Are you seeking to improve your performance in competition or understand what the elite do to perform consistently when it matters? Are you stuck underperforming and not achieving your goals or have no idea how to go about achieving your goals? As I have studied the elite performers in sport, specifically at the Olympic level, there are concrete steps that athletes follow in order to reach their goals and achieve consistent performers. Let’s dive into the details.
Achieving and obtaining your goals does not happen by chance. There are four distinct steps we see consistently with the elite athlete. The first stage of development, called training to learn, requires the athlete to acquire and deepen his physical skills while also broadening his knowledge. Knowledge gained includes learning techniques and the language of techniques. It also includes the language of systems, language of coaches and the team and any protocols or procedures that are expected by the organization. Essentially, the athlete is learning and expanding his understanding of techniques of the organization. This creates a sense of accountability for the athlete and he learns what is expected. From here the athlete learns the systems and training and how to consistently perform that training on a daily basis.
After spending consistent time in the training to learn phase the athlete has a baseline of understanding and can replicate and duplicate what is expected with a reasonable amount of consistency. At this point the athlete has increased his capacity and can move into the next phase of training: training to compete. To move onto this next stage of development we observe that the athlete has an ability to replicate and duplicate techniques in training and in competition he has reasonable game management. In this second stage training has high consequences, higher than those of the competition, and we continue to see the athlete grow his capacity in both skill and knowledge acquisition.
The training to compete phase is typically where golf teachers and coaches have set their athletes free to take their technique to the course, not giving them enough guidance in performance. This has been the model and what we believed best served the athlete. We believed that if the athlete’s technique is good enough he can “work it out” on the course on his own. I was guilty of perpetuating this belief and could not tell you why my players won or lost-I just believed that winning performances happened because one athlete hit it better that day to get to the result on the scoreboard. The Olympic model has changed everything about what we require of athletes in the training to compete phase, giving them more concrete systems to refine and repeat.
Training to compete builds upon the first stage while adding specific systems that train the mind. We help the athlete to control his mind before, during and after each action. These are concrete steps that are repeated over and over. The athlete also refines his preparation for competition in this phase. This includes studying layouts of golf courses, using mapping technology, and setting strategies to be more strategic in how he wants to play. The player rehearses how he intends to make decisions, running a mindset program and reinforcing each shot. This greatly expands upon the old model of just showing up and hoping to play well, to maybe come close to a personal best. Rehearsal is one of the key tools in this process and the best are constantly rehearsing how they want to operate during competition. In this phase the athlete is also reinforcing each task and each day. Careful thought occurs after the action of each shot and at the end of each day. High performers do this so they grow their self-image, no matter if they reached the result that was desired.
Stage three in development is training to win. The athlete is having winning performances in training which lead to winning in competition. The athlete is replicating and duplicating what he did in training to compete, increasing his capacity in these areas even more. Training has high consequences, higher than the competition which builds tolerance in the athlete. Each phase of training is defined, measured and timed so that pressure is felt in training and competition starts to become easy. The athlete continues to be very tactical in preparation, using the tools he learned in training to compete. In addition, the athlete learns how to set position and outcome goals in this phase so each competition has purpose and he has defined what winning is to him based upon where he is in his skill and knowledge development. Winning performances happen because the athlete is setting personal best performances in training.
The final phase of development for the athlete is training to advance. This is for the highest performers in sport who have already reached the pinnacle-a major championship, a gold medal or a Superbowl, for example. The athlete becomes very strategic in training, competing and even in the planning of when he will perform. We have all heard about players who seek to compete for the post-season or plan their schedule strategically for the majors–the elite performers can afford to do this. The goals are set at a higher level than ever before and the training has higher consequences, more so than any other phase. At this point the athlete has a very deep knowledge and skill base and he can replicate systems and run a consistent mindset program in training and competition. Training becomes so high stakes that it is a relief when the athlete finally reaches competition. Competition becomes easy because the athlete is highly skilled, strategic in his preparation and planning and consistent in running a mindset program. It leaves the athlete to simply trust and commit to the plan and execute.
The great news is this model is scalable and we have brought it down from the Olympic level to the junior golfer, college golfer, competitive amateur and beginning professional. If you are looking to put consistent systems in place these steps can help you in defining goals, training meaningfully and consistently for your goals and putting systems in place that put the heat of competition on you in your training. We are working with athletes and business people on defining and refining these phases and we can help you, too. Who says that you have to be an Olympian to train like one?