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Sixth article in Dan BC's series on training for peak performance, extracted from his much-loved book, Above All Else…
Performing your best is the primary goal of most great athletes. Few things are more rewarding than training hard all year long for the big meet, raising your abilities to a level you had only dreamt of and actually delivering your best performance in competition.
As the clock runs out on a Formation Skydiving competition jump we know immediately if we just did our best. We don’t yet know the score but we absolutely know that we just tore up that jump. When tracking away from my team at the end of a great jump like that, I can actually hear myself in my helmet say to the other teams, “Beat that!”
I can actually hear myself in my helmet say to the other teams, “Beat that!
I knew that was our best flying and I was daring any other team to beat it. If they could beat us on that jump I’d hang the medals on them myself… Well, more than once, they did. But being outscored on the jump didn’t take away from how great our jump was. We were disappointed in the outcome, but couldn’t help but be happy with our performance. How could we not? We did the best we could do. If you do your best in competition but are beaten by a better team you still walk away proud of your performance. You may be disappointed by the outcome, it’s always preferable to win rather than lose. If you do the best you can do, but are still beaten by a better team, it is okay.
If you do your best in competition but are beaten by a better team you still walk away proud of your performance
There were a few meets when my team fell short of delivering our best performance. The jumps were okay, nothing terrible, but we didn’t track off with that “beat that” feeling. Our performance was average. But we won. We didn’t quite do our best, but we were the best. We were far enough ahead of the competition that even an average performance was good enough to defeat all comers. We had trained well and brought our best performance to a level no other team could match. We were victorious in our battle against the competition, but the victory was less rewarding than it could have been. We came up short in the battle against ourselves, the personal challenge to do our best at the meet. Looking back on it, doing our best was more fulfilling than being the best.
doing our best was more fulfilling than being the best.
But doing either one on its own is no comparison to doing both, especially when the race is tight and the heat is on. For competitive athletes there is no greater moment than doing your best when you have to, and having your best be the best. That is a sweet victory against the competition and ourselves. To be able to do deliver our best when it counts we need to know three things:
Though often perceived as a mystical gift that only the most exceptional athletes possess, the ability to deliver your best performance in competition is a trained skill. This is the same skill for intermediate competitors as it is for world class teams. The mental and emotional process you use to perform at your best level doesn’t change as your best changes. If you want to have this ability when you get to the meet, you need to begin practicing this skill from the beginning of your training.
The mistake many teams make is that they don’t learn the skill of performing at their best from the beginning. They wait until their best is at a level they are proud to display (usually just before the big meet) and then hope it actually happens. There is no “hope” in competition. You make it happen or you don’t. (Don’t waste your hopes and prayers in competitions. The powers-that-be that you’re praying to have more important issues to deal with than your performance.)
Trusting our instincts will always lead us to our best performance. But this doesn’t happen just by chance. Our instincts will only lead us to the best performance that we have trained and expect from them. A level of performance that we have proven we are capable of and have clearly defined, visualized and are confident that we will deliver.
The first step of performing our best is defining exactly what our best, our true best that we are aiming for, really is. All of us have a certain “safe performance” level. This is a level of speed, aggression and confidence where we are sure that we will not make any big mistakes. Although we perform competently and consistently here, it is certainly less than our best, and aiming to perform here will restrict us from ever reaching our best. Then there are those other times when suddenly we perform better than ever. Seemingly out of nowhere, we make moves we can’t even believe were ours. Moves that are smoother, faster and sharper than we’d ever done before. Where did it come from? It’s almost like magic.
These unexpected magical moments that happen maybe 15% of the time are usually brushed off as having just been luck. But the reality is that this is our true best. There is no magic and there is certainly no luck. We did those moves. And if we did it once we can do it every time. We just need to understand what makes those moments happen. With that knowledge, and proper training, we can learn to create our own magic anytime we want.
With that knowledge, and proper training, we can learn to create our own magic anytime we want
The next step of performing our best is turning the new best that we have defined into our average. As a general rule we spend more time in training trying to fix what’s broken rather than reinforce what’s working. We so despise and fear our weak performances that we devote a great amount of effort to analyzing the many ways there are to do something wrong. This strategy leaves us with a long list of things NOT TO do.
Fearfully trying to avoid mistakes is no strategy for learning to confidently repeat our best performance. The answer to tapping into our peak performance is within our best performances, not our weaker ones. Don’t hide from your mistakes, but don’t dwell on them either. If you did the move well once you can do it again. Get to work on repeating your best instead of avoiding your worst. This strategy leaves us with a very short list of things TO DO instead of a long list of things to avoid. Analyze those best moves.
Figure out the answers to these questions so that you can repeat the process. Aim to do the exact same move every time. Don’t attempt to do any better. Don’t accept doing any worse.
As soon as you define your true best, you must start to collect as much evidence of your best performances as possible. Copy all of those magic moments onto a BEST OF DVD. This should include any great moves or moments of excellence. Every outstanding part, no matter how brief, is still outstanding. At first your BEST OF footage will probably come in the form of short cuts of three to ten second intervals.
This is the footage you want to watch. Nothing is more powerful than watching yourself perform at your best. Besides providing a source of information for your technical analysis, it instills belief and confidence. This is not a fantasy, the evidence is in front of you. Your confidence is real and well deserved. We must completely absorb ourselves into that 15% of our best performance. If we don’t make an effort to do so, our attention will be distracted by the 85% of less than our true best.
Nothing is more powerful than watching yourself perform at your best.
When reviewing our performance, we examine all the original footage. We analyze the areas that need improvement and decide how to fix them. At that point we have benefited all we can from it and we put it away. From then on we watch only the BEST OF. Watch yourself doing your best moves and watch it a lot. Before long we forget what the bad moves looked like. We can’t even imagine them anymore and we don’t fear what we can’t imagine. There is only our best. We believe in it, we expect to do it and we deserve to.
Now that we have recognized, defined, analyzed and watched our true best we must commit to that and that only, being our performance target. Don’t attempt to do better. Don’t accept any less. We know exactly what our best is and what we do to make it happen. Do it every time, one move at a time. If you are disciplined about this process you will find that in a short time your best is now happening 30% of the time. Continue on the plan. You will soon see it 50% of the time. Continue on the plan. Suddenly it is happening 85% of the time. You realize that you are performing at that level naturally, effortlessly. This is no longer your best, it’s your average.
We know exactly what our best is and what we do to make it happen. Do it every time, one move at a time.
Suddenly, again out of nowhere, you notice that a new best has emerged. Faster, sharper, smoother moves that you are doing the other 15% of the time. This is your new true best. Recognize it, define it, analyze it, start a new “best of dvd” and begin the whole process again.
Previous Article (5): Visualization
Next Article (7): Making your Best Better
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