Preparation leads to Confidence which helps in Relaxation which eventually leads to a strong Performance. Preparation is without a doubt the first step in ensuring a strong performance. This is relevant not just in sports but in every field. While the examples I like to share are from the world of sport, you can apply the same principle to any other area be it the corporate world or even academics. The world’s most decorated Olympian, Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman had a very unique way of preparing. They always prepared for the worst. And what can be a swimmer’s worst nightmare? A goggle malfunction and that is precisely what happened with Phelps when he was gunning for his fifth gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He was swimming the 200m butterfly when around 60m, he realized that his Speedo goggles had a problem and water had started seeping in. By the time he had covered more than half the distance, his goggles were completely filled with water and he was blind. Yet he went on to win the race. And that too in a world record time. How was this even possible? Only because his coach Bowman had made Phelps practice several times by deliberately breaking his goggles or filling them with water. He had prepared Phelps for the worst.
Another aspect of the Bowman-Phelps training program was that they always innovated fearlessly. They ensured that Phelps swam at different temperatures – at times uncomfortably hot or freezing cold; swam when there were no lights in the pool; swam with Phelps on an empty stomach and also swam while Phelps was down with a stomach bug. All this ensured that Phelps was ready to face any eventuality. Also Phelps did not take a break while others did. He did not take a break because in swimming if you take a day’s break, you need two days to recover and this was something he could not afford. No wonder, he won 23 gold medals, 3 silvers and 2 bronze across four Summer Olympics.
This brings me to another important aspect and that is Focus. Most of us go through phases where we find it difficult to focus however hard we try. This is fine if we are dealing with trivial matters, but if we struggle with focus during a crucial phase – such as an athlete during competition or say a lawyer during a court trial or a student during an examination, the result can be disastrous. I remember an interesting session conducted by the Australian cricketing legend Greg Chappell where he shared his insights on concentration and how he conserved his mental energy yet ensured that he focused when it mattered.
Please remember that all of us have a finite quantum of mental energy. So it is vital that we use it smartly. Chappell ensured that he concentrated only when it mattered – that is from the time the bowler started running in to bowl to him until he had played the ball. This was the stage when he employed what he referred to as fierce focus. Once he had done so, he switched off but ensured that he maintained general awareness and fine focus when it mattered. Thus he seamlessly transitioned from the stage of awareness to fine focus and eventually to fierce focus. A strategy very successfully employed by another legend, the tennis star Martina Navratilova who claims that she focused only around 16% of the duration of her match.
What separates the top few from the many in sport? It is their mental strength. The importance of the mental side of athletics was once brilliantly summed up by basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “Your mind is what makes everything else work”. Tennis great Novak Djokovic has said “Among the top 100 players, physically there is not much difference. It’s the mental ability to handle the pressure, to play well at the right moments.” Most top performers have a set physical routine to get them into a mental routine – Think Nadal, Sachin or Dhoni. This allowed them to stay relaxed and eventually translated into a winning performance. Eventually it is all in the mind; you are what you think about. You need to be aware of the role of the conscious and the subconscious mind.
Hope some of these examples nudge all of us into preparing better as well as focusing better. In my next blog, I will share some insights on Emotional Intelligence and the difference between a Growth Mindset and a Fixed Mindset. Until then, keep nudging!!
This blog is the first in a three part blog series titled: All We Need Is a Nudge.
The author is the founder of Nudge Sports (www.nudgesports.in) where we strive to build a strong sporting community by nudging the athlete to become not just a better player but a stronger and a socially conscious individual using top-notch mental conditioning programs. All our programs are developed by qualified and experienced sport and performance psychologists.