What it Takes to Be One of the Greats
What is it that makes an athlete go from good to great? Its that extra push that 99 per cent of people will never even come close to.
Even the greatest athletes in the world can only spend so much time with their team, trainers and coaches. Weight room sessions, cardio workout followed by time on the field practicing skills and drills can add up to well over five hours per day.
That dedication to their craft can separate those who make it to the big leagues from those who just miss the cut. As well as those who truly are at the top of their game.
Richard Clark, owner of the Athlete Training Centre in Mississauga has had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest athletes in the world from NHL players to Olympians.
“One of our coaches here coached McDavid. McDavid said not a day had gone by that he hadn’t worked on his hands for an hour, hour an a half in his basement.” says Clark.
“The kids that do that, in any sport, are the ones that’ll get to the next level.”
You’d be hard pressed to argue that McDavid, the captain of the Edmonton Oilers, isn’t the best hockey player on Earth right now, notably taking full advantage of his speed and his hands, so clearly the hard work has paid off.
Clark says that it comes down to how many pucks are shot, how often you’re on the ice to develop skating, how many basketballs are thrown. Those are what makes someone great. Not how much time is spent on the bench press.
“You could have all the skills in the world, but if you don’t have that work ethic it’ll be hard to get there.”
One of Clark’s most prolific regular clients is New York Islander’s captain and NHL all star John Tavares, who has been spending his summers training at ATC since he was 13.
“I remember it was scorching hot, middle of summer. And there’s a knock on the door, there’s John. I thought he was coming over for a barbecue or something, he only lived a few blocks away. He said he needed water. I asked him why. He said he was at the lacrosse box taking shots. Saying he had a chance to be rookie of the year in junior lacrosse. I told him his team didn’t even have a chance to make the playoffs. He knew that, but he said he’d been out there for an hour and a half taking shots, and he’d be out there for another hour and a half. He was out there all by himself in the 30 degree heat taking shots. And well, we know where he is today.”
ATC originally started as a weight room in Clark’s basement where he would train young athletes privately.
“I was training my son at the YMCA, so I wake him up one Sunday at seven a.m. to get ready to go and he just says ‘fuck you.,’ and that was only the third or fourth day in. So I thought why not buy equipment and put it in the basement.”
From there, more and more athletes starting training in Clark’s basement.
Clark, along with a full staff of professional athletes and trainers, now cater to classes full of non-professionals as well. They conduct everything from basic strength workouts, to spin classes and whole classes using either kettlebells or plates as the weights.
While Clark usually focuses on smaller group or individual sessions, it is another beast to take on an entire team as a coach.
With softball becoming an Olympic sport in 2020 while the games are hosted in Tokyo, Canada’s women’s team is currently ranked third in the world and has a great shot at qualifying.
Mark Smith is the team’s head coach and formally one of the greatest softball pitchers in the world.
Smith says that it is a privilege to be able to coach at a national level.
“It is a privilege to be able to represent your country, but it is completely different from being an athlete. Helping to shape these young athletes and give them direction.”
Smith himself is a member of the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame, played in five different provinces, as well as California, and New Zealand during the winter. He also won five Pan American gold medals with Canada in 1979, 1983 and 1991 as a player and another as a coach.
If anyone in Canada knows softball, it’s Mark Smith.
But with softball not being a mainstream sport in Canada, many of the players on Smith’s team are required to put their regular lives on the back-burner while training.
“The players have to put careers on hold when we start training. Softball at this level is a part time hobby with a full time commitment.”
Smith’s outlook on training seems to be similar to Clark’s, that the effort put in off the field has a massive impact on the field.
The women’s national team is in the gym four days a week, with three reserved for specific skills. Once the season officially begins, the team does a weights session every day and training every other day. Plus games of course.
“There is more intent on what we do in the gym then just how long we are together. We want to teach the skills they need and hone in the specifics.,” says Smith.
Smith is also the High Performance Director of Softball Canada, working with athletes to make sure they reach their full potential, including those already on the national level.
And even though the women on the team are potential Olympians, Smith says that the basics are still being taught and remain a key part of what is important.
“We focus on the A, B, Cs. Agility, balance and coordination. By looking at all those skills we can see who is going to make improvements and advance to the national team”
Those extra minutes spent off the field, putting in the extra work is what makes all the difference in the end.
Time for one more set.