The New Zealand All Blacks (rugby union – left) and Manchester City (football/soccer – right) are two of the most consistent sporting teams in the world. But what exactly makes them so good on such a consistent basis?
Consistency – The Ultimate Goal
With a few notable exceptions, there seems to be a ‘HOT or NOT’ element to many sporting performances. Across all sports and levels, it can be common for great performances to be followed by relatively poor ones. This has generally left participants and onlookers perplexed. How is it possible for these players to play so well one week, then so poorly the next? Why am I only excellent some of the time?
This short article will explore some of the reasons behind Performance Consistency and Inconsistency. I will conclude with a few tips on how to attempt a move towards The Holy Grail of Competitive Sport; Performance Consistency.
The Holy Grail
We call Performance Consistency the Holy Grail because it’s the ultimate sport and performance outcome goal. For non-Monty Python fans, the Holy Grail was the cup Christ used at the Last Supper which has been the quest by various pilgrims for centuries.
Every athlete knows what it’s like to hit that ‘purple patch’ where everything just seems to click into place. This, of course, is not Performance Consistency as it often comes to an end (often a sudden and ugly one). Performance Consistency occurs when you can extend this purple patch to a few weeks, a whole season, or even an entire career.
What Causes Performance Inconsistency?
I would suggest the number one cause of Performance Inconsistency is the overuse or misuse of performance reviews. In particular, athletes and coaches who misunderstand the amount of influence they have on their performance results (outcomes). In its simplest form ‘a performance’ is the consequence of about 25 to 30 areas of effort. One such area of effort might be (should be) Mental Toughness. On top of these areas of effort, we also have many less influenceable elements aspects such as genetics, weather conditions etc.
After a particular performance, it’s very common for the performer to ‘assign’ reasons for the result. For example, “I played really well because I have a new coach.” Or “I played poorly because I have been out injured.” This then often leads to doing more of the things that you thought caused the ‘good performance’. You might also do less of that which you believed caused the performance decline. And so begins the Performance Rollercoaster – the very opposite of Performance Consistency. Effort becomes reactive (emotional) rather than premeditated (rational) and up and down you go like a Yo-Yo.
The reality is, you will never know exactly what ingredients went into making up a performance. At best you might be able to develop a hunch that links some elements of effort to some variations in results, with a whole heap of unknowns leftover. Thoughts and beliefs are just that – thoughts and beliefs – and although they can feel incredibly reliable the truth is they are perceptions, not facts.
Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail
Instead, plan your effort without factoring too much on results. Just consider what you believe to be the best use of your time. Spare yourself the distraction of strengths and weaknesses or good and bad. Second, ensure the effort is broken down into very clear categories. Try not to end up with too many of them or too few. Finally, make sure you ‘buy into’ the 4 laws of effort below:
- Improvement is never-ending. You will never reach a point of mastery and be ‘good enough’ to then move on to something else.
- The number of ways to improve is unlimited. But the time and resources we have in order to get better are very limited.
- Improvement is best achieved through the focus on training and practice. This basically boils down to EFFORT.
- Effort, as a concept, is fundamentally a combination of Quality and Quantity of time focussing on the areas you are targeting for improvement.
What Is Performance, Really?
I love jumping online and examining statistics and reading about new ways to understand and analyze the sports we love. There are endless amounts of data available, which are used to evaluate an individual or team’s performance. These statistics are often seen to be of high importance. They are considered factual because they are quantifiable measurements of performance. Comments such as “it’s hard to argue with the numbers” may help me make my point here. Despite my interest in statistics, I intend to challenge these notions from a sport psychology perspective.
In the current sporting climate, statistics are used by people involved at all levels. From front-office personnel to coaches, players, fans, and even commentators during broadcasts. Due to this saturation of statistical information, it becomes difficult for performers to ignore these numbers. This is particularly the case when they are not trending in a direction they are happy with. But what if statistics only painted a narrow view of the story? What if they didn’t portray the bigger picture when it comes to performance?
A Common Mental Conflict
One of the conflicts I have noticed for clients during my time with Condor Performance is the battle between statistics and strategies. Motivated athletes and coaches are keen to monitor their progress in both skill acquisition and skill maintenance. As performance psychologists, we encourage this through our version of goal-setting and goal-getting principles. We are always cautious of being entirely dependent on statistics for feedback. Results (another word for statistics) are only influenceable after all. This means lots of other variables and factors can impact the result or outcome of your performance. Many of these are outside your bubble of responsibility.
When we begin working with our athletes and coaches we often enquire about their goals and expectations. One of the things I have noticed in these early conversations is that many of the shorter-term expectations are based on statistics. Soccer players will talk about scoring a goal or how many chances they create. Basketball players will discuss points, rebounds, and assists. Swimmers and runners can put a lot of focus on completing their race in a certain time. Sporting officials will often determine a game’s quality by the number of errors they made.
Now before I go any further I want to say that goals are important and we are always in favour of people having them. But sporting success is a little like cooking.
Hmmm, Something Smells Good
The goal of cooking is usually to produce a tasty meal or dish. The goal of high-performance sport is to produce good performances all the time. The best chefs and home cooks know the key is to focus on the process and high-quality ingredients. The best athletes and coaches do exactly the same.
When we become reliant on statistics to measure our performances it can also significantly impact our mental toughness. The uncertain nature of statistics means areas such as our confidence and emotional state can go up and down like a yo-yo. Think of a cricket batter who has recent scores of 24, 4, 14, 1, 43, 3. Or a tennis player who is knocked out in the early rounds of three tournaments in a row. What about a goalkeeper in soccer for a team on a losing streak? Statistics alone paint a certain picture, however, we need to understand more than just the numbers in order to properly evaluate these individuals.
If you would like to bring a little more consistency to your performances, moving forward, then consider getting in touch and asking us about our current availability to take on new clients and associated costs by emailing us at [email protected] today.