Peak performance is something we all desire, yet attain far less often. So many factors can interrupt our focus, or get us upset – whether they be a bad call from a referee or an injury that is distracting. Any number of variables involving coaches, field conditions, weather, etc. often factor into the performance of both individuals and teams.
There are 3 Components to Peak Performance that only we control. These involve our preparation, the effort we give to any assignment, and the attitude we bring to the practice or game. How can we set ourselves up for success consistently? Consider each of these:
We practice before every competition. Sometimes we practice with a clear purpose and a sharp focus on “how” our preparation will be tested in competition. We can watch film, review play books, devour scouting reports, engage in repetitive actions so as to enhance our “muscle memory” of a move we want to use against our opponent. We can practice in inclement weather, use loudspeakers to mimic “crowd noise”, take notes on key elements we want to incorporate in the game, and talk over scenarios with our coaches and teammates to make sure we are all on the same page. Preparation requires time, study, and an organized plan to make sure that we do an effective job considering every likely scenario in competition. Preparation comes when we are motivated and care to bring our best and enjoy “showing” our opponent what we can do. Preparation lets us feel as if we “deserve” to win because we did our homework. It is gratifying in significant ways when we employ the preparations we engaged in during competition. We can’t win a game by preparing well, but we sure can lose one when we fail to prepare. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach would often say, ”Failing to prepare is the same as preparing to fail.”
How diligent we are in attacking our challenges is reflected in our effort, before during and after competition. Training to run 5 minute miles in an Olympic Trials Marathon is hard work. Dedication to work through discomfort and develop techniques and strategies to successfully manage that pain is what champions do. Jerry Lynch in his book The Way of the Champion frankly states that “Champions do what others are unwilling to do.” Success is not a sometime thing, we must train to win and train to succeed. Effort is required. Some athletes fake their effort during windsprints at the end of practice. They look like they are trying hard, so maybe they will fool their coach they’re trying hard. At the end of the 4th period of a hard fought football game that lack of conditioning often determines who wins and who loses. The fittest team ends up on top far more often. Giving a 100% effort all the time guarantees that we are doing our part to develop not only fitness, but the mental toughness that enables one to overcome adversity, to push when we want to stop, to fight off the cave reflex because that’s who we are. Muhammad Ali eloquently stated, ”The fight is won or lost far away from the view of witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Any high-performing individual would do well if they consciously manage their attitude. It all starts with attitude. Attitude because that’s the thing that impacts both preparation and effort level. Motivation may or may not be clearly apparent. Some days we are more highly motivated than others. So what sort of attitude tends to breed the kind of consistency, persistence, effort and motivation that makes champions?
A great attitude enables the acquisition of a “growth mindset.” Mindset- it’s like a set point for the way we think and assess where we are, how we are and what we’re doing. A growth mindset implies that we’re constantly growing, we’re accepting and attentive to change. That we are evolving and we must be ready, willing and able to address those things that challenge us (both within us and outside us) and take them in stride. Change is accompanied by fear without exception. Those things that are new, feature uncertainty or cause outright concern over our success are a part of change. Acceptance of fear and uncertainty and recognizing the things that will require us to make adjustments on the fly is perhaps the single most important ingredient to a positive mental attitude.
Knowing ourselves, testing our limits, pushing beyond our comfort zones enables us to become stronger, more focused and tough in all the right areas. An attitude that embraces this growth is priceless and no champion is without it. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us, and what lies before us – are tiny matters – compared to what lies within us.”
Dr. Stephen Walker is an award-winning sport & performance consultant whose clients have reached the Podium in world championships, the Olympics and, performed in the Kennedy Center Philharmonic, in their chosen endeavors.
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