Athletes get tripped up in their games in ways that can be predicted and prevented in the first place. Bob Palmer gives you three simple approaches to prevent the preventable and tackle the unpredictable. So what can you do when your game falters? A lot if you are prepared and anticipate the types of problems that might occur.
One of the exciting parts of my job is to work with high-performance athletes in what I call tune-ups for upcoming events. To give you some idea of what I’m talking about, I’ve provided three examples, each based on a composite of several athletes—a young athlete in the target sports, a football player and a surfer. I’ve written these as fictional cases, as the problems occur across the board in these and other sports. The purpose therefore is to demonstrate how to anticipate and circumvent problems that could prevent you from winning.
CIRCUMVENTING THE SPORT PROBLEM
Case 1: Intimidation
The young athlete in the target sports was facing fully grown men whose careers were on the line against this pretender to their throne. To prepare, he anticipated all manner of scenarios of intimidation, from outrageous to subtle, then played out various solutions in visualizations and practice, until his Zone felt untouchable. It turned out that a sense of humor helped a lot, as the attempts to intimidate him were remarkably awkward and funny, almost exactly as predicted.
Case 2: Collapsing under pressure
A football player survived another kind of dilemma. He knew his teammates had a tendency to collapse under the pressure of superior opponents, so he nailed down every type of scenario he expected to face, such as getting behind early in the game and motivating his teammates to claw their way back. It played out pretty much as he had practiced, and they had an exceptional finish to the game.
Case 3: Less than ideal conditions
A surfer’s dilemma was based on his being wild and crazy on dynamic and powerful waves. But as the show must always go on, on some days the waves are unstable and hardly support the rider. As much as he hated these kinds of days, he found that by increasing his adrenaline and imagining riding those waves for “epic” marks, he felt he could milk any wave for high marks. And, as his objective was to beat his opponents and not the waves, it totally changed his perspective.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PREPARATION
Preparation, as described in these three cases, is important as you are making the “unexpected” normal in your sport. Here are three ways you can make it happen:
1) Create practice scenarios.
2) Create and solve problem scenarios in visualizations.
3) Understand the Zone and use it to recover in mid-competition.
1) Problem Scenarios
Set up a competition simulation where you create a problem—such as a flat tire in a triathlon—and fix it with speed and good humor. You can also set up all manner of dilemmas such as training hungry or tired. The key is to force yourself to learn to overcome any adversity easily, in the Zone. One martial arts instructor had his students fight with a marble taped to the bottom of one foot to simulate an injury. Simulations are potentially unlimited; be creative.
We normally use visualizations to ensure the feeling of success—in the game and on the podium. But you can also use visualization for dealing with problems. Pick the top five problems you could face in your event and visualize yourself overcoming them. You can learn to deal with anything from a strong headwind to poor refereeing, intimidating competitors to long delays—all in your mind, all with the Zone and adrenaline.
3) When in doubt, go to the Zone
The Zone is a wonderful, game-changing, non-thinking state of mind. For the vast majority of us, it can be described as a mere moment of brilliance. Each “mere” moment of brilliance is identifiable by a specific feeling. And if you can identify this very specific feeling, your Zone is available to you on demand, simply by getting the feeling. Initially it seems too good to be true and takes some trust that it will work, but once you experience and re-experience your Zone, you’ll be addicted to the power it gives you.
In golf, for example, many people start thinking and tinkering with technique when their game goes south, and then the downward spiral begins in earnest. Simply by shifting to the FEEL you have identified with your Zone (as derived from past moments of brilliance), you can dramatically bring your game back from the brink.
In sum, most of your reactions to problems in your game need to be rehearsed many times over before you compete, either by simulations or visualizations. And when you do, recovery can be instinctive and enjoyable and… pre-programmed. And if you still falter, as the unpredictable will happen, you’ll need to use the most important and powerful state of mind you can ever achieve—the Zone. Preparation is useful; the Zone is everything. And when done properly, there will be few surprises to hold you back.