Question athlete: During training sessions I perform well and feel confident. How do I reproduce this during an important race?
Answer from Jonathan Males, Founder Performance1
This is an age-old question – here’s some advice from a Chinese philosopher writing nearly 2500 years ago:
When an archer is shooting for nothing he has all his skill. If he shoots for a brass buckle he is already nervous. If he shoots for a prize of gold he goes blind or sees two targets - he is out of his mind! His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him. He cares. He thinks more of winning than of shooting and the need to win drains him of power. Chuang Tzu (300 BC), 29,4
So training goes well because you’re focused on the task at hand and are not distracted by whether you win or lose. Now of course winning is important, and no-one likes losing, but the trick during competition is to keep your attention focused on what you’re doing in each moment that will contribute to a good performance. This is a discipline that you can develop in training.
The key is to identify the core skills that you need to master in order to perform well. These then become the ‘process goals’ that you pay attention to whether you’re training or racing. You then learn to evaluate your performance by these goals, not simply the outcome of the race.
A sprint paddler might have two or three process goals; about how they start the race and accelerate to race pace, about their catch and stroke length, and about changes in their paddling tempo at different phases of the race.
A freestyle competitor might pay attention to their entry position on the wave to get a solid first move then on making the next key transition within their routine, making sure they get good head and body rotation.
A slalom paddler might have a process goal around their upstream gate technique, setting themselves a target time to get in and around the inside pole.
In all these cases, the process goal is within the paddler’s direct control. It can be practiced in training and be assessed by the paddler themselves or their coach. And performing it well will directly contribute to a good performance. The more confident you get at your ability to execute these key skills day in and day out in training, the easier it becomes to do the same thing in competition. Your focus in competition moves from the prize to demonstrating your well-honed competence. Winning then becomes a welcome by-product of your quality training and disciplined attention.
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