When I conduct camps (at just about any level), clinics or team consultations, the one question I get asked more than any other goes something like this, “I’m happy with my skill set as it’s equal to the amount of time I want/can put into it but it’s frustrating when I play poorly so how can I be more consistent?“. As with so many questions of this nature the answer is multifaceted but that said, I’ll deal with what I feel is one of its key elements in this post.
Sooner or later something I call “competitive breakdown” will occur and it happens to everyone! It just happens much less often with elite athletes. Clearly it manifests itself in poor performance and it can happen at any time. Many succumb to it “under pressure*” and it’s pretty clear that missed key shots happen most often when we stray from the normal pre-shot routine. Those elements so carefully nurtured to produce desirable results get replaced by negative thoughts usually about the consequences of a miss. What’s happened is really quite simple to explain but not so easy to remedy. If you have “trust” in your skill set, I mean genuine trust, that’s one of your best hedges against competitive breakdown.
Trust can have many addresses. It can be the result of quality training, the comment of a coach or teammate or excellent results over an extended period of time. You need to know where trust resides for you as you will need to pay a call on it at some point!
I don’t recall at this moment who said this but if I do or by research I find out, I’ll update this post but I’m a true believer in, “The athlete who knows why will always beat the athlete who only knows how.” When you know and understand “why” you accomplish the motor tasks commensurate with your position on the team, if for whatever reason you stray from doing what you know you need to do, a thorough understanding of why you do what you do will be the best way to recall and therefore return to doing it! On the other hand, if you only know how to do something, when competitive breakdown comes calling, you will find returning to a satisfying level of performance very challenging.
Make no mistake, no athlete performs well by concentrating on all the elements of hitting a baseball, throwing a football, serving a tennis ball or delivering a curling stone. Hopefully you’re so well practised that all the elements, the so-called “muscle memory” kick in so you can follow the advice of my friend Merv Fonger from the last post and just do it!
When I work with an athlete and ask why he/she does something in the curling delivery, there are two answers I won’t accept. They are a) “I didn’t know I did that.” and b) “I know I do that but I don’t know why.” You must have a reason for everything you do! When that occurs we can discuss the merits of those “things”.
In curling, it sure helps when the members of the team not only understand their deliveries but those of their teammates as well. The coach sitting behind “a pane in the glass” (great book by the way) may spot your technical issue but he/she may be out of time outs so when a teammate can spot the problem and know your delivery so well that he/she can remind you of the “why”, you will know exactly what to do to get back on track.
The next post will be about another factor that makes one inconsistent which is a close second to that described above. See you soon!
* One of the best comments I’ve heard regarding pressure is, “Under pressure you sink to the level of your preparation/training.” How’s your training regimen?