Enjoyment And High Performance
A common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success. In other words, the higher up the ranks an athlete climbs, the more ‘serious’ things need to become in order to reach the pinnacle. Or to put it another way, pure joy gets lost as their passion becomes just a job. And this does happen.
Elite athletes are often instructed to “just have some fun”. Or “relax and enjoy yourself” during times of hardship or pressure or form slumps. You can imagine how confusing this must be for many athletes. One minute they are meant to be all business and the next it’s ‘party time’. The implication here is that it is easy to simply tap into the pleasure pot. Like turning on a switch. But how many top-level athletes actually practice the ‘fun factor’? Is learning how to approach ‘game day’ with a smile part of the overall process?
Some Applied Exercises You Can Do Now
Try to describe why you do what you do. What drew you into it in the first place? What is keeping you there? Why do you want to continue? Why is it important for you to perform well?
Enjoyment involves some form of fun. Typically, tasks that feel good and put a smile on your face. Enjoyment is also driven by some deeper concepts. For example, achievement, pride, satisfaction, growth, and progress.
Usain Bolt was a great example of someone who enjoyed what he did. He worked incredibly hard so that when a competition came around he could just chill. Take a look at the below video UB had a very relaxed competition mindset. Enjoyment doesn’t mean we are always smiling and laughing. But we need to stay in touch with the things we love about our sport or art or music or business or another performance area.
Quantification Is Essential
As with any concept in performance, quantification is essential. When we quantify something we can put structures, values, and measurements into play. If you can describe something you can start to understand it. This then means you can start to improve it. Enjoyment is typically a vague concept so we have to work harder to define it.
You might use the term ‘fun’ in conversation with your coach without actually talking about the same thing. Fun to one person could be fitness-related. While for someone else it’s beating people. Yet for another, there might be a certain social connection that needs to be really fun.
Regardless of your age or skill level, one relatively simple means of quantifying your experiences is to break things down into the following domains.
- Mind, which includes thoughts (the words and pictures in my head), attitudes (the general ways I am looking at things), and beliefs (how I view myself, others, the future, and the world).
- Feelings (your emotional energy and how intense it is).
- Body (the messages you are receiving physically from head to toe).
- Five senses (what your attention is drawn towards in the areas of sight, touch, hearing, smell as well as taste).
- Actions (what you are doing, what you’ve stopped doing, things you are speeding up or slowing down, doing more of or less of, etc.).
Because enjoyment is a personal experience there are no universal rules to reignite your passion for the game. In a practical sense, however, you might benefit from any of the following.
- Reward yourself with fun non-sporting activities before and after training/practice.
- Separate performance into preparation and competition. Now take all your seriousness and push it into the preparation side. Blood, sweat, and tears want to be more related to practice than game day. As the great Jonty Rhodes once said “I got more bruises, grass burns, and cuts in practice than in match play”.
- Create small windows of pleasure and light-heartedness during practices. This might be arriving early to mess around with teammates. Or getting pumped up during certain segments of training such as racing people in fitness drills.
- Indulge yourself in relaxing or fun or special non-sporting activities on the morning of competitions. It’s too late to improve anything. You are better off just chilling and trusting the work you have done.
- Emphasise interactions and activities with your teammates or peers after competitions to enhance a sense of community. Do you see your teammates as people or just athletes?
Four More Ideas …
- Become more invested in the process (journey) and less in the results (destinations). Although having a ‘win at all cost’ mindset sounds useful. It’s not, trust us. Just ask Lance!
- Look over your season schedule and break it into smaller chunks. Any tangible evidence of improvement can be celebrated as a reward for your dedication and passion. Months lend themselves very well to reviewing and planning. This then frees you up to focus on the processes in between monthly reviews.
- Glance at your weekly schedule. Do you have enough balance between sporting and non-sporting activities? This a reminder quality and quantity are not the same. We want quality to be as high as possible. But quantity wants to be “somewhere in the middle”. Too much and too little are dangerous.
- Consider getting some assistance from a professional who is qualified in this area. For example, our team of sport psychologists and performance psychologists.
Enjoyment – and in particular a sense of fun – may not be as easily defined as other core components of performance such as physical capabilities, technical consistency, or tactical wisdom. However, if you are able to conceptualise what you love about your chosen sport and take steps to improve upon this you will give yourself every chance of climbing toward the top and staying there.
We will leave the final word to Jonty Rhodes. legendary South African cricketer and fielder. The below is taken from this full article.
What is the key to being a good fielder?
First and foremost you have to enjoy being out there. If you’re enjoying it, and you’re loving what you’re doing, even if it is 90 overs in a Test match, it never really seems like hard work. That allows you to stay sharp and focused. Commentators often complimented me on my anticipation, but I was expecting every single ball to come to me. In fact, I wanted every ball to come to me. Fielding can become hard work, but if you’re enjoying it then it doesn’t feel like work.
Another article – called The Fun Factor – by the same author and on the same general topic can be viewed here. Due to the very different way in which Chris addresses this sport psychology concept in the two articles we highly recommend that you read both.