Striving for peak performance or how the kingdom was won

Performance has been described in many ways throughout the years. Each has its merits and brings light to the murky situation of analyzing a concept that has so many intangibles. For our purposes, I’m going to use the formula that I feel best illustrates these hard-to-grasps. Team Canada coach and team leader, Jim Waite, has through the years offered up various formulas for the Performance factor. For our purposes in this article, I will use a modified version of this equation:


As you may have probably already guessed, SL stands for the (most obvious) SKILL LEVEL that consists of two main parts: natural skill and practice. Natural skill, of course, is what you have been given through the gene pool to work with. Practice is what you do with that God-given talent. I hope that appeases both science and religion. Practice consists of many components: preparation, planning, hard work and discipline. Discipline, as coach Bobby Knight describes it, is: (1) do what has to be done; (2) when it has to be done; (3) as well as it can be done; and (4) DO IT THAT WAY ALL OF THE TIME. And to further emphasize the value of practice, I quote the teachings of the greatest coach of all time, the esteemed John Wooden, who explains, “I never stressed winning… I wanted the score to be a by-product of practice.” That doctrine led him to ten national championships and an 84-game winning streak.

The good habits developed in practice help to build kinetic memory. Aristotle wrote so many years ago:

We are what we repeatedly do; therefore, excellence is not an act, but a habit.

This allows our bodies to remember the feeling of “right”. This, in turn, helps us to avoid the downfall of thinking about mechanics as we perform the tasks required for success. Our attention is not divided and our focus does not stray from the execution of the task. We then proceed to develop routines and preparation that helps to reinforce consistency.

The second part of the equation is (plus) EXPERIENCE. Through experience we learn how to deal with the unexpected. We learn how to improve focus and concentration. We find ways to cope with expectations placed on us and by us. And most importantly, we develop a poignant sense of attention to detail: the thing that separates champions from all others. I think this is best illustrated by the wonderful old fable: for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; for want of a horse the knight was lost; for want of a knight the battle was lost and for want of a battle the Kingdom was lost!! Remember when preparing for competition that most big plans fail, because the small details have been neglected.

In the minus column, we need to deal with DISTRACTIONS, such as officials; they are external details and are not relevant to performance. Pressure is another distraction that we must learn to deal with. I think pressure can best be dealt with in this manner: YOU EITHER APPLY PRESSURE OR YOU FEEL IT! Pressure is usually caused by overemphasizing results and the effects can be devastating. If we focus on the process, we realize that results cannot be controlled, but the performer can control the approach. As coaches we can assist this process by making the athletes accountable for their actions, lives and performances.

The final part of the equation, is a plus and/or minus. Yes, the dreaded beast, TEAM DYNAMICS, a topic so broad it will be dealt with on its own in a subsequent article that will address the question: Are you a group or a team, and how do you tell the difference?

To sum up I’ll leave you with an observation: the athletes with the most mental and physical ability push themselves the hardest to learn the most. This statement is well illustrated with this closing quote:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve taken the last game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life – and that’s why I succeed. –Michael Jordan

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