It’s All About Control

Peak performance happens in the present when you are unburdened by your thinking side of your brain and the performance just flows out of you. Where we often get caught during our performance is thinking about things that we can control, and things we think we can control but can’t. Every performance has aspects of it that we cannot control: the opponent, the weather, the crowd, the referee’s judgement, that annoying red sweater that guy is wearing in Row 3. We let our minds dwell on these things and allow them to distract and irritate us. But when we’re distracted, we’re taken out of the present, out of the moment when the performance is taking place and our performance drops.

The athletes who can separate the things that are within their control from those that are out of their control and focus on just those things they can control perform much much better. The “out of control” stuff can be thought of as the stuff that “just is”. Your opponent isn’t a jerk, he just is. You getting annoyed by him makes him into a jerk and then you try to teach him a lesson, control him, by getting angry, you try to blow him off the field or the court  and get out of your game. You overhit, lose your ability to feel the ball and get out of the flow of the game because you’re focused on teaching this guy a lesson. Some players are gifted in getting into your head, tweaking you just enough to take you out of your game.

When you reduce the things you can control to a small number, your brain is less easily overwhelmed, the challenge of the match is reasonable and your best performance is more likely to emerge. Things like having your equipment perfectly ready to go: new laces, grips, strings as well as the other extra gear you may need for the match, this is all under your control. Your practice before the match is up to you as well: how you prepare your fundamentals, take care of injuries, hydrate, how and when you eat are all under your control. Your strategy, how you plan to play this particular opponent rather than winging it, just seeing how it goes for the first few games. Doing all this cognitive analysis and thinking before the match allows your thinking brain to sit back and your physical body to step up and just play.

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