Finish Strong!

As a coach, one of my favorite things to tell athletes is "finish strong!" This phrase might not seem very special, but it has deeper meaning than you think. What does it mean to "finish strong?" It simply means to try your best towards the end of a drill, practice, or game. But doesn't this phrase imply that an athlete isn't giving their best effort in the beginning? Wouldn't it be better to motivate an athlete to try their best all the time, and not just towards the end of a workout/game? In some cases, yes it would be better to do this, but in other cases it wouldn't. Let me explain.

They may not like to admit this, but most athletes don't give their absolute best effort for the entire duration of a practice or game. This is pretty normal. It's called pacing. Athletes, whether consciously or unconsciously, save some of their energy so it lasts for the end of the game. For most of the game, they may only give 80-90% effort. They may even pick their spots to "take plays off" and give even less effort in order to conserve energy. They do this not necessarily because they are lazy. They do this mainly because they don't want to run out of energy and "hit the wall" before the game is over. 

This strategy can be smart because even if you give 100% effort for most of the game, if you completely run out of energy with 5 minutes left in the game, your opponent may be able to make a big run without you being able to stop them. Compared to this, it's usually better to conserve some energy to make it last for the entire game.

The issue with conserving energy is that what if you leave gas left in your tank? Then you'd probably lose if your opponent gave more effort without hitting the wall early. This is why finishing strong is so important. By telling athletes to finish strong, you are basically saying "OK, you've conserved enough energy. Now it's time to give 100% effort until the game is over! Don't worry about hitting the wall. You'll be fine!" It is a great way to improve your performance by improving your pacing and making sure you give the most amount of effort without hitting the wall early.

But you may say, why don't you just give 100% effort all the time? Matt Fitzgerald, in his book, How Bad do you Want it, says this can technically only be done in short sprinting events. The human mind can't tolerate the amount effort needed to reach physical limits for much longer than this. For sports that have events that last over an hour, athletes conserve energy, even if they don't think they do. 

However, this does not mean that you can't give great effort for an entire game. There are many mentally tough athletes that give close to 95% effort for most of the game and finish by giving truly 100% effort. But this doesn't happen much. To do this, you have to be extremely motivated. Examples of this happening are in Super Bowls when the stakes are so high and there's no games left to worry about afterwards. In these types of games, telling an athlete to "finish strong" wouldn't be as helpful, since they wouldn't be as worried about pacing themselves. But for normal games and practices, telling athletes to finish strong can be very helpful.

But in order to maximize its effectiveness, you need to know when to tell athletes to finish strong. You don't want to say it too early, when they think they still need to conserve energy. And you don't want to say it too late because this can cause athletes to finish with gas still left in their tank. The perfect time depends on many factors, including the sport and the athlete. It helps to put yourself inside the head of your players. It also helps a lot to ask for feedback. Ask your players how they're feeling. Ask them if they think it's the right time to go all out or not. In general, around the start of the 4th quarter is a good time to say it. Sometimes it's better before this mark, sometimes it's better after this mark. Many football teams, after the 3rd quarter ends, raise four fingers in the air, which is basically the same thing as telling yourself to finish strong. With practice, you'll get a better feel for using this mental tip.