Performance Myths - is there another way?
Myth 1 – Great performances can be summoned on command
Watching some of the best in the world, from musicians to athletes, it sometimes looks as though they are playing unbelievably well all the time. This perception can come from our already ingrained bias, which will unconsciously ignore errors and only see actions which fit our belief that ‘they are world class’ (confirmation bias). What might in fact be happening is a B+ performance across all aspects of the discipline being performed.
Nonetheless, forcing a ‘great performance’ can distract us from being in the moment and from responding to task and game-relevant cues. Perhaps it might be worth reconsidering what a great performance is – e.g. part of a great performance is responding quickly to errors – allowing us to accept perfection won’t happen and freeing us up to just be in the moment. It is in this place, having applied the right effort in training, that great things can happen.
Myth 2 – Only years of training can bring about high performance
Experience and volume are undoubtedly vital. At the same time however, it is the nature of the work which contributes to performance. We might see a teammate work for hours, or leave the office or the training park last, but does this mean they are working harder or better? Maybe…but perhaps not…perhaps it comes from a lack of trust in themselves.
Certain skills may require volume, whereas other skills are constrained to less volume because of the chance of injury. Understand the needs of each skill, how you want to train it, and what that then looks like on a weekly basis. A meaningful 10-minutes may well be better than a through-the-motions 30-minutes (which could in fact blunt the skill).
Myth 3 – Total effort Is required all the time
There is a difference between total effort and best effort. To use running as a metaphor, if we give total effort at the start of a marathon, we will almost certainly bonk. If, however we use best effort, which means applying the required mental and physical effort to match the task at hand, we will likely pace ourselves according to our planned finish time.
Through practice and also experience, you will find your optimal levels of effort and avoid ‘trying too hard’. No doubt experienced front row forwards in Rugby Union understand this point a well as anyone. Physically, this allows you to use energy more efficiently; mentally, this will prevent ‘paralysis by analysis’, which can start the chain of events to a worse performance and even choking under pressure. Sometimes ‘the less I care, the better I fair’.
Myth 4 – World Class people know exactly how they do it
You often hear players say, ‘I don’t know what I did, I just did it’. There are potentially two factors at play here:
1. Skills have been learned and trained within the context of the game and NOT in an isolated, step by step, ‘what to do’ way. As a result, players have learned ‘how to do’ it implicitly, and so find it harder to describe. Learning skills this way also helps prevent choking!
2. The player was experiencing ‘flow’ or was ‘in the zone’. This normally comes about when a player’s focus is in the moment and the player truly perceives his skill level and general ability to be equal to, or slightly higher than, the task(s) at hand.
Train your skills with as much game context as possible, focusing on how they can be useful and effective in the task. Also look to add challenge on a frequent basis, challenge which might exceed your perceived ability sometimes. This stretches your skills, strengthens your belief in them, and gives you a strong chance of experiencing flow in games.
Myth 5 – Peak Performance Is Easily Duplicated
If you have a great performance, it can be easy to think ‘well I’ll just try and do exactly the same things again and it’ll happen’. Flow and high performance are temperamental, and the more control we try to place on it, sometimes the less chance there is of it happening.
What you can do is be consistent in how you prepare in order to give yourself the best chance of putting together back-to-back performances. It doesn’t guarantee it however, and maybe letting go of this assumption could be the key to freeing you up.
Reflect on what the zone is all about FOR YOU, read and understand the sign-posts, then create your road map and trust that process as best you can.
Myth 6 – You Can Never Be Too Motivated
Believe it or not, it can be possible to be over-motivated for something. Over-motivation can provide you with periods of high energy, high output and feelings of euphoria too! However, this can also lead to slumps in motivation as this is simply not sustainable.
Understand what motivates you and whether you are motivated by more intrinsic factors (e.g. self-improvement) or extrinsic factors (e.g. status). You may be high in both too! Understanding this will help you what level of motivation will drive you consistently.
Useful tip: motivation is a feeling which can come and go. Being a feeling, it is based on emotion, which is controlled by the limbic system that responds to our moods. Commitment is a choice controlled by our frontal lobe, which can function independent of our moods.
Myth 7 – World Class performance always comes from a strict and clear plan
Like many things, this may depend on the individual. Some prefer clear structure, some prefer none at all. Perhaps the answer is somewhere in that grey area. How many meetings do we sit in where there is some debate as to whether we should attack with or without structure? Are the best performances born of practice or spontaneity?
Structure is potentially necessary for certain people and for certain situations. However, the pictures seen in games are constantly changing, are never exactly the same and are normally not self-determined (i.e. we don’t decide how the opposition attack will work). So training with variety, chaos and learning how to ‘ride the spontaneity wave’ and respond quickly when it crashes, can prepare us better than clear, precise structure. Often the training sessions where the ball goes down a lot, in the long run, makes for a better team.
Myth 8 – World Class people never show weakness
Now rest assured, there is a time and a place! Perhaps in the heat of battle showing weakness to the opposition might be a poor choice. However, showing some vulnerability in certain contexts can make you more human and more relatable as a result. We think by never showing it, we are showing the way. Often this can actually alienate our peers and friends.
A poet has written a really good article on this, and described the power of vulnerability better than I ever could. I recommend giving it a read!