There are no true secrets to becoming a better competitor. The principles are the same, no matter what sport you participate in. What follows are five very specific ways in which you can immediately become a better competitor and athlete. Whether you are a weekend warrior, or an Olympian-to-be, implement these strategies and see for yourself.
1. Forget about the win, focus on the fight
This principle is the most important difference between mediocre athletes and those that succeed at the highest level of their sport. I believe that sports provide us a great metaphor for life, in that they teach us how to work towards goals, individually and with others, and how to pick ourselves up after trying circumstances. That being said, sports stink in one regard: They teach us that life is all about wins and losses. In sport, there is always a winner, and always a loser.
In life, the same is not true. It is not a zero-sum game, where one person’s gain equals another person’s loss. You cannot “win” in a relationship, for example. You can only work to make it satisfying and enjoyable for both people involved. If you want to become a better athlete and competitor, forget about whether you win or lose in sport. Focus more on how well you fight and compete, as that is something completely within your control. You cannot control the outcome of sport (winning) even though you think you can! As proof of this, how many professional athletes have had career days in their sport in a losing effort? Too many to count. It happens every day. This is because there are too many variables that go into winning that are out of our control.
So, the more you can focus on those things you can control (particularly, how hard you play), the better you’ll feel at the end. If you set out to outwork your opponent, or to never give up, and follow through, you will have achieved your goals. Doing so inspires confidence. And sports are all about confidence.
2. Come prepared
Coming prepared means that you work to know something about your opponent before you compete against them. Know what they like to do, and what they don’t like to do. Bill Russell, who won eleven championships with the Boston Celtics (in only thirteen years), used to talk about how he would come to games prepared with regards to his opponents strengths, weaknesses, and how they reacted in pressure situations. He would then merely apply this knowledge, using it to gain a huge advantage over the other player. How does this apply to you? Study your opponent, if at all possible. Find out how they play in warm-ups, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. You can do this by merely watching for ten minutes or so.
If you are a weekend warrior, you can still do this, even before pick-up games. Notice how your opponent talks to you (or him or herself) during competition (“Man am I tired”, “I can’t make any putts today”) and you’ll pick up additional data. Overall, the better prepared you are strategically entering competition, the better the results will be in the heat of battle. Do some of the work ahead of time to get an edge.
3. Use nutrition as an advantage
I don’t know of any sport where better nutrition would not help an athlete perform better. I won’t get too deep into specifics here, but following basic nutritional guidelines for sport participation will help you to improve your diet, and your performance. Some easy ways include:
*increase your water intake. A hydrated body performs better than a dehydrated one.
*reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine promotes dehydration.
*reduce sugar and sweets intake. Allow your body to utilize its natural fat reserves for energy. Your blood sugar will remain more stable throughout competition if you do so.
*eat in moderation. If you must eat more, eat smaller meals more often. Six small meals a day are much better for your metabolism than three large meals.
4. If you’ve got the artillery, use it. Play to your strengths
This is a military example, but it holds true. What good is ammunition if you don’t use it? If you want to become a better competitor, do two things:
-figure out what your “ammunition” is (or, what your strengths are as an athlete and competitor)
-make that ammunition the central aspect of your competition (use it at every opportunity)
As an example, if you are a basketball player with a decent shot, but you are in great shape, why not use your fitness as your edge during the game? Run the player guarding you into the ground. Run him or her through picks, around picks, up and down the court, no matter if you are scoring or not. Sooner or later, if they are not as fit as you physically, they will tire, and break down. If as a golfer you are better with your putter than with your irons, don’t worry about playing a risky shot, long as you can get it somewhere on the green. Get the point? Use whatever your strengths are to your advantage. Always.
5. Instill competitive rituals
Rituals are the cornerstone of champion performance. Next time you watch a professional sporting event, look for rituals that the players perform. You’ll find that almost every athlete that performs to his or her highest level has pre-, during-, and post-game rituals. Why? Because these rituals serve to:
*focus them on the task at hand
*let their body know that it is time to perform
*relax themselves physically during times of stress
If you don’t have rituals as a major aspect of your sport participation, change that! Something as simple as listening to calming music, or writing in a journal, or stretching in a certain, specific manner can serve as your ritual. The key is to find something that prepares you mentally for whatever your sport demands. If you are a boxer, wrestler, or football player, listening to a Beethoven piano sonata might not best prepare you for the physical onslaught you are about to face. However, with a sport such as golf, or tennis (where being calm is a distinct advantage), a slower, more calming piece of music might just do the trick. The key is to tailor your ritual to the sport.
Copyright (2003) Leif H. Smith, Psy. D. All rights reserved.
Performance expert Leif H. Smith, Psy. D, is the president of Personal Best Consulting, a consulting firm located in Hilliard, Ohio. To learn more tips and techniques to immediately improve performance in your life and to sign up for his FREE monthly advice newsletter, visit http://www.personalbestconsulting.com