Permit me a moment to share a conversation with an athlete I recently consulted with….
Me: What is competition?
Late teen athlete: Your one chance to prove yourself. You get one chance to show that you are better than someone.
Me: OK. What is practice?
Late teen athlete: Training is boring. It is where I learn my sport skills and develop my physical skills. I have to do the drills over and over. You get a lot of chances to get it right.
Me: I agree. Let me ask you this…do you think that there a connection between training and competition? If so, how are the two connected?
Late teen athlete: Yes. In practice I develop the skills and physical shape I need to compete well…. [I see the wheels turning now, so I decide press on]
Me: Do you believe that you can achieve a ‘magical performance’ in competition. That is, can you achieve something that you haven’t been able to do in training, but need to do in order to beat an opponent? Or do you believe that what you are able to do during a competition performance is what you typically do in training?
Late teen athlete: But I get so jacked for competition. I can totally push myself more than what I do during training. I think I can do things in competition better than I do in training?
Me: So you think that you can perform better in competition than you do in training?
Late teen athlete: Yes….oh…I see where you are going…well, no. Most of the time I make mistakes and get frustrated because I want to be better than I am while I am competing. …I think …I think… that my performance is more like what I do in practice, I guess?
This conversation is pretty typical when I work with athletes. Competition is viewed to be very exciting and very important. When I say it is ‘important’ I mean many athletes view competition as the essence of being an athlete. Athletes choose to be an athlete because they love to compete. Competition is the venue where an athlete gets to publicly demonstrate his skill and provide evidence that he is better than another athlete. And you get only ONE CHANCE to get it right. And IF you get it right, you can be the hero (of the moment). You are a winner.
Training, on the other hand, is repetitive and boring. There is less urgency to ‘get it right’ when training. Why? Training is the venue where athletes expect to make mistakes. During training performances are repeated over and over, and for some athletes they must endure these hours in solitude or with coaches yelling at them demanding more. Marnie McBean (Canadian Olympic Rowing medalist, and member of Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame), estimated that she spent 720 hours training for 12.8 hours of competing/racing in a year (see The Power of More, 2012). That is about 98% of her athletic time spent in training activities! Training is all about learning and pushing ones limits, physically and emotionally. And let’s face it, training hurts!
TRAINING is PREPARATION FOR A COMPETITIVE PERFORMANCE.
Nothing magical happens in competition. An athlete’s competitive performance is the direct reflection of what the mind and body can produce when under pressure. To achieve a specific competitive performance, an athlete must be prepared to train for that performance.
I've always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come. I don't do things half-heartedly. Because I know if I do, then I can expect half-hearted results. –Michael Jordan, Basketball.
So which setting is the one where an athlete needs to “get it right”?
Competition or Training?
Correct answer: Training.