Learn What You Already Know

Learn What You Already Know

Have you ever been in a competition where it seemed as though everything you did went the right way? We often hear people refer to those moments as being “in the zone” or “on fire”. You’re in a state of heightened, yet calm sense of awareness. Maybe it’s the game of your life on the soccer field, your best round of golf, running a great road race; or maybe it’s a more fleeting moment like a crushing home run swing in baseball, a key three point shot in basketball, a phenomenal catch in football, or the perfect service return in a tennis match. We’ve all been there in one form or another. It’s a beautiful thing. And then, moments or days later, we’re right back to our plain old average selves.

Let’s take a closer look. There’s a clear difference between the average player in England’s top division, the Premier League and the average player in their second division, the Championship League. There’s also a greater gap between the average player in Championship League and England’s fifth Division, the English Conference.

However, in the FA Cup this year, we saw the Championship League’s Reading take down Everton from the Premier League in their run to the semi-finals. Reading’s Matt Mills cleanly finished past Everton’s experienced Tim Howard, while Reading’s back-up goalkeeper Alex McCarthy was able to stifle the talented Everton attack. The quarter-finals saw the English Conference’s Crawley Town our shoot and out possess mighty Manchester United en route to a narrow 0-1 defeat.

How does a second division team with seemingly inferior players beat a top half Premier League side? Even more surprisingly, how does a fifth division, non-league team even make it a competitive match with one of the top two teams in the world?

On the day, athletes from all four teams demonstrate mastery of the technical, tactical and physical skills it takes to be the best and are able to summon the proper mental state necessary to bring it all together. On the day, in most aspects, they’re equals.

The key is what separates the players, and thus the teams, over time.

The critical difference between the players at the each level is often minute and, at the same time, huge. Although each athlete is extremely gifted, the better player over time knows the state of mind he needs to be in to perform at the highest level. There’s an awareness of the cognitive processes that positively guide their performance. Equally important, the better player knows how to re-create those processes on demand and takes the responsibility to make it happen. That’s what separates the average Premier League player from the average players at the lower divisions. That’s why Everton likely beats Reading nine out of ten times and Man U likely wins all ten.

The less successful player may not be aware of his optimum state or know how to recreate it on demand. Many of us simply hope to have a good day, often chalking up that rare phenomenal performance to the right socks, weather, luck, or something else entirely outside of our control.

The same process applies to all sports and other performance related activities. Male or female, it’s the same. We’ve all had days when everything comes together… when we’re “in the zone”. As such, we already know what to do. We have the resources. The key is learning to know what we already know, learning how to re-create it on demand, and taking responsibility for both. There’s no magic formula. Learning what we already know takes time, practice and commitment. The exciting part is that it’s in our control. While most of us will never play for Crawley Town or Reading, much less Everton or Manchester United, we can all increase our own chances of re-experiencing that beautiful moment when it all comes together.
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This post has been guest written by Paul Harbin of www.paulharbin.com and www.harbinsoccer.com

3 Comments

  1. luke gibson says:

    Good article. I love the past paragraph. I believe the challenge for most coaches is to capture that mindset teams succeed in and recreate the enviroment.

  2. bill howle says:

    good article. i have all my players visualize before games to help them get into the zone. what are some other activities?

  3. Paul Harbin says:

    Bill,

    A good thing to do during training sessions is to have players remember times that they did certain things well. For example, when working on a particular shot, ask, “Do you remember a time you did this well? If so, have them store that experience away in their mind as a resource. Next time they’re struggling with that shot, have them experience that particular resource three times in their mind before taking the next shot. With a strongly built resource, you’ll be amazed at how often this gets them going in the right direction again.

    Thanks for the comments and question.