John Underwood, director of American Athlete Institute, talks to a group of co-captains and team leaders during a presentation at the Steamboat Springs High School Monday afternoon.

Photo by John F. Russell

John Underwood, director of American Athlete Institute, talks to a group of co-captains and team leaders during a presentation at the Steamboat Springs High School Monday afternoon.

High school leaders get a lesson on 'How to be a Better Athlete'

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— Sit in a room for an hour with John Underwood and you are bound to hear words like commitment, effort, energy and success.

But Underwood, a former Olympian and coach, won’t let you forget that things like commitment, effort, energy and success aren’t given. They are earned in the world of sports.

More than 20 Steamboat Springs High School student-athletes sat in on Underwood’s hour-long lecture entitled, “How to be a Better Athlete.” The athletes were handpicked as captains and leaders on their respective Sailors teams.

To secure Underwood during his busy speaking schedule, Grand Futures in Steamboat used a grant from the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and donations from the high school’s parent information committee to fund Underwood's visit.

As the director of the American Athlete Institute, Underwood has spent the last 14 years on a human performance project. In support of the effort, he spends his time analyzing, studying and speaking about what he considers “overlooked” aspects that keep athletes from reaching their full abilities.

Some overlooked training tools include sleep, diet, workout recovery and lifestyle choices. Underwood says ignoring these factors can kill any chances of achieving elite athleticism.

There are three parts to training, Underwood said — stress, adapting and recovery. As he explained, it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of commitment for an athlete to reach his or her potential and goals.

For a man who spent his career working with Olympians and professional athletes, he hopes his message will resonate with the younger generation as well.

“For me, I just want to help these athletes,” Underwood said. “Sometimes, I think I’d rather help the athletes on the young end. Once you reach an elite level, you’re talking to people who have been doing it their way for so long. You wonder how it’s going to change.”

For Sailors basketball player Robi Powers, Underwood’s perspective hit home. Aside from physical things holding athletes back, such as drug and alcohol use or proper dieting, emotional factors are sometimes half the battle.

“Our team last year, I think in some of the big games we played we were nervous, with like Palisade and those guys,” Powers said. “This year, we should (say) we’re just as good as them. We should beat them.”

Underwood’s studies go beyond what athletes should and shouldn’t put in their bodies. The roughly two dozen student-athletes in the room Monday afternoon saw slides of damage the body incurs when poor training and unhealthy lifestyle habits are adopted.

And it’s the “little things that make big things happen,” Underwood said.

Speaking to a few prep skiers in the crowd, he gave an example of an Olympic ski race won by fractions of a second. The difference, he said, is training, and above all else, caring about the sport, too.

“It’s not about winning stuff,” Underwood said. “The most important prize is figuring out how to live a good life.”

Aside from the athletes, Underwood hopes his longer talk Monday night at the high school auditorium gave parents a new perspective as well.

“They have a huge investment in their kids’ careers between ski passes and trainers and nutrition,” Underwood said about local parents. “They’re trying to cover these areas, but they are leaving other things totally undone. You get to do this once; do it the best way possible.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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