A look at pre-competition behaviors for consistency and excellence in performance
In my experience, pre-competition behaviors are overlooked. We talk about consistent performance/results while striving for inspired performance/results. Consistent and effective performance will not unfold randomly. Certainly, your training leading up to competition is significant. Your initial warm-up is crucial – raise your heart-rate, blood pumping, drilling, running, sprints, sparring and a good sweat. This should do it, right?
Wrestling is a sport everyone agrees is heavily mental – thoughts, beliefs, attitude, self-talk, words we use, pictures in our mind, etc. Our mental climate can be drastically altered, developed, improved and strengthened by awareness and being intentional. As coaches and athletes, we should know and explore what actions and thoughts provide the best opportunity to compete effectively and consistently. If we don’t know this, it’s time to begin paying attention.
Far too many athletes prepare, perform and compete randomly. One of the most common themes – The athlete’s warm-up depends on who his competition is. So, if I have a really good opponent, I’m really going to get ready to compete vs. an opponent I don’t feel is worthy of preparing for. This is a mistake.
What does getting ready to compete and being a competitor mean? In my experience, readiness is not uncertainty, casual, sometimes this and sometimes that. The serious, consistent and high-level competitor knows precisely what his body and mind need. He’s paid attention over time and KNOWS how to ready himself. His only concern is his own controllable mental-climate and body. He does not dilute his energy and effectiveness on who his opponent is; this is an uncontrollable. The serious competitor develops a simple system of pre-competition behaviors in mind and body that support his best opportunity to compete effectively, consistently and ultimately leads to an ideal performance.
Competing and success are not random. They’re related to your awareness, thoughts, preparation, expectations, readiness and pre-competition behaviors. Polish and hone your readiness to perform and compete. Be a PRO – calm, cool, composed, totally in control, no tension, focused, loose, thankful, strong body language, ready, complete and ALL-SET.
I continue to reiterate to athletes I work with or coach – you have to be ready when you walk onto the mat, shake hands, and the first second ticks off the clock. Most athletes present their BEST in the first period. I’ve seen it time and time again how often the first period dictates the match result. Repeatedly, athletes continue to fall behind early, give-up big points, run out of time and end up losing by a point or two. You have to be ready in body and mind when you walk onto the mat. Most performance issues are related to mind NOT being in-tune vs. body. It’s one thing to suffer defeat but another to suffer defeat because you are not ready to compete – this is a controllable.
Don’t be like an airplane that runs out of runway and doesn’t have time to take flight. You don’t have the luxury of a runway to gain speed. You need to be a helicopter and take flight immediately. Now, obviously many wrestlers fall behind and come back, but many unnecessarily are not ready, fall behind and can’t make it up because they were not ready to compete. Who‘s responsible for this? I would say young athletes at all levels need direction. There’s certainly a trial and error period while one establishes their routine of readiness to compete consistently and effectively.
Regularly, the readiness necessary for the first match of a tournament requires quality and probably more time than following pre-match readiness. Nevertheless, there needs to be awareness, consistency, and action regardless of where and when you compete.
The area I see as opportunity, paramount, and detrimental to the competitor – IN-THE-HOLE and ON-DECK. The point of this message is bringing focus to the minutes leading up to your opportunity to compete. ITH and OD is fundamental. I have studied this influential and significant short period of time leading up to a competition. If you struggle as a competitor with – readiness, slow-starter, fall behind early, consistency, doubt, stress, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, dread, premature fatigue, etc. Take a thorough look at what’s going on within leading-up to competition. What does the competition energy do to you? Are you ready to compete at the best of your ability each time out? Do you often fall behind early? Do you feel semi-paralyzed with fear, anxiety, doubt, fatigue, nerves?
If what I’ve described sounds familiar, examine, investigate, identify and adjust your pre-competition behaviors in body and mind. ITH and OD are paramount in your readiness, effectiveness, and results. I see too many athletes, and coaches unprepared and not ready when a little research, awareness, adjustments, and being intentional would make a significant difference in how the athlete feels, competes and the outcome. I have several effective ideas for those I work with. My advice, keep it simple and examine ITH / OD and tend to the wobbly wheel.
Mark Schwab was recently an assistant coach at the University of Northern Iowa. Previously he spent nine years as assistant coach at the University of Minnesota, helping the program to seven top-three team finishes at the NCAA Championships and two NCAA team titles. As a wrestler, Schwab was an All-American for the University of Northern Iowa during the late 1980s. Schwab earned his bachelor’s degree in 1990 from the University of Northern Iowa and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 2003. Schwab returned to the University of Minnesota to get a second emphasis in sports psychology on his existing master’s and completed that in 2010. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.