Note: This article was written an published before major improvements were made to Metuf in late 2018. Metuf is the
This week I fielded an excellent question from one of our monthly clients regarding post-competition reviews. This person competes in an individual sport and had just finished a big weekend of racing… living the dream, essentially. A disappointing overall result was causing great frustration and they were second-guessing themselves as a racer and wondering exactly where all the hard work this season was actually leading them. They realised that this was in complete contrast to a competition only one week before, where a strong result prompted positive emotions and had them feeling optimistic about the rest of 2018 and beyond. Many of our discussions had been about taking a consistent approach before every competition, and their question was how they should approach the hours and days following a competition – win, lose, or draw.
The first thing we reflected on was enjoyment and ensuring that they did not lose sight of the things which drew them into the sport in the first place, the things that have kept them participating, and the things which they want to maintain in the long run. Given that it is a physically brutal sport they compete in, we distinguished between the fun elements (e.g. the things that elicit a big smile) and the deeper, more meaningful elements (e.g. the things that make them proud and challenge them).
Next we reflected on the nature of results themselves. No matter how easy or difficult, at the end of the day we can only influence results. That is, we can have an impact on the various outcomes in our chosen sport (a fast lap time, winning a heat, making a podium, being selected in a representative team) but we can never guarantee them. This isn’t to give ourselves an excuse for a disappointing performance or pretend that it doesn’t matter to us, but to bring our focus back to our weekly effort so that we can keep improving and ultimately shift results in our favour.
We then spoke about strategies for emotional release. As a reminder, emotions are neither good nor bad – they are just a primitive way of understanding our experiences. Of course I would rather feel happy instead of sad, but that doesn’t make happy ‘better’ than sad. The key thing is the intensity of the emotion and how we manage it. Most athletes do think about – and practice – regulating their emotions in the lead-up to a competition or when actually performing. Most athletes don’t consider how to handle intense emotions (desirable or unwanted) once they have finished competing. Whatever works for you in the lead-up to a competition is probably a good place to start in learning to handle yourself post-competition. As a general rule though, feelings are expressed through the body so often the quickest and easiest way to release that emotional ‘steam out of the kettle’ is by physical means such as deep breathing, movement, warm-downs, physical focus points such as stretching, or sensory stimulation such as showering. No matter the emotion you are experiencing, work on empowering yourself by releasing the emotion on your terms.
Next up, we discussed a specific framework for reviewing competitions from a mental perspective. Together we put aside important physical considerations such as fitness, strength and conditioning, training loads, flexibility, amount and quality of sleep the night before performing. Then we set aside non-sporting factors such as family, friendships, school, work, finances and life stressors. We also put aside technical aspects of the performance (the biomechanics and tangible skill execution within races). Finally we also set aside tactical considerations (decision making and bigger picture ‘smarts’ as an athlete) as these are issues constantly being reviewed with the coaching staff. This left us with the following categories, to which I posed the following questions:
- Commitment: how strong was your sense of desire to perform well in this particular competition? How much importance did you place on this weekend’s events? Looking back, what signs tell you that your heart was really in it? If we were to say this was just another set of races in a long career, why did you push yourself to do your best yet again? How are you rewarding yourself for putting in so much hard work? Can you put into words what makes weekends like this so special, especially when things do go to plan?
- Concentration: how well were you able to focus on what you wanted to focus on? What things captured your attention before, during and post-race? Were you aware of this happening? Have you practiced dealing with distractions? What are a few simple but relevant things you can turn your focus towards when next competing?
- Confidence: if confidence is know that you can do something before you try, where is the evidence (e.g. through practice and past competitions) that tells you what is possible? How well are you able to feel what you want to before and during races? What unwanted thoughts and emotions can you expose yourself to through practice so that you have faith in your ability to execute your skills by the time the next competition rolls around?
- Creativity: how flexible were you in your thinking? How well can you deal with the unexpected and think on your feet? How did you respond to the unpredictable?
- Communication: what messages were you sending yourself? What messages were you sending other people (verbally and non-verbally)? Were these deliberate? Have you practiced them and do you have a sense of how effective they are?
- Consistency: were your thought processes systematic, simple, clear and well rehearsed? Were you viewing external factors such as opponents, officials, weather conditions, equipment, facilities and spectators in a manner that suits you and your individual needs?
- Culture: how were you viewing your coaching staff, your support crew, your team members, and the wider group of athletes coming together? What was your sense of connection and belonging like? Are you feeling part of a broader community and does this need to be worked on in some way?
Finally, we took a moment to step back and view the competition from a big-picture perspective. As challenging as the weekend’s results were for this person, the competition represented just another step in a long journey towards a higher destination. Whether an outcome is considered a huge success or a major disappointment, there must be a means of learning from the experience and using it to drive further improvement. How, when and where this reflective practice occurs is up to you.