The Most Frequently Asked Question (cont’d)

Hopefully you will have read the previous blog about the question I get asked more than any other; “Why am I so inconsistent?”. As stated in that blog, the reasons are varied but I feel there are two “culprits” that mitigate against a consistent performance. The one I dealt with in the last post was a lack of knowledge/awareness of your own skill set. To that end, I’m a huge fan of the use of a video recording device. I don’t know why a coach would not have one available at every training session. The key to the awareness of exactly what one is doing lies in ensuring that “perception” and “reality” are the same. You can do that most effectively in my view by the use of a video recording device. For many years I would have used the word “camcorder” but today there are so many devices that will record visually, the options are many!

One “app” that I particular like is called “Coach’s Eye”. I have it on my apple devices. It allows me to record then draw lines, circles etc. on top of the saved image for review with the athlete. I believe it was all of $5. I will devote a post to various methods of visual recording later this season.

The other enemy of consistency in my view is “distractions”.

Look, they are the crabgrass in the lawn of athletic performance. You can try to minimize their occurrence but for as noble an aspiration as that might be, there will always be some with which to deal!

One distraction busting activity I really like involves a piece of paper and a writing instrument. On the paper draw a large circle. Inside the circle, collectively brainstorm all the aspects of the upcoming competition over which the team has either complete control or significant influence. For example you may be able to choose the food you eat (but not necessarily when you eat the food), travel to the event, the accommodation etc. Outside the circle, as you might guess, place those aspects of the competition over which the team has little or no influence (i.e. schedule of games, quality of the ice & stones, officials, venue etc.). I believe you can see where this is headed. Anything “outside” the circle is “off limits” in terms of discussion, concern, angst etc. In other words, you will not allow those aspects of the event to drain emotional, psychological, mental or physical energy from you. All those energy sources will be directed to those aspects of the competition over which you can exert some influence and thereby benefit!

Some distractions are about “mind over matter”. When I first met the pied piper of curling, one Guy Hemmings, I asked him how he can be so involved with the crowd at a Brier and then get into the hack and execute a challenging curling shot. He said that when he gets into the hack and looks up, he’s no longer in the Brier venue but rather alone in his curling facility simply making a curling shot. There are no spectators. In fact he has to “imagine” his brushers ready to escort the stone down the ice and his third holding the target brush. In other words he trained himself to be somewhere other than the pressure-packed, distraction-laden Brier venue. Was this something that came naturally to him? No, he had to train himself to do it. He said it was all a matter of motivation. He wanted to perform well and knew that engaging the crowd helped with that goal but he also needed to calm himself down to perform the on ice tasks required to facilitate that success.

I recall a coach about to take his junior men’s team to provincials where there were going to be more spectators than the team had become accustomed. To especially help the skip he asked the men’s league in which the team played to gather around the sheet on which his team was playing when the skip was about to attempt a critical shot. Of course the coaching was using “simulation” as his tool to minimize the effect of distractions. Some NFL coaches have used huge outdoor concert speakers to simulate the noise of the crowd in places like Century Link Field (Seattle. WA) where the crowd noise is in the legendary category.

One of the best ways to relieve the distraction of anticipated results from a group of stakeholders (family and friends to the entire nation) is to remind yourselves that when you take to the ice, the only people that matter are your teammates and if your team dynamics are solid, that’s not a distraction but rather a comfort.

But, that said, generically speaking, most of the distractions that negatively impact upon the performance of the team come from within the team itself! Yikes!

I won’t go on about this as I have done so many times as those of you who have read my past articles and posts can atest. It’s all about a “communications protocol” (who says what to whom, when is it said, why is it said, how is it said, where is it said?). This can happen in two ways. You can use the time honoured “trial & error” method (mostly error) and let it evolve over time with many losses to show for it OR you can sit down and go from teammate to teammate to learn from one another who says what to whom … It’s your choice but it must happen!

And there’s something else we’ve recently learned about distractions. It has a physical component. When we’re distracted the blood flow to the cerebellum, that portion of the brain where all those hours and hours of training to open neural pathways to preform motor tasks is redirected to the cerebral cortex where reasoning is centred. The result is a less than satisfying performance and a waste of all those long hours of directed repitition.

Distractions, remove as many as possible and minimize the effects of those you can’t! It’s what elite athletes do!