Why do some athletes consistently excel when the game is on the line or when the “pressures” of competition appear to be at their toughest, while under the same conditions, others perform inconsistently or are sometimes at their worst? Why do so many athletes often perform better in practice than they do in competition? And what is the one thing in sports that most often separates the winner from second place? For so many athletes, the answer to these questions is no mystery – the difference lies within the incredible 3 1/2 lbs of electrical energy, power, and potential between our ears – our mind. The goal of almost every mental training drill and peak performance skill is to strengthen and improve Composure, Concentration, and Confidence. These three ‘Cs’ of peak performance are supreme in their influence on sports related performance. Trace the root of almost every positive or negative sports performance experience and you will find one or more of these variables. But there is one other ‘C’ of peak performance that is just as important – and that is our Commitment or Drive. The great Bill Russell, one of the greatest winners in the history of all sports - winning 11 NBA Championships in 13 years - once said that “the heart of a champion has to do with the depth of our Commitment.”
Of all the accolades and sports writer’s superlatives used to describe Miami’s first NBA championship, most have focused on Dwayne Wade’s amazing will to win, drive and commitment throughout the series. He is certainly worthy of the praise. His 157 point total during the last 4 games, including his Final’s MVP clinching 36pt., 5 assist, 4 steal, 3 block championship winning performance makes him worthy. Yet, as we examine Dwayne’s career a little closer we find that the real reason behind Miami’s first NBA Championship has as much to do with his approach and commitment to his career than his NBA Final’s heroics. In just 3 short years Dwayne has increased his career scoring average from 16.1 to 27.2 pts. per game. His FT% has increased from 74.7% to 78.3%, his FG% from 46.5% to 49.5%, his steals from 1.4 to 2.0 per game, and his rebounds from 4.1 to 5.7 per game – all with only a minor increase in minutes per game played. These types of results and improvements are not the result of trips to the mall, fine dining and lazy afternoons playing X-Box. These types of improvements are the result of blood, sweat and tears in empty gyms with a serious commitment to athletic excellence and continuous improvement. As reporters, fans, NBA G.M.’s and Coaches discuss strategy, chemistry, and the development of their draft pick, this is the level of commitment that will ultimately determine the full impact that each player recently selected in the 2006 NBA Draft will have on their teams and the league.
Only winning Commitment and Motivation will bring out the best in any athlete
Without doubt, your level of commitment, often called motivation or drive, is the number #1 predictor of how far you will take your sport – from Grade School to State, National, and World Championships, Olympic Gold, or the Hall of Fame. Motivation predicts the lengths you will go to improve and excel – both physically (skills and athleticism) and mentally (mental training skills). You could be the most skilled athlete in the world, with the most gifted athleticism, possessing the most natural Peak Performance Composure, Concentration, and Confidence; and yet, without motivation, all of this means nothing. The talent would be wasted. If you do not have any desire to achieve excellence in your sport, you never will – it’s as simple as that. Motivation stems from a deep love and passion for the sport you play and a deep competitive drive. The passion is something that may develop over time or it may always have been there – from the first moment you picked up that ball, and the first time you ever stepped onto that court…there was a feeling of something deep inside you coming alive. For some athletes, it is purely the thrill of competition that makes them feel alive.
But any discussion on game time motivation levels should always involve two levels of responsibility - one level for coaches, and one for the athletes. Some coaches are world renowned for their ability to deliver the ultimate ‘pre-game talk,’ and enjoy watching their teams lock down opponents with four quarters of awe-inspiring intensity. However, the problem that many coaches face is consistency. That same set of ‘magic words’ that worked so well for one game, often will not work for another, and every coach has at times shrugged their shoulders during an extremely important game while asking, “where in the world is the intensity? I thought we prepared so well!” This is where the athletes must shoulder some responsibility.
Maintaining Commitment Levels
The following 3 ‘quick’ tips will help any coach or athlete maintain a fierce level of intensity and high motivation level regardless of whether the setting is a 6am practice, or the biggest game of the year.
1. Inspire the Athlete with a vision:
The great essayist Jean La Fontaine wrote “whenever the heart is captured, impossibilities vanish,” and in few arenas is this more true than in the athletic arena. Athletes want to know and need to know exactly what they should shoot for. As a coach, don’t just ask the athlete to lead – tell them exactly how you want them to lead (on-court? off-court? Vocally? By Action? By teaching? By guiding? By inspiring others?.....Be specific!). General and non-specific direction leads to ‘general and non-specific’ results. If you are an athlete, don’t just talk about the end of year championship… inspire and challenge yourself with very specific expectations and goals that relate to the very specific role you will play in the championship drive. In what way will you contribute offensively (what particular skills will you use to contribute?). What about defensively? What is your plan of action to develop these specific skills?
2. Set more ‘Performance’ based goals than ‘Outcome’ based goals:
Performance based goals only relate to controllable behaviors vs. outcome based goals that relate to actual stats. which are not always fully controllable. For example, if an athlete sets a goal of shooting 50% from the 3pt. Line in the next game, or holding a high scoring opponent to single digits for the game, these factors at times can be affected by a great defensive or offensive performance from an opponent. Failure with statistical goals can be demoralizing and can add emotional pressure to a game or playoff series. This is not to suggest that ‘keeping score’ and setting quantifiable goals are bad things to do. On the contrary; sometimes this type of goal setting and tracking is absolutely essential. However, the majority of goals should be ‘performance’ related in such a way that they are based more on fully controllable elements i.e. intensity of defensive effort, or the quality of the ‘look’ or concentration that the athlete gave the rim before every shot. Focusing on the variables that are responsible for the 3pt. shot actually going in (vs. the outcome of the actual shot itself), can often be so much more productive while also alleviating any additional ‘pressure’ related to statistics.
3. Inject more fun into practice and games without sacrificing intensity:
As is often said of many athletes and their relationship to their coach…. “if they fear you in your presence, they will hate you in your absence.” No player ever gave 100% intensity in every game of the season to a coach they hated. Coaches and players should find creative ways to inject some fun into a practice or game. Creativity and fun in practice also has an amazing way of counteracting pressure. Pressure begins and ends in the mind of any athlete, and the physiological reaction to pressure that the body feels through muscle tension, short/shallow breathing patterns and general nervousness are nothing more than the brain affecting the body. Fun can counteract stress and the body’s physical reaction to stress in remarkable ways.
About the author and founder of the Icebox Athlete Training System:
Spencer Wood MS, BA, BS, CSCS, PES, Member AAASP, is an internationally renowned speaker and dynamic trainer of athletes and coaches in the area of Winning Mental Skills & Toughness Training, in addition to Explosive Speed, Agility & Quickness Training. As a renowned author and featured speaker at two NCAA Final Fours, and consultant to championship teams from multiple sports in the U.S., Canada and Europe, Spencer’s programs continue to impact the lives and careers of 1000’s of athletes and coaches. www.iceboxathlete.com
This article is an excerpt from the Icebox Athlete Training Pack - a Multi-CD Mental Skills & Toughness Training System for individual athletes and teams to build elite composure, concentration, confidence, intensity and leadership skills & traits. Icebox is the Preferred Mental Skills & Toughness Training Provider of the WBCA. For more information, to read about the teams and athletes who are using Icebox Mental Skills, or to order a copy, visit www.iceboxathlete.com
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