Sports Performance for Everyone…a Conversation with Joel Smith

The athletic preparation field is an immense one, and it covers myriad related disciplines. Many of the practices or characteristics of elite athletes can be viewed as lessons from high-level practitioners of physical art. And we can often use those examples to get more out of our own fitness and competitive endeavors.

I recently had the absolute honor and privilege to discuss the health-athletics-longevity relationship with Joel Smith. The host of the Just Fly Performance Podcast, Joel is without argument one of the most knowledgeable people in the human performance space. Joel is an author, Division 1 Strength and Conditioning Coach, and an entrepreneur who coaches and trains athletes of all ages and abilities across a broad spectrum of sports. His expertise is as palpable as his passion for helping others to succeed — not just as athletes — but as participants in life. When you interact with Joel, what impacts you most profoundly is the way in which he integrates and synthesizes science with an organic, big-picture perspective.

Joel was a recent guest on The Lifetime Body Podcast, and this is definitely a must-listen episode. Joel’s experience and enthusiasm came through wonderfully as he offered up pearl after pearl of peak performance wisdom. Here are just a few of the concepts we covered in our conversation:

  • Joel’s story of his lifelong passion for human performance and how from an early age he developed an insatiable appetite for learning, experimenting, and applying training science.
  • How being a 7-foot high jumper and standout javelin thrower led Joel into some collegiate coaching opportunities and a career path in the sports profession.
  • Why we should never lose our childlike curiosity as we go through life. “I am willing at any point in time to completely re-write and overhaul my frame of mind…I’m convinced until someone convinces me otherwise…I will always be an athlete until I can no longer move.
  • We underestimate how our culture and history shapes us.” Top performers seek and create a culture of excellence. Environment is a huge aspect of being a high performer.
  • Positive self-belief is critical. “If the subconscious says yeah, I’m a great athlete and I’m going to achieve this…the body and behavior will follow that system.”
  • There are less hyperanalytics going on (in the mind of elite athletes). They are in a flow state. They are just there, and they just do and be (elite).” You don’t need to coach a cheetah how to run.
  • Progressing in training and recovering well is as much about state of mind and environment as it is dependent upon caring for the body with practices like nutrition, sleep, and sunlight.
  • For me, it always comes back to how this thing (body) that you were born with works and operates.” Joy, love, play, and art are the essentials of program design — more so than seasons and workouts.
  • Movement should be practiced as a skill and not a rote behavior with disregard for quality. As humans we need to move more like the animals that we are, without inhibition or excessive cognition. “When a bobcat jumps 8 feet from one rock to another and sticks the landing, what am I going to say (to coach that animal to a better movement pattern)?
  • What happens when you start to merge dancing and training?” Movement needs to be creative, reactive, and free-flowing.
  • Joel emphasized the Dan John quote “Maximum velocity is the fountain of youth.” Sprinting, in whatever form or mode is appropriate for each person, is the most powerful anti-aging exercise prescription we have available, when done safely. “When you go to a master’s track meet, the distance runners look older than they actually are but the sprinters tend to appear younger than their age.
  • Maintaining mobility, agility, and the ability to comfortably and easily move one’s body through space is a key to athletics as well as high function through the lifespan.
  • You have to be smart and you have to be careful as you apply the tools of training. Maintaining muscle mass and animalistic function are the keys to success in lifelong athletics. “If you love it…then do it!”

Those are just a few of the great nuggets from my visit with Joel. I really appreciate him taking the time to share his wisdom with us. I hope these points can help you toward your own peak performances!

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