As a father of three, I am quickly realizing how little I control, whether it is a sick child or a little girl’s random desire to pull my eyelashes. Sports are no different, you cannot change the weather, the fans, and even your teammates or coaches.
Thankfully, there are a few things you can control, and such aspects will inevitably lead to success. And by success, I am referring to John Wooden’s description, “a peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming”.
So what can you control?
Graham Betchart, an excellent sports psychologist, explained to our staff that you can mainly control 3 things; your effort, your focus, and your response.
Effort is probably the easiest, it’s basically mental toughness. Can you work harder than your opponent? Or at least your own previous efforts? As we previously discussed (see Sparta Point 3/29/11), this effort is mostly linked to your mind; your motivation to work hard and your perception of fatigue, rather than just physical conditioning.
Our coaches look at the second component, focus, as awareness, the ability to be conscious on every repetition of just 1 or 2 important cues. These cues range dramatically from the mechanics of a movement to the tempo itself. For example, our high school athletes must first understand the proper progression of a new movement to make small changes in the middle of execution. As this younger athlete grows, the cue might progress. One of our major league pitchers uses the term “4th gear” to avoid that 5th gear, or excessive effort that does nothing to enhance his performance, and usually results in more inconsistency.
As athletes grow older in experience, improvements become so much more difficult, you basically just hope to hold onto the masterpiece you have created. So how you respond to your performance on a daily basis is a critical part of maintaining your abilities because that personal record will no longer come every day. Will you let your frustrations from your last missed free throw affect your next shot? Or how long will that offsides penalty cloud your focus?
In sports, and in life…
You need to recognize all 3 aspects of what you can control to be successful, but also to happily survive a long, athletic career. You will have cold games, angry coaches, jealous teammates, and soreness frequently in your sport, as well as life in general.
A couple years back, an All-Star pro athlete pulled me aside on his first day to tell me, “Phil, I would much rather stay the exact same than get any better.” I love that confidence, but also appreciate the awareness that he has attained his peak and now he just seeks to prolong it by controlling only what he can…himself.