Get On My Level: Notes On Intensity

Some refer to it as passion, but I prefer to call it intensity. Passion sounds like something you’ve either got or you don’tintensity can be harnessed, tamed, and then let wild. It can grow and change from moment to moment. Like an animal’s instincts, it’s adaptive.

As an athlete, intensity is the primary driving force behind my every action, movement, and quick decision. Am I going onto the track with intent? Am I thinking frantically or with intent? Are my movements deliberate? Are my words concise? These are the type of questions I not only ask myself at practice or in gameplay, but in my daily life. 

Here are some notes on what I’ve learned about intensity, how to get it, how to use it, and how to maintain it.

1) Intensity requires control.

One of the bigger mistakes I made as a less experienced skater (and oh, there were many) was confusing intensity with rage. Sure, you might be an imposing presence on the track if you channel your actions from anger, but it doesn’t last. It clouds your thinking and causes you to make poor decisions, play sloppy, and act selfishly. This isn’t about you or your feelings, this is about your team. Channel your aggression toward assisting your teammates. Ask yourself, “Am I acting with intent, or am I acting with anger?” If the answer is the latter, reevaluate what you need to do to stay present with your team and regain control.

2) Aggressive Positivity.

This sounds like a contradiction. It isn’t. It requires asking yourself questions like: “What will I accomplish if I complain about this?” “Instead of being annoyed with my teammate, why aren’t I helping them improve?” “The energy today is really low. What can I do to uplift others?” Taking a frustration and turning it into a proactive, positive action will keep you from contributing to a problem while also empowering others. Whining or getting angry doesn’t help anyone. (I get it, we’ve all done it.) Be intensely positive. Laughing things off, letting things go, trying again, helping someone else, and taking responsibility are all effective ways of practicing aggressive positivity.

3) Do it with power.

You will never be the best in the game. And though it sounds nonsensical, keeping this in mind will make you the best player. It’s essential as a competitive athlete to recognize your shortcomings and learn to love improving on them. Think about it: the things you can’t do eventually become the things you can doif you practice them with intensity. Often when folks aren’t good at a skill, they won’t practice the skill or they’ll practice it half-hearted. They’ll only focus on how unimportant they feel the skill is rather then how they can apply it to their game. Doing just the things you’re “good” at makes it difficult to coach you and difficult for you to learn. Don’t waste your own time. No matter how boring, slow, or painful the drill is, give it your every ounce of focus and energy, do it with power. And then do it again. And then do it better.

4) Sweat it out.

We all get in our heads. We all have days where we feel we just can’t. We all have worries on our minds and it can be really difficult to be present. This is totally normal, but there are tools to combat itsuch as sweating it out. To do this is to focus so intensely on your body (how it feels, what it’s doing, etc) and the task at hand that nothing else matters. It’s a meditative approach. Think of your concerns or doubts as an illness that you can only get rid of by sweating it out. The harder you push, the better you’ll feel, so you must go your hardest until you are no longer thinking about anything else. This is best suited for endurance drills that require a great amount of physical effort but little brain power. I would advise against using this in contact drills or team drills as it could pose a safety issue. This is an individual practice for learning to stretch your personal boundaries and work at capacity through discomfort.

5) Give ’em the ol’ razzle dazzle.

Intensity doesn’t always have to be so serious. Often it’s in your willingness to fail in order to succeed, and doing so with a good attitude. Restraining yourself to keep yourself from “looking stupid” will hold you back and make you fearful. But be fearless! Try the fancy footwork even if you fall on your face. Go in for that hit on your biggest, scariest blocker even if you just bounce off. As long as you are following the rules and acting safely, be willing to try the things that might make you feel dumb at first. Have a laugh if it doesn’t work. The only thing that will look bad on you is getting angry about it or being unwilling to try in the first place.

6) Share the wealth.

Intensity and focus are contagious, and when everyone has a piece of the pie, it makes for better practices and stronger athletes and winning games. If you are someone who is naturally intense, make sure you are using that resource to help your teammates, not hurt them. For example, screaming at your teammate for messing up in a drill is certainly intense, but it’s ineffective, and helps nobody. Instead, use that intensity to enthusiastically point out the things they did well and how they could bring it to the next level. Become excited about helping each other grow, and be an advocate for constructive advice.

7) Excitement vs. Nervousness.

If you think about it, excitement and nervousness have a lot of similarities: racing heart, sweating, fast talking, darting eyes, etc. The main difference between the two is that one feels good and the other not so much. Otherwise, they give us many of the same symptoms. If you change that one factor, it is possible to shift from feelings of anxiety to excitement. While experiencing nervousness before a practice or game, think of things that get you exciteda concert about to start, the feeling before a roller coaster begins rolling, the anticipation of opening a giftand ask yourself if the sensations are really that different. Think of the situation making you nervous as that concert, or that exciting ride, or that surprise present. Something intense is about to happen, and you are ready for it!

A coach can explain a technique to you over and over, but only you can unlock your true potential by giving it your all. The key elements to successfully achieving intensity are extreme focus, fearlessness, willingness to try again, and enthusiasm. And this isn’t just about sports. You can apply these actions to your job, your education, and your relationships. Intensity is simply and beautifully the unending desire to be your absolute best self and to see others succeed alongside you. So step up your game, get on my level, and give ’em the ol’ razzle dazzle.