Great Training Beats Great Equipment and Other Thoughts

A friend recently emailed me an old compilation video of myself as a high school gymnast. It includes clips from both training and competition and sparked a few thoughts for me that I thought I might share. Watching the video isn’t really necessary but I’ve included it below for context.

(Click through to watch the video if you’re reading this as an email)

  • Great training > great equipment:
    I switched to a new gym and a new coach in fall of 2001-02. It was my sophomore year in high school and I was working under a young Armenian coach named Levon (who I interviewed earlier this year). He really understood great gymnastics technique and extremely enthusiastic about making sure you made corrections every turn. Despite the fact that the gym was small and the equipment was old and rickety, but I improved tremendously – making the junior national team. Even after moving to a better facility the next year, and even better equipment at Stanford, I never experienced a greater improvement in my skill as a gymnast in a single year, than I did that year.

  • You rarely see the long road to excellence
    We often see other people only when they are at their best. Presenting at a meeting, pushing a finished feature, showcasing a portfolio. Rarely do we see the struggle, the mistakes, and the preparation that came before that performance. In the video, I repeat one move on the parallel bar, where I swing up, release and land with two arms on one bar. I do it over and over again – usually with an error. But if you just watched me in competition, you’d rarely see me miss it.

  • Nothing beats the thrill of performing at a high level
    Watching myself compete at the USA National Championships (the clips where I’m wearing a silver, red and blue uniform) bring me back to the excitement of competition and high level performance. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the concept of “flow” which he says is triggered by a “high challenge, high skill” endeavor. I think many athletes would find that a good descriptor for their experience when competing/performing. And I think this idea applies to careers as well. Finding work that you enjoy, fulfills a market need and that you can get really good at is so important – because it feels so good to succeed at something that is hard and that you are good at.

PS – The friend who sent me the video is Jamie Northrup, a professional stuntman and a former teammate of mine. You can see his stunt reel here.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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