How long can an athlete endure the humiliation of defeat in an attempt to get it right? This human, competitive nature and willingness to accept “pain” is very intriguing. And with all the stresses caused by putting it all on the line, athletes must have some very powerful tools of resolving performance issues that you can learn too.
Competing in sport is very similar to performing on a stage, especially as a stand-up comic. There are four things in common. When comics miss a joke the result is immediately evident. They have hecklers (sometimes merely imagined but not always). They require good timing (skill). And, importantly, the only way to learn how to perform is to get up there and try to fail. The more times the better.
Learning on the job
The only way to get realistic feedback is to learn on the job. Initially, comics tell jokes poorly or misread the audience and get heckled. Initially, athletes display poor skills or misread a situation or make a mistake and accept barbs from coaches, spectators or peers. Both put their honor, pride, self-esteem and man/womanhood on the line each time. There is no other sensation quite like it—when they’re on and, unfortunately, when they’re not.
“What is a grown man like me doing standing up here in front of my peers making a fool of myself?” is the question I remember asking myself when I got back into competing as a martial artist. Coupled with this self-talk was the churning stomach and sweat-soaked, adrenaline saturated body. It felt like trial by fire, something I discovered that has a name–Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). This is the opposing side to Post-Traumatic Stress, where trauma is perceived as bad. In PTG, trauma actually helps make you stronger. In sports, PTG justifies our putting ourselves in “harm’s way” with the expectation (hope) that we will eventually get that personal best, win or perfect score.
Post-traumatic growth can be transforming
“Post-traumatic growth is a process people go through in the aftermath of experiencing trauma,” said Dr. Robert Tedeschi, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte to the Command and General Staff College students and staff at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “It’s also an outcome of trauma. It’s a series of changes people experience themselves that they label as valuable, or beneficial, maybe not right away, but in the long run. Traumatic experience can be transformative in some people, putting them on a whole new life path.”
What this suggests is that people have the ability to learn from their experiences, no matter how traumatic. The quote from Friedrch Neitzsche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” comes to mind.
Losing in a sport event is traumatic; taking the flak from your friends is traumatic; being embarrassed is traumatic; wasting away at a plateau or doldrums is traumatic. Perhaps these are not on the scale of the human trauma that Dr. Tedeschi is talking about, but it is the same process, and one uses the same strategies to grow beyond it.
In essence we need a strategy that will give us perspective and help us to resolve problems, over and over, time and again. Thus, I call this strategy ‘Perspective’, and it involves reflection and self-coaching in a positive manner and allows you to evaluate your performance, no matter how bad the pain is. It has three viewpoints that help you to better accept advice from others, but especially from yourself.
Viewpoint 1. The Goal: The first viewpoint of Perspective involves knowing what YOU want. Entering a competition has nothing to do with your spouse, your friend or your competitor. Nobody exists but you. (If they do, you are in trouble.) Ask yourself what is reasonable and go for it. I mean GO FOR IT.
Viewpoint 2. Coach’s view: The second viewpoint of Perspective is to KNOW what a coach might tell you. Here you gain his/her point of view by imagining stepping into the coach’s shoes. The “stepping” process tricks the brain into taking on the coach’s viewpoint and his/her way of thinking. The quality of information can be spectacular, usually instantaneous. It imitates how we learn from others naturally.
Viewpoint 3. Spectator’s view: The third viewpoint is the bird’s eye view that the spectator sees. You can stand back, disassociate from emotions of the problem and view your performance with new eyes so you notice what is possible. You can watch yourself engaging in your game. And you can apply what you learned in Viewpoint 2 and immediately see how your goal is more of a possibility.
Change in performance can happen quickly
Perspective can result in changes to your performance in a short period of time. It is a loop—Viewpoint 1 tells you that you are (or are not) achieving what you want. Viewpoint 2 gives you some advice. Viewpoint 3 gives you the bird’s-eye view to implement that advice. This loop corkscrews upward—trauma turned to growth. Lose or win, Perspective helps you to figure out your game and allows you to grow in your ability to perform. When it becomes automatic, athletes move to a whole new level of playing.
So, whether you are getting people to laugh as a stand up comic, or getting them to stop laughing as an athlete, you need to understand the potential for growth from the pain. To quote Dr. Tedeschi again, “It’s not the trauma that changes people, it’s the struggle.” In the world of competitive sport, we all need to embrace PTG in our quest to “Own the Zone”.
Reference: Dr. Robert Tedeschi, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte to the Command and General Staff College students and staff about “Post Traumatic Growth and Combat: Seeing possibilities for growth and ways of promoting it” in the Lewis and Clark Center’s Eisenhower Auditorium, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
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