Sean Van Staden
Columnist
3 minute read
12 Oct 2013
9:00 am

Discipline is the glue that binds excellence

Sean Van Staden

You are a general on the battlefield with your elite troops. What is the worst thing you can think of that can happen if the commander does not have control of his troops because of ill-discipline?

A Formula One pit crew team trains for months to perfect the right timing, the right sequence and flawless execution for a pit stop. What do you think will happen when a driver in first place comes in for a stop and a crew member decides there is a better way of doing things and executes on it?

In real situations, it is easier to see that discipline is a key element of cohesion and a team’s success. The question I pose is whether discipline is the problem facing the youth today? Could this be the reason why very few athletes make it to the top or why bottom teams are… well, bottom?

I had the privilege of working with the national basketball squad a few years back under coach Patrick Fick in preparation for the Commonwealth Games. I learnt some important lessons from a great coach who just happened to be my youth coach back in the late Nineties.

The first lesson I learnt from him was, funnily enough, discipline. And I learnt it the hard way. During a training session the coach was explaining an important offensive strategy and I was happily cracking jokes and waffling on to a team-mate while the coach was trying to teach us something new.

In the blink of an eye a missile (basketball) was launched at me and needless to say my head was the recipient of a painful lesson I never forgot. The second most valuable lesson I learnt as a youth was that if you are not in the first starting five, there is a good reason for it.

As a young athlete I thought I knew it all as a basketball player and my pet hate was sitting on the bench. I didn’t believe I deserved to be there. The fact is that the coach saw something I didn’t.

In my frustration I took to the court and worked twice as hard as any other player. I practiced at school, I practiced before practice, and I practiced with the seniors after practice. After dinner I even made sure I shot 200 baskets before bed. I slowly migrated off the bench and into the starting five.

The third important lesson I learnt is that a coach who comes to practice prepared almost always wins the respect of their players. If you have ever been lucky enough to be coached by Coach Pat, you will understand this after the first session, he does not take nonsense and is the most well prepared coach you will find.

I remember it was a week before the national camp and Coach Pat and his wife Morella were frantically, at their own time and expense, putting the final touches to the players’ manuals. It was the first time every national player got the entire gameplan ahead of the camp and I am sure it was probably the last under Coach Pat’s reign.

Each player had drills which he expected them to master and plays he expected them to learn before practice. He was the first coach to bring a dedicated sports scientist to work on their sports- specific conditioning, bringing in a nutritionist, bringing in guest celebrities to motivate players and the first to introduce game video and feedback sessions before bed.

I can honestly say that travelling the 80km at 5am to get to work and travelling back at 10pm was not easy, but somehow because of the coach’s discipline, pursuit of excellence and going over and above was the norm, I felt this was my minimum standard.

I feel that one of the ultimate lessons you can learn in life and as an athlete is discipline. Discipline is the glue that binds a team together according to Dinesh Mitchell, BNL-Egoli Magic basketball player.

Sean is a sports scientist and director of Advanced Sports Performance. Share your comments and opinions on his blog.advancedsp.co.za. Follow him on Twitter: SeanVStaden or visit my website www.advancedsp.co.za.