Friday, 29 August 2008

Perform well where it counts

Have you ever met some one who doesn't look like much but can whoop your arse? You know, that guy with the pot belly, doesn't look like he's exercised since 1965 and you picture him at home with the remote control slowly becoming part of his hand cos he's always watching tv. Yet this guy just has your number when it comes to the sport you love.

Why is that? How could it be?
You train every day, you work harder than every else, yu give everything to every point but when it comes to the crunch you always lose out. does this sound familiar. It does to me. When it comes to sports I'm generally great in practice, poor in competition. Yet academically I'm good at both. I grew up as the kid at the top of the class but not the football pitch. I did ok but when I got nervous, and I often did, I started to over think and play sub par.

Anyway sometimes your weakness can tell you so much about how your body works because in learning how to fix it you learn about yourself. Now, comparing the way I train and compete academically with the way I do it for sports fascinates me because in truth when I'm honest about it I do both differently. It's only recently that I've really realized quite how differently. I've had some idea of this for many years but it's only now that I'm taking the time really meditate on this that it's just now staring me in the face.

Ok, I'll get to the point. When I was young I was used to being tested like we all are and I was used to getting the answer right, but also I wasn't that bothered if I got it wrong. I've never based my self esteem on my knowledge. There are always things that I don't know and that others know better. It's part of learning to make mistakes. Yet in sports if I make a mistake I'm prone to berating myself for the mistake and getting upset. Why?

Anyhow I also noticed that I liked being tested. Now we have a little border collie pup I've realised that I'm just like her in that I need work to do or I get really, really bored. so I actually liked the testing, you know when the teacher just picks anyone for an answer, cos in my head I'd try to find the answer. I wouldn't shout it out and I'd rarely put my hand up I just needed something to do and this was a distraction. What I noticed was that the kinds who usually got the answer right did the same thing, they practiced answering questions even when they weren't being asked. So they embedded the answers and knowledge in their brains. The kids who weere at the bottom of the class didn't practice. There are loads of reasons why but essentially they just didn't put in the ground work. Well in sports I certainly put in the ground work so whydon't I improve my skills as fast as I improved my knowledge.

A couple of articles I've put up recently explain to me something that was just common sense in the class room but I never quite realised in sports:
  1. Regular quality practise is needed to train ourselves to do the right thing at the right time. I learnt to make sure I learnt only the right answers. If I remembered a wrong answer I'd be confused every time I was asked the question. My mind wouldn't know which of two or three answers to give. So I made a huge effort to be right first time. Unlearning a wrong answer is ten times as hard as taking the time to learn the right one.
  2. Fast reactions come with regular quality practice. The more I practised getting an answer, the more my body found ways to get me that answer quickly. I had to find ways to build this practise into my life so it becomes habitual.
Leading on from this I learnt that when uunder pressure I will always revert to what I do naturally. The only way to say complete an exam quickly for me is to trust myself and write down the first answer that comes into my head. No kidding. I've am super quick at exams cos I have learnt to prepare well enough that I just trust myself. If there are lots of questions, as opposed to an essay, then I just go through it pretty darn quick. If I'm certain of the answer I put it down. Then I get to the end often with plenty of time left and now I can leisurely go through the questions that didn't just come to me.

Now I'm relaxed cos I've answered say 70% of the paper and my brain is also warmed up. I find it much easier to answer the remaining 30% because the pressure is off. I'm generally certain I've now passed and that the remaining questions I answer just determine how high the grade is. Sound simple huh. Well for my alevels it pretty much was. I prepared really well and learnt to trust my answers because I tested myself rigorously before I even went into the exam.

After realising this it really becomes plain why I'm not so solid at sports. True, I've known this reason for years but I've always thought that I couldn't get any better until I found the right partner, the right club, the right training protocol blah blah blah. You see I always had excuses. Now by looking at the comparisons and being open about it I'm finding it easier to come up with practical answers that will improve my competitiveness.

Ok back to the overweight guy who whoops my arse. How does he do it? when he trains he trains on quality not quantity. He doesn't blast the ball. He tries to get the right answer for each shot every time without forciing it. time and time again he just practices the right shot and lets his body figure out how to remember it and reproduce it. He doesn't get mad at himself either. He knows some days he'll hit everything right, some he won't but over time if he focuses on quality he'll always improve. And importantly:
  • He only lets his body learn the right answer.
  • He plays against different people regularly to get used to answering the same question in different situations
  • He constantly practises coming up with the right answer
after all this he finds that under pressure, when he needs the big shot he doesn't worry whether it will come. He just trusts his training and more often than not the big shot does come. because he hits most shots well and easily gets the big shots he runs me around. So he doesn't need to be so fit. He can run if he needs to but I don't make him. My shots aren't well groved, under pressure I go for pace and miss so I give lots of cheap points away.

Even writing this article has helped me a little. It just feels even clearer now. I've watched the greats for years:
  • Roger Federrer, Nadal, Sampras, Agassi
  • Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Steve Davis
  • Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna
to name just a few. Every single one of them to my mind embody the patient methodical approach when you really analyse their game. It really makes it plain why I was told near the start of my sports science degree why they expected people with great academic ability too. I was told that those who do well at sport often do well academically and vice versa. Since then I've noticed how true that is but now I think I have put it in an article why this might be the case
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