How to Help Athletes Unlock Peak Performance

Athletes crave peak performance. Once they’ve tasted playing at their best, they search for ways to recreate those performances time and again. However, few reflect on the underlying factors that drive them to be their very best. Coaches can help facilitate the self awareness necessary to increase an athlete’s ability to perform closer to his or her peak more consistently. 

peak performance, mental toughness

Athletes Need Greater Self Awareness

It wasn’t until well into my competitive tennis years that I realized the value of a deeper level of analysis. Previously, I’d focused my post-game evaluations on execution, matches, game plan, and strategy. While those were certainly valuable points of interest, they weren’t getting to the heart of the matter. What really had an impact on my performance was what happened in my mind and body during the match.

Yesterday I was perusing a bookstore and flipped through a couple of books on coaching. After competitions, coaches were directed to address areas such as game plan, strategy, making adjustments, communication, and execution. I was disappointed that coaches weren’t being given the most vital information about how to bring out the best in their players.

For an athlete to be his or her best requires self-awareness of best and less-than-best performances. As coaches, it is our job to help facilitate this kind of self-reflection in our players. We can help them hone in on what is really driving their performances.

How To Increase Self-Awareness & Unlock Peak Performance

Coaches can encourage deeper self-reflection in their athletes by having them complete the Factors of Peak Performance exercise. This isn’t an exercise for right after a competition. However, once athletes have completed this exercise, it gives coaches and parents a platform to discuss specific factors that underlie peak performance for that athlete.

Completing this exercise will not only increase an athlete’s self-awareness about their performances, but also provide each athlete with insights to unlocking his or her top performance more consistently.

You can create your own exercise using the steps below or simply print out the PDF worksheet by clicking the blue download button at the bottom of this post. 

Step 1: Not Your Best Performance

Prompt each athlete to think back to a poor or average performance. This should be a performance when he or she didn’t play up to his or her potential, or just couldn’t seem to find a groove. Have each athlete name or label the competition on a sheet of paper.

Give athletes a few minutes to relive the performances. You want them to make the replay of it as realistic as possible, however painful it might be.

Then, guide each player to assess the performance based on 7 Factors of Peak Performance, being as specific as possible (giving examples):
  1. Thoughts: Were they productive and encouraging or counterproductive and belittling?
  2. Focus: Describe where your attention was directed before and during competition.
  3. Emotions: Describe the emotions you experienced before and during competition.
  4. Energy Level: Describe your level of energy (mental and physical).
  5. Confidence: Describe your confidence in yourself, your preparation, and your teammates.
  6. Sense of Control: Describe the level of control you felt you had over yourself during the competition.
  7. Mindset: Describe your attitude and mindset before and during the competition.

This helps athletes recognize signs of a poor performance earlier. The sooner they can make adjustments away from these descriptors the better.

Now that athletes have a clearer understanding of what they are like when they aren’t at their best, it’s time to flip the coin.

Step 2: Your Peak Performance

Champions have a long history of coming up short on words to describe what its like to be “in the zone.” Some of your players may also struggle a bit to pinpoint their experiences of peak performance. However, this is precisely why this exercise is so critical. How can they be expected to replicate a level of peak performance they can’t even describe? This exercise will help build that awareness.

Prompt each athlete to identify his or her best performance ever. When was she “in the zone,” playing to her fullest potential? When was he clicking on all cylinders? Note that the performance didn’t have to end in victory. When I was a NCAA athlete, mine didn’t. Ask athletes to name or label the competition on a sheet of paper.

Give each athlete a few minutes to relive the experience of that performance in as much detail as possible.

Then, guide your players through assessing the performance based on the same 7 Factors of Peak Performance they used before. Encourage them to be specific and give examples.
  1. Thoughts: Were they productive and encouraging or counterproductive and belittling?
  2. Focus: Describe where your attention was directed before and during competition.
  3. Emotions: Describe the emotions you experienced before and during competition.
  4. Energy Level: Describe your level of energy (mental and physical).
  5. Confidence: Describe your confidence in yourself, your preparation, and your teammates.
  6. Sense of Control: Describe the level of control you felt you had over yourself during the competition.
  7. Mindset: Describe your attitude and mindset before and during the competition.

Players now have a blueprint of what they are like at their best. In each category, they now have a target to shoot for. This can become a recipe for unlocking peak performance more consistently.

As a coach, you need to know that just because an athlete knows his or her attention is misdirected or energy level is too high doesn’t mean he or she knows how to control it. Check out my other posts for additional strategies and resources.

Free Download

As I mentioned above, you can download the free Factors of Peak Performance worksheet by clicking the button below.

Bring Out The Best In Your Players

Great coaches realize that it takes more than Xs and Os to bring out the best in each of their athletes. Coaching your players to be self-reflective and evaluate their performances in this way will drive performance improvements on and off the field of competition. Help your players discover what it takes for them to bring out the best in themselves. That’s what coaching is truly all about.

Question: What will increased self awareness make possible for your athletes? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.