The Biggest Mistake I Made as an Athlete and How You Can Avoid It

To say I’ve made mistakes as both an athlete and a coach would be an understatement. Hell…I’d even feel comfortable handing someone my track record and telling them it’s a pretty good blue print on “how not to do things.”

While the list is long, and continues to growly weekly, today I’d like to just focus on the biggest mistake myself and my coaches made in my athletic development journey throughout middle school, high school and college.

Notice I say my coaches and myself because this is a two way street. Growing up you do as you’re told, but at the same time I was pretty stubborn and often did my own thing, so yeah, I’m also to blame.

Before we get to the number one biggest mistake being made in training facilities around the world, however, I’d like to give you a little backstory.

The Backstory

I first found the weight room when I was in 6th grade, and have been in love ever since.

In fact, I can still remember reading an SI for Kids magazine when I was like 9 that talked about The Rock and how us kids had to wait for this beautiful thing called testosterone to kick in before we could be as jacked as him.

Granted, they didn’t use that exact language, but it’s a good synopsis.

Anyways, I found the weight room in 6th grade and have been training ever since. My ultimate goal was to play baseball professionally, and I knew the weight room would play a large part in that journey.

As opposed to boring you with the details, let’s skip to the good stuff.

My time in the weight room “paid off.” I trained my as off and became a very good athlete because of it (well….that and genetics). For example, by my sophomore year in college I had a 33” vertical, ran a 6.6 sixty, deadlifted just shy of 500 lbs, squatted 405, cleaned 305, benched 335, could do a lot of pull ups and all that other jazz. Needless to say I was happy with these numbers. Especially since I had to balance them with a roughly 100 game competitive season.

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In essence, I was a very good athlete on paper and had numbers to back it up….that is until I realized I was a big Trojan Horse.

The Trojan Horse

*I really hope you know the legend of the Trojan Horse, or else my analogy is going to make no sense.

Myself, and athletes all over the world, made the mistake of building ourselves into real life Trojan Horses.

On the outside we looked beautiful, and people would be in awe of what we could do, but on the inside we held a dirty secret.

And that dirty secret is the Inverted Performance Pyramid.

In other words, we were ticking time bombs (just killing the analogies today). We had a lot of performance stacked on top of dysfunction, and it was only a matter of time until the whole thing came crumbling down…and did it.

I attained my first real, non-fluke injury my Sophomore year of college, and from there it didn’t get any better. I had stress fractures in my back, pulled quads, and all sorts of things that just kept popping up.

Granted, injury is a part of athletics. If you truly push the envelope you are at risk of getting injured. But there’s a difference between being chronically injured and coming down with the occasional fluke injury.

I fell in the chronically injured category, and thus spent the majority of my collegiate career injured (remember when I said I was good on paper?).

Want to know the best part? It followed me after college. I can honestly say that the past 3 months is the first time I’ve truly trained unhindered since my early days in college (all because I followed a program similar to what you’ll find at the end of this article).

The first time I’ve been able to really be aggressive, throw weight around, and not be in pain or dealing with a nagging back issue.

If you’ve never been injured, then hats off. I truly envy you. But there are many people out there, maybe even you, who fall in the same boat I did. You work your ass off, you do everything you’re told, and for some reason it just can’t all come together. For every step forward you end up taking at least one step back, and you fall into a viscous cycle of

Train-->Make Progress-->Hit Setback-->Train-->Make Progress-->Hit Setback

Almost like you’re trying to walk up a mountain and continuously slide back down.

Where I Had It Wrong

Where had I gone wrong? Where I had fallen off the tracks along the way?

Because in my mind, and my coaches, I had been doing everything right.

It’s not like I was spending time on machines. I was doing squats, deadlifts, cleans, lunges, dumbbell work, kettlebell work and all this other “functional” stuff that was supposed to make me a “bulletproof athlete.”

While the list of “things I did wrong” is rather long, I’d like to bring your focus back to the inverted pyramid because that’s where it all starts.

If you were to build a pyramid, how would you do it? You would of course start with the foundation and make it as big as possible because that gives you the most room for upward growth. Granted, I’m not an expert in pyramid building, but I’ve never seen one that has a smaller base than a peak.

Well when we’re developing athletes, or ourselves for that matter, you have to approach the matter in the same way. You have to lay yourself the most monster foundation possible to both prevent injury and allow for peak performance to occur.

This is what myself and my coaches failed to do. We chose to go after the top of the pyramid from the get go, which is where you’ll find all the sexier elements of performance: things like max strength, power, strength speed, speed strength and sport specific skill/fitness.

Where we should have started, and hopefully you agree, is with the base of the pyramid. At the base of the pyramid is where you’ll find the foundational elements of performance: movement quality, energy system capacity, autonomic balance, and strength, just to name a few.

Without these elements in place, you’re asking for trouble. It may not happen today, but at some point it will catch up to you.

What To Do?

While I’d love to sit here (in Starbucks I might add) and continue espousing on how to build a monster foundation for performance, I’d be wasting my time because Coach Lance Goyke just came out with such a product.

And it’s FANTASTIC.

I had the pleasure of giving it a read last weekend, and needless to say it’s spot on. In it he goes over the 6 pillars of performance and how you must adequately handle each of them to give yourself the opportunity to reach your full potential.

Oh, and it includes a full 16 week training program so you don’t even have to worry about the implementation side of things. You just show up to the gym, pull out your phone, see what day you’re on, and go to work.

But what if this isn’t for me?

I’ll go ahead and stop you right there. This program is for everyone. And that’s hard to say seeing as I’m obsessed with assessing people and writing individualized programs. But somehow Lance managed to craft this thing so that it can help anyone.

If you’re in pain, it can help with that. If you’re new to training, it’s the perfect program to start with. If you’re already a high level athlete, this is the perfect program to hit during a de-load. And obviously this is the perfect program for anyone looking to build themselves a foundation that allows them to train with no limits.

Anyways, be sure to go check that out (p.s. he’s been awesome enough to offer a large chunk of it to you for free):

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.