Perfecting The Basics: What Everyone Can Learn From Erin Matson
Erin Matson is the best field hockey player in the country.
The University of North Carolina senior has led the team to a 71-4 overall record for the past four seasons. When Matson gets the ball you know magic is about to happen. She’s the Michael Jordan of field hockey.
As a former college player and current high school coach, I love and appreciate great field hockey. So I love to watch Matson play. Watch her score this goal.
Forget Michael Jordan. She’s the Kai Lenny of field hockey.
At the height of COVID when everyone was quarantined, Matson released five short videos of simple drills for players to do at home. In each video she repeatedly stressed the importance of mastering basic skills first.
Matson explained in an interview,
“It's stuff that I do every day. ... And people make fun of me for it, but it works.”
People make fun of her for practicing the fundamentals, but that’s a big part of Matson’s success. She focused on the unglamorous basic skills you learn from the first time you touch a stick and had the discipline and understanding to work on them every single day to become a world-wide name.
There’s a lot to learn from these videos, not only about field hockey, but about what it takes to be great at anything in life.
Below is the compiled list of videos and my takeaways.
Video 1: Receptions
Receptions in field hockey aren’t sexy.
After the game, no one talks about the ball someone stopped dead in the middle of the field. Everyone talks about the goals that were scored. But without clean receptions those goals don’t happen. You can’t score if you don’t stop the ball first. So without clean receptions there is no success.
It reminds me of investing. When the neighbors found out my husband invests for a living they came to him with all their questions about the stock market and what was hot and what was going to make them a lot of money fast.
But my husband is not a day trader. He meticulously researches companies for months and obsessively follows their every move. If he skips that important step, investing becomes gambling.
Just like my husband needs to receive, absorb, and understand all the information about a company before investing in them, a player needs to stop the ball before she can do anything with it.
There are no shortcuts. Focus on the receptions first.
Video 2: Pulls
When my high school players see drills set up for pulls they groan. Boring!
They want to do lifts and spins and chips and anything with a reverse stick. But until they do basic pulls over and over and perfect them, they’ll never be able to do those other fancy moves.
In an interview, Matson emphasized:
“Just do the fundamentals as perfectly as possible… I guarantee you I do more than 100 pulls in one game. You just don’t notice it.”
We don’t notice it because on top of the pulls, Matson also does crazy impressive moves that have spectators pointing and gasping and exclaiming, “Yoooo did you just see that?!” But those moves are not possible without mastering the basic pull first.
Matson works on her pulls every single day. She doesn’t think it’s boring.
Just because something is simple to do doesn’t mean it’s easy to stay disciplined and committed. By doing pulls every day, Matson gives herself an edge over other players.
Video 3: Eliminations
When you halfway commit to something it doesn’t work.
Matson explains the key to 3-D eliminations, a skill that involves lifting the ball in the air to move past a defender:
“Start off by doing simple pulls and a lift at the end. If your pulls are too soft there won’t be enough momentum to get the ball up.”
It feels risky because you don’t want to lose control of the ball, but without the speed of a fast pull there’s no possibility of a lift.
I remember the first time I dove off the high dive at the neighborhood swim club. I was terrified. I couldn’t imagine actually allowing my head to go towards the water before my feet. So as I bent over in a diving position and stepped off the board, I tightened my whole body in a frozen forward fold and belly-flopped.
When I finally committed to the motion of my head going towards the water first I couldn’t believe how easy and painless it was to dive. But in the beginning it was scary.
Take risks and get out of your comfort zone. Go for it. What’s the worst that can happen?
Video 4: Progression
Pump the brakes.
Instead of introducing a new skill, Matson combines the first three videos and instructs viewers to choose their level and work on this progression for the next three weeks.
This is not the time to learn new tricks. This is not the time to buy new gear. This is not the time to compete. This is the time to put your nose down and do the work.
As a new online writer I want to put out top notch, quality, masterpiece essays. And I want to be recognized for them. I want followers and subscribers to really see me.
But no writer starts there. The only way to reach the top is to churn out essay after essay, week after week, for a long, long time.
As Matson reiterates,
“You need to master these skills to even be in a scoring position in a game.”
You can’t rush or skip ahead. Work on the craft. Focus on the fundamentals. Be consistent. And trust the process.
Video 5: Shooting
Now for the fun part.
This is what my high school players want to do at practice every day. Shooting means scoring. It means hearing the ball smack against the backboard of the cage and feeling satisfaction that all the hard work has paid off. When you score, you can throw a fist in the air as teammates rush over and tackle you to the ground and say, “You did it!”
Scoring is external validation. It feels like the most rewarding aspect of the game, but if you focus on just that you won’t ever become a great player.
Your internal scorecard has to be stronger than your need for external validation. If you love shooting but dread receptions, pulls, and eliminations, you won’t make it very far in field hockey.
Matson sums it up beautifully:
“Even though shooting is exciting and fun, we can’t forget about the receiving, pulls, and eliminations that we need to master to even be in those scoring situations. It all takes time and the fundamentals really matter. I can’t stress that to you guys enough.”
You have to love the entire process of whatever you do for it to be sustainable. Each piece of the puzzle is necessary to succeed.
So be like Erin Matson and perfect the basics. See what happens.