SportStars Magazine

Call it What You Will, This is What All Athletes Strive For

Coach Pawlawski was a multi-sport player as he grew up and played for Troy High School in Fullerton, CA. Knowing from the age of eight he wanted to play professional sports, football was the direction he took as Cal coaches recruited him to play football in 1987. I have over 30 years of football experience, including a Pac-10 Offensive MVP, 3 Bowl championships and a World Championship and I want to teach you the tools it takes to succeed."

The Athletes Paragon

There’s a new term for it every few years. Currently it’s “high-functioning athlete.” But “elite athlete”, “superstar”, “baller”… all fit the bill. Cal QB standout, Coach Mike Pawlawski says, regardless of the vernacular, it’s the paragon all athletes strive for. To be so good that you make the big plays, (and not the mistakes). And you play a major role in the success of your team!

Here’s the catch, says Pawlawski. We all want to compete at that level, but very few young athletes know how to get there.

Mike Palwalski writes, You don’t truly own a skill until you’ve performed it correctly 1000 times. Most people focus on the number but there are two essential elements in that sentence, and both play an equal roll.

You don’t truly own a skill until you’ve performed it correctly 1000 times.

A Map For Success

I’m going to share two keys with you that I believe lay out the road map for success.


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The first is a truth I’ve seen play out for every athlete I’ve ever played with or coached. The following is what I call a “need-to” statement.

You don’t truly own a skill until you’ve performed it correctly 1000 times.

Most people focus on the number but there are two essential elements in that sentence, and both play an equal roll.

Let’s talk about the obvious one first.

A thousand reps seem like a lot— but think about what we are trying to accomplish when we are practicing new skills in our sport. We are trying to train the nervous system to react efficiently and consistently every time we perform the movement pattern. Since I am a Quarterback, let’s use throwing a pass as an example.


Physiologists and kinesiologists both assert that throwing a football is the most complex skill in all of sport. Every time you throw you involve every joint in the body. From your pinky toe to the top vertebrae in your neck.

Every joint must fire or relax at the appropriate moment for maximum efficiency. The perfect throwing motion (if there is such a thing, more on that in a later article) is a kinetic chain or cascade that harnesses ground force in two separate (or contralateral) directions, generates both linear and rotational force and works on both the sagittal and transverse planes of motion.

That’s a lot of stuff going on!

Now, consider that the time from decision-to-throw to release-and-deceleration takes around 1 second on average. And it all must be performed from various body positions and balance points under pressure. Finally, during a game, the quarterback can’t afford to put any active thought toward the throwing motion. They need to focus on reading defenses, choosing receivers, moving in the pocket and predicting exactly where to deliver the football for a completion.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

The second part of our “truth sentence”, is that the reps need to be performed correctly.

Here I tip my hat to Vince Lombardi, who said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Athletes should strive to perform every skill or movement pattern as efficiently as possible. This is where a good coach who fully understands the skill comes in.

That’s why I call this statement a “need-to”.

Regardless of the sport, athletes need to get enough reps with a skill or movement pattern to train their nervous system to react appropriately and efficiently. They must perform all the computations and variables of the movement and be able to react in a split second without any active thought about how to perform the skill.

The skill must become a situational reaction.

Nuggets For Greatness: The amateur athlete practices a skill until they get it right. The Pro practices until they can’t get it wrong.

This may sound daunting to some. If you’re in that boat, we need to change your mindset (another future article). As you read this, understand that it’s a nugget to help you be great. Get excited, because this is an opportunity to get better! Our bodies are amazing. They are adapting to input and stimuli all the time and we are designed to develop the skills we train in as long as we give the body enough opportunities to perfect the movement pattern.

Which leads me to my next thought.

I heard this quote for the first time from Ethan Banning, our Human Performance Director at Banning is a former teammate, a great friend, and an incredible coach. I don’t think he coined the phrase, but he lives it and has trained a bunch of great athletes.

It’s the “Want-To” Statement

The amateur athlete practices a skill until they get it right. The Pro practices until they can’t get it wrong.

This statement harnesses the knowledge of the “1000 rep athlete” and begs the question: How much do you want it?

I played professionally for 11 seasons. During that time, doing some loose math, I threw over 1 million passes in practice, workouts, and games. The most important trait I learned as I progressed from High School to the Pac-10 then on to the professional ranks was a focused work ethic. Every rep and every drill focused on making me the best, most efficient passer I could be.

Own Your “Need-To”

Just going out and throwing a million passes wouldn’t have led to success. I practiced every throw, every drop, every angle until I could perform it under pressure, in a split second with the game on the line. During workouts and drills I thought about foot placement, angles, release points and everything else I had to perfect to own the skill. That way I didn’t have to think about those things in the moment of truth. My body and nervous system performed how it was trained even when I was under stress. My goal with every rep was to improve and perfect my craft. I was never satisfied with just getting it right. I needed my skills to be bullet-proof under any circumstance.

By understanding the “need-to” and providing the “want-to” I was able to earn the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Cal. I won 2 college bowl games, earned an 11-year pro career and won a world championship. Utilize these concepts and you can maximize your athletic potential too.

At all our coaches are “High-Functioning” athletes and coaches. With World Championships, Gold Medals, National Championships and Hall of Fame inductions to prove it. They understand the skills, techniques and tools for their sport and know how to compete at the highest level. They can help you navigate the roadblocks and hurdles that hold young athletes from reaching their goals and teach you how to succeed. If you want to be a “High-Functioning” athlete, we can help you get there.

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