Katie asked a great question about the elements of peak performance in a comment from an earlier post:
Imagine that you were asked to speak to your favorite college sports team about the topic of peak performance. What 3 major points would you emphasize about how to be great?
If it’s a college team, the athletes have been in their sport for over ten years. So any discussion about motivation, preparation and WHY they play the game would be simply an acknowledgement of their path to where they are now. “Well done, everyone. Now, moving forward…”
Acknowledge the athlete’s need for control. The years of preparation, the hours of practice are, in part, a way for the athlete to feel that they have control of what they do in competition. When they do, their anxiety decreases, skills become automatic and they are more likely to perform well.
Establishing that need, my three points are:
1. Control of the result is an illusion.
There are too many parameters changing on any given day to control the outcome: the opponent’s performance, the weather, the referee, etc. But the athlete CAN control their application of their plan for the match. Set an intermediate target within the scope of the game (for example, 70% first serves in play, reacting quickly to the starter’s gun, making short, crisp passes in midfield) These are ELEMENTS of an elite performance and narrowing the focus to simple pieces of the whole match allows the athlete’s brain to stay calm.
2. Trust your game.
Practice and preparation has fortified the neural paths in the athlete’s brain for all the skills necessary for competition. In the heat of competition, the athlete’s need for control engages the cognitive, thinking part of the brain. (“I’ll just ease this serve in so I don’t double fault”) Thinking interrupts the neural control and confuses the well-trained athletic brain. Intuitive play shows up when the cognitive brain is quiet. Competition is the time to trust your preparation and let your shots fly.
3. Frustration and Worry are useless.
Frustration is focusing on what has happened in the past. Worry is focusing on what could happen in the future. Both are worse than useless – they engage the cognitive brain in negative and stress-increasing thoughts that lead to over-thinking and feed the need for control. Playing the game moment to moment offers the best chance for a great performance. I realize that this is a bit zen however, the activity of a focused, present brain is much quieter than one dwelling on the past or potential future.