For legendary trainer Tim Grover, who's worked with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade, there are three kinds of people in the world: “Coolers,” “Closers,” and “Cleaners.” Assuming you're up to the task, Grover highly recommends becoming a Cleaner, which is the ultimate path to success and exceeding even your wildest ambitions. Of course, being a Cleaner is no walk in the park. The approach requires one to attack goals with an unstoppable desire, act decisively upon instinct and embrace rather than deny your dark side. It is intense, exhausting and often alienating. But Grover swears by the results, and his clients' track record is the proof in the pudding.
Grover shares the secrets to becoming a Cleaner in his new book, “Relentless: From Good To Great To Unstoppable.” We spoke at length with Grover last week about his unique approach, Kobe, MJ, and the mindset of ruthlessly competitive athletes. (It should be noted the interview was conducted before Kobe's season ending Achilles injury. For some perspective from Grover on Bryant's situation, check out this column from ESPNLA.com's Ramona Shelburne.)
Kamenetzky Brothers: How would you explain the concept of being a Cleaner?
Tim Grover: A Cleaner is an individual that sets the standards for excellence. It's not just in basketball. It's not just in sports. It's whatever aspect of life you do. Bus driver. Radio host. CEO of a company. They're doing what they do. It's not about the money. It's not about an ego trip. it's about the end result and trying to be and achieving the best results that you can possibly in whatever you decide to do with it.
It's pretty much a one-track mind focused in on one thing and one thing only. You can't be a Cleaner in multiple things. You have to find that one thing, because when you do that, there are a lot of other things that are going to have to take a backseat. A Cleaner is an individual, they know exactly who they are. They're not trying to be somebody that the media's trying to make them. They're not worrying about trying to make friends with different individuals.
They just push themselves when everybody else has stopped. A Cleaner constantly keeps pushing himself, pushing himself, pushing himself, to try to attain that goal that he set for himself.
Kamenetzky Brothers: How difficult is it to turn on and off that mindset?
Tim Grover: It's extremely difficult, because you basically have to be able to control both sides. The more things that you have to control, the harder it is as an individual. But they take that control and use it to put themselves in the zone and when you're in the zone, nothing else really matters. Zone is all about instincts. It's not about how you feel. It's not about how you think. It's completely the opposite. There is no feeling. There is no thinking. When the person goes from one individual to what I call “the zone state,” they're not worrying about anything else at that particular time. They're not even thinking about it.”
Kamenetzky Brothers: The book examines how players react differently to external pressures and obstacles. You mentioned how Gilbert Arenas changed his personality after the gun incident and Tiger Woods publicly apologized after his scandal, and yet both still struggled. Conversely, Kobe blocked out his legal situation in Colorado and played some of the best basketball of his career. Why is he able to do this while others can't?
Tim Grover: Because Kobe and Michael had the ability not to think of external things. When they stepped between the lines, it was like, “This is my safe haven. No one can touch me here. Nothing's gonna happen. All that other stuff, once the whistle is blowing and I step across that line again, it's still gonna be there, so I can't let the other stuff affect me and the end result of what I do. I'm focused in on thing. I play basketball. This is what I do. I can't let that other stuff distract me from doing this.”
It's the ability to shut it all down, not from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint.
Kamenetzky Brothers: You mentioned that commonality between Kobe and Jordan, and Kobe's obviously spent his entire career being compared to him. From your experience, in what ways are they actually different?
Tim Grover: The biggest difference is Kobe wants to know why we're doing certain things. He wants to know the reason for it, why, what's happening, and so forth. Michael said, “Just get it done. I'm playing basketball. This is what I do. This is what you do. I don't need to know. I'm not interested in any of this stuff here. This is why I hired you, so I can stay focused on what I need to do.”
Kobe wants to more of the details. Why am I eating this? Why am I doing this at this particular time? What is going on here? Here's very attuned to this stuff.
But I think the thing they both have in common, and the reason I call them both Cleaners, when a Cleaner screws up, he admits it. He says, “Hey, I screwed up!” I try to tell people, if you mess something up, just say, “Hey, I messed up or I effed up.” That's the end of the conversation. If you try to go into this long thing about explaining things, now you're starting to show a sign of weakness. You just own up to your mistakes.
Kamenetzky Brothers: How has that intellectual curiosity allowed Kobe to stay at this level over time?
Tim Grover: What he's been doing right now, it's more mental than physical. He's conditioned to go out and play 48 minutes of basketball. That hasn't changed since he came into the league. But from a mental standpoint, to be able to adjust to what the body at 34 can no longer do what he used to do at 24, that's where the difference is. That's how the elite in whatever they do [succeed]. The physical is going to decline as you get older, but the mental part doesn't. It can actually stay at that level or even become sharper up to a certain age. And that's what he's continued to evolve on over the years and that's allowing him to physically do what he's trying to do.
Everyone tries to get in physical shape first, but if you're not in top mental shape, the physical shape is always going to suffer. The mind controls the body. The body does not control the mind.
Kamenetzky Brothers: There's an interesting part of the book where you note how a Cleaner will never quit, but knows when it's the right time to change directions. Kobe's talked openly about possibly retiring next season or soon after. He obviously could keep playing much longer if desired, but there are specific standards he's set for himself as a player and specific parameters for his career. Because he knows just how much is required to meet those standards and parameters, is that what might prompt him to retire while playing at a high level?
Tim Grover: That's 100 percent right. It takes so much from a physical and mental standpoint to play at this level, at this stage in a career. Is it something you want to continue to do over and over again? Or is it time to just say, “Listen. I've done everything I can in this endeavor. Now let me change direction and go somewhere else, but have the same mindset in being relentless in whatever he's going to do next.”
Kamenetzky Brothers: The book talks a lot about the work ethic of Jordan, Kobe, and Wade. Who are some other players whose approach has impressed you?
Tim Grover: A lot of the 13 traits that we have in “Relentless,” I see in Chris Paul. I see a lot of them in James Harden. I see a lot of them in Russell Westbrook. Those are individuals that you can tell have the same drive in the way they play. The relentless pursuit. Getting on their teammates on a regular basis. They're more concerned about being feared than liked. They put in all the extra work. They're not competing with anybody. They're more out there trying to compete with themselves.
I see that with what Chris is trying to do with the Clippers. He's taking control of that situation. Russell, no matter how the media tells him he should play, he's out there, “Hey, this is how I do it. This is the way I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna challenge myself mentally.” James said, “I'm great in (Oklahoma City), or I know I can go somewhere else and everybody will get to see what my talent is. Am I willing to leave a championship team, a contender, to go somewhere to see if I can build something up on my own?”
Those are the relentless challenges of cleaners who want that challenge, who want that pressure to go to that next level and keep going.
Kamenetzky Brothers: The book mentions how Wade consciously held back his game in 2012 to get the most of LeBron James and for the sake of the bigger picture. He also recently told USA Today he knows he's still a top 5 player and could put up bigger numbers if he cared. How rare is such a concession for a Cleaner?
Tim Grover: You don't have to be the top player on a team to be the Cleaner of the team. You just have to be able to produce in all situations. Dwyane, in order to get that second championship and get the most out of (James), knew he had to pull back a bit and let LeBron take this pressure on and take this team where he wasn't able to in the Cleveland situation. Dwyane knew if he was able to do this, the end result is going to be obtainable, which is a championship. And that's all that matters to a cleaner. It is the end result.
Kamenetzky Brothers: But at the same time, you talk about how cleaners typically are reluctant to let situations be taken out of their hands.
Tim Grover: He would have not relinquished it if he had known he didn't do his job and had put LeBron in the correct situation from the year before and gone through that growing process. You're not going to relinquish that control unless you know you've done your job and you're ready. It's like a father turning something over to his son, but just staying close by, just in case. And now what this is done is allowed LeBron to really flourish. I don't see him not being a four-time MVP of the regular season. But in order for LeBron to make that next stage, where I call “the Cleaner mode,” it's not about the skills. We know his skills are off the charts. It's more about that mental state. If he can take this Miami Heat team and lead them to the championship again, he will definitely move into that next category.
Kamenetzky Brothers: What's the key to leading as a Cleaner, given how much self-interest drives them?
Tim Grover: The hardest thing is to juggle those different personalities. We talk about this in the book, what I call “The 6'9″ Rule.” When you have individuals that are taller than 6'9″, they react differently to how you motivate them and how they're wired upstairs. To me, those are not the individuals you can get into their face and yell at them. It's all positive reinforcement. Pats on the back. Hugs. High fives. It's that kind of thing. If you look at the two stars of the Lakers, the big men, Pau [Gasol] is wired differently. He does a lot of reading. He does a lot of philosophy stuff. He's into different cultures and will travel. He's very soft-spoken. Those types of individuals need positive reinforcement. Dwight [Howard], on the other hand, he likes to goof around and have fun, talking to people in the crowd and so forth.
When you go to those people, it's all about, “You've done a great job.” If they do something wrong, it's like, “Hey, listen. That's okay. Why don't you try it this way?” If they let too many people set shop in their heads, where they're constantly telling them “This is how you should play,” “This is how you should shoot the ball,” “This is how you should do it,” that's where things start to go haywire.
Kamenetzky Brothers: How much has Kobe grown as a leader in this regard? He's gotten better about positive reinforcement with Pau, but he'll also use phrases like “white swan,” “Bambi legs,” or “big boy pants.”
Tim Grover: He's gotten much better, but a Cleaner, the majority of the time, they're always gonna revert back to who he is and say the first thing that comes to his mind. It's going to be very short. It's usually gonna be very harsh. But that's the way they really know how to get their point across. And that's their natural instinct, so they always have to catch themselves for a split second. He's gotten much better. [Last week's game against Portland] was a great example. Normally, you see Kobe, when he had a first half like that, he's trying to go out and get 50, 60, 70 points. But in his press conference afterward, he said,” In the second half, I wanted to make a conscious effort of getting my big man involved in there, because I know if I don't, they end up standing around, just watching me.”
That's the evolution of starting to think, “I need these guys, not only to get to the playoffs, but to go far into the playoffs. I gotta keep them engaged.”