The last post looked at advice given to actors by Dr David Roland in his book, The Confident Performer. In essence, see the pitch as a challenge rather than a threat. He discussed the need for “focussed attention”, drawing parallels with sport. “One of the greatest performance pressures bought to bear on people in contemporary society must surely be that of an Olympic athlete waiting to compete in an event.”
Arguably, this pressure is at its greatest at the start of the 100 metre sprint (or from experience, the 110 metre high hurdles). A few weeks ago Usain Bolt in spectacular fashion got it wrong. Why? The the best qualfied commentator, Michael Johnson, said it was not lack of confidence, which he has in abundance, it was lack of focus of attention.
Bolt acknowledged he made a mistake. His attention, normally intensely focussed, may have been diverted to thinking about the global audience, the fact he had not registered a good time in two years, the fact he had tough competition from another Jamaican. Who knows but for once his thoughts were not in the present, focussing on himself and executing this race.
Someone whose astonishing Gold medal was more the result of “focus of attention” than it was of talent was David Hemery. In his study of sport’s highest achievers, Sporting Excellence, he notes that “If an occasion is very meaningful, whether it is a social encounter, a business deal or a sports contest, there is almost always some apprehension. In the case of the high achieving athletes, for a period of time their top priority has been focussed and centred achieving their goal.”
Any pitch is “a very meaningful encounter” and yet for the most part the participants will turn up a few minutes beforehand straight from demanding meetings, hitting deadlines or soothing clients! Not ideal preparation for focussing attention. Athletes will prepare with a lengthy warm-up period which is as much about the mental as it is the physical. Why not a pitch warm-up?