace the work, learn to love it, and know that hard work equals success more than any other equation!

Simple Liars, Damned Liars, and Experts

by Thom Van Vleck

I like talking about training.  Even if half the time it evolves in an argument.  The one person I have learned the most about weight training is from my Uncle Phil Jackson.  He would often say to me, “I’ve forgotten more about training than you’ll ever know”.  I still often think he is right.  Another guy I’ll mention is Al Myers.  I have learned more about throwing for the Highland Games from Al than any other person.  A lot of the USAWA crowd may know Al competed in the Highland Games but are not aware he was world class at it.  The reason I listened to Al and Phil was not because they were considered by the majority of the lifting or throwing world as experts but because both had something in common with me.  None of us were what I would call natural or “gifted”.  We all had to work for every bit we have.

First I’ll say this.  There’s a fallacy out there that great athletes make bad coaches and mediocre athletes make great coaches.  The “logic” given is that great players never really learn how to play and rely on their natural abilities while mediocre players have to learn every trick to get better.  The evidence given is that there are many coaches that were mediocre players.  Well, that’s just Bull!  The reality is that there are MANY more mediocre players and it would make sense that they would end up a majority in the coaching world over the handful of great athletes.  What really defines a great coach is knowledge and the ability to impart that knowledge in a way another will take it and use it.  They have what’s been called “Practical IQ”.

Now, I don’t know for sure about Al, but I do know that my Uncle Phil would say I’ve barely listened to him at all over the years.  He’s partly right, I have been stubborn at times.  But I would argue he’s mostly wrong.  If you look at how I train there’s more of him in there than any other person on earth.  As for Al, I know I’ve frustrated him from time to time with a million questions and when he’s been nice enough to answer me I’ve often ripped apart his answers.  Al’s such a nice guy this may be hard to believe….but I’ve made him mad more than once!  Yet, if you look at how I throw…NOBODY has had more influence on my throwing and how I train for throwing!  I have just learned over the years that there are….Simple Liars, Damned Liars, and Experts.

The title for this article refers to a saying among lawyers and judges.  It refers to the “expert” witness.  It is often used to make the point that you can get an credentialed expert witness to support about anything.  Kind of like the saying “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” that make the point that you can find stats to support just about any point of view….whether that point of view is right or not!  This is the attitude I bring into how I approach all experts.

Heck, I AM AN EXPERT!  I have been called into court numerous times to provide expert testimony as a licensed professional counselor.  I have frustrated many judges and lawyers in this role because when I KNOW I’m being looked to as an expert then all the speculation, logic, “makes sense to me” is shoved out of my brain and I got with cold, hard, facts.  And the truth is…..you can’t get much from cold, hard facts!  You need to take that leap and expand out beyond what is known and take your “best guess” sometimes to find success.  When pressed by a lawyer or judge, I would preface my “best guess” by saying this is my “opinion based on what I know”.  That rarely helped….they wanted me to tell them that I “unequivocally” knew the truth and to say it as such.

So, what does all this mean.  I guess (based on what I know…..HAHAHA) that I’m trying to say that we need to seek out experts and understand that one person’s “expert” may not be your “expert”….we all have different needs.  These experts can be anywhere and don’t always need to be the “greatest” or the “most famous”.   We also need to look at being able to mine what an expert can give us even if sometimes they aren’t the best communicators.  We should never throw out the coaching of on person simply because they gave bad advice one time.  That’s like the old saying of throwing the baby out with the bath.  Finally, we need to open ourselves to find people who know more than us and take a leap of faith on what they are telling us…..but always remember there are liars, damned liars, and experts.  It’s all in how you want to look at it.  If you think it’s a lie….or the truth…you’ll probably be right.

Buridan’s Ass

by Thom Van Vleck

The story of Buridan’s Ass is a paradox where an ass (ass as in burro or donkey….not someone’s backside) is that is equally hungry and thirst is placed between a pail of water and a stack of hay.  The ass dies of hunger and thirst because it can’t make a decision about which way to go!  It is actually based on a parable going back to Aristotle.  The more modern version you may be more familiar with is the term “paralysis by analysis”.

Regardless of where it comes from it is the state of over thinking a situation to the point that no decision is made.  There is another parable that I think describes this mental dilemma even better:

There was a fox and a cat arguing over who had the better escape plan.  The fox had hundreds while the cat had only one….run up a tree.  Suddenly a pack of hounds approached and the cat shot up a tree to safety while the fox darted back and forth trying to decide what would be his best option.  In his indecision he missed his opportunity to escape and was caught.

You can get so caught up in seeking the perfect solution that no decision occurs and you end up making mistakes, missing chances, and losing the ability to test out ideas that may have worked for fear there was a better method just around the corner.

How does this related to lifting?  In a way it’s been the story of my lifting career!  I fancy myself a pretty smart guy.  I associate and affiliate myself with the lifters and throwers.  I read all I can about training.  In my early years when I had a spare moment you would find me writing out workouts then erasing parts, adding parts, pondering it….and often never (at best) finishing the workout…or (at worst) never even starting it because I was in search of the “next big thing”.

I think every athlete has been in search of that “holy grail” workout that will bring you big lifts and massive muscles…..and hot babes hanging off your biceps!  The reality is that there is no perfect routine and the most successful athletes learn to move on quickly and decisively from one routine to the next.

So, I’m saying, don’t be an ass…..but how you might ask?

1.  Avoid being a perfectionist….which means allowing yourself to fail.  Failing happens when we take risks and if you aren’t failing then you aren’t taking risks to stretch your boundaries.  In positive psychology they NEVER call it “failure”….it’s always a learning experience.

2. Value speed!  Rewire your brain to “go for it”.  Imagine every decision as a crossroads and you have no brakes on your car.  Make a decision and power through.  What’s the worst that could happen?  You back up and take the other road?  You will still save time over indecision AND you have the learning experience of what was the other way.

3. Focus on starting.  Too often we start to look too far down that road and trying to see where it goes.  If you have an idea, take 30 minutes, or a set time, and go for it all out.  Then assess where you are at rather than sitting down and trying to figure it out.  Set aside time for analysis…like one hour, a day, or 90 days.  Make the amount of time you are in action greater than the analysis time.

4.  Break down goals, look for quick wins, and appreciate every step that moves you forward.  We too often focus only on failure and in the process we forget to look at what worked.  Remove the fear of failure and replace it with an attitude that you embrace change and find opportunity in it rather than potential failure.

5.  Develop habits and routines that avoid the paralysis.  I am reminded of the Nike slogan, “Just Do It”.  For me it’s the Bible Verse James 1:12 which tells us to “Persevere under trial” and those who do will be given the ultimate reward.  Have things that help you get focused and develop them.

Finally, don’t do to this article what I’m encouraging you NOT to do.  Analysis is good!  As a matter of fact there is a common fallacy that our first answer is more often the right answer.  Have you ever been told to “go with your gut” when you don’t know the answer on a test?  Well, I hate to break this to you but it’s NOT TRUE!  It has been proven in study after study.  More often we will change a wrong answer to a right one…almost 2 to 1!  So why is there this perception that we change right answers to wrong?  Because we tend to focus on failure!  So, it is important to keep a positive focus to avoid creating your own fallacies or misconceptions.

As my Uncle Phil told me….train smarter not harder.

Big T’s OTSM (First Update)

by Thom Van Vleck

I have some more information on OTSM being held at the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  Entry info and a link to the first story on the meet can be found under the USAWA Future Events section.

This meet will be held outside weather permitting.  If the weather is bad, we’ll move it inside.  Each lifter will be given the chance to look at the records and attempt one record attempt on a lift outside the competition once the meet is completed.  Additional records will be up to there being time.  I wanted to mention this in case there was anyone coming that planned on trying some record attempts.

I thought I might catch some flack regarding my decision to have two champs.  One based on the formulas and the other based solely on most weight lifted.  So far not a peep.  I think it will be interesting to see if they are different!  Just so you know, it’s not my plan to do this with the OTSM Championships.

In addition, This meet will happen regardless of the turn out.  The idea of having this in conjunction with a Highland Games meet is I hope to get some new members to sign up.  You will notice I don’t have a deadline.  All comers!  So don’t worry about the meet being cancelled due to low turnout.  THIS WILL HAPPEN!

Finally, bring some shade, sunscreen, and a folding chair.  It’s pretty wide open at my place so shade is tough to find.  I don’t sunburn and don’t notice it….but we’ve toasted a few of the fair skinned lifters and throwers at my place!

Hope to see you there!

Nicknames

by Thom Van Vleck

I’ve told a story recently and reference a nickname for my Uncle Wayne Jackson.  I wanted to tell about where that came from.

A couple of years ago I hosted the USAWA Nationals.  Wayne was able to make it and was kind of a guest of honor.  At one point Al Myers noticed I called him “Staggo” and asked me about it.  As everyone that knows me, knows ALL TOO WELL, there’s a story behind that!

When I first started training at age 15 it was with my Uncle Wayne Jackson.  It was kind of a tradition to make up nicknames back in the day.  Often it was something that started out as an insult but over time became a badge of honor.  I go to a Lutheran Church and we are taught about how the Catholics used to make fun of us and called us “Lutherans” as an insult.  Now we wear it with honor.

I tended to favor the deadlift…because I was good at the deadlift.  Like a lot of young guys I tended to train what I was good at and ignore what I was bad at…which was pretty much everything else!  My Uncle Phil was the type of guy to cut right to the chase but Wayne was the type to try and use some subtle remark to get his point across.  I think he knew I had a pretty fragile self esteem so just telling me the way I was training was pretty stupid might have dealt me a blow….and I might have quit training.

So one day Wayne started calling me Bob Peoples.  If you don’t know who Bob People’s was, he was very much a deadlift specialist and I was on my way to becoming one, too.  Every time I would start pulling Wayne would say, “Well, there goes Bob People’s again” or he might say, “So is Bob deadlifting again today”.  He made his point and I started to diversify my training.  But I also had to get him back.

Wayne was kind of sensitive about his weight, considering he spent most of his life over 300lbs!  I once asked him how much he weighed at his heaviest and he told me 339 and A HALF.  I then asked, “So when you weighed 340…what were your best lifts”.  Wayne looked at me dead serious and said, “Tommy!  I NEVER weighed 340″.  He also would emphasize that a give weight was “in his street clothes” as if to say “I don’t actually weigh that much, I’m much lighter with my clothes off”!  We all have a weakness and that was his.  Now to exploit it!

We were watching one of the early World’s Strongest Man contests and there was a competitor from Holland named Staggo Piszko.  This guy was huge…and ROUND!  It was made more pronounced by the fact he had this little guy that was his “trainer” or “coach” that was dwarfed by him and kept running around him like he was on fire.  My Uncle kept chuckling every time he saw him.  So for the last 30 years it stuck!  And like many nicknames, what started out as a snappy comeback and a good-natured “ribbing” ended up being a badge of honor.

Many times I called up Wayne and said this line:

“HEY, STAGGO!  …..and he’ll be Staggo to me forever!

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