Learning to win

Whether we like it or not there is often a difference between the person who is recognised as the best and the person who wins. History is littered with examples of such cases, and the Athens Olympics provided many cases as Hicham El Guerrouj who finally won an Olympic gold (make that 2) after being recognised as the best middle distance runner of his generation and holding numerous world records. In contrast Asafa Powell was the overwhelming favourite in the 100m yet failed to win a medal.

Another lesser internationally known athlete is Hamish Carter who won the triathlon. I saw an interview with him last night and some points he raised interested me. Carter went to Sydney in 2000 as the No.1 ranked triathlete and by his own admission he bombed out, finishing 26th. He said that with Athens rather than focussing on winning he focussed on racing an apparently subtle yet major difference. He also said that he was in the best shape of his life using a program of training extremely hard for a few days and then not training sort of overcompensation (it was only a brief comment). Another point of interest was that unlike the other 2 Kiwi triathletes, one of whom is the current world champion and finished 2nd in Athens, he didn’t attend the opening ceremony even though the race wasn’t till day 13. Carter said he actually put in the toughest period of training of his life when the others were away. He said it gave him a feeling of almost superiority knowing that he was going his hardest ever while they were away enjoying the moment.

This raises a few questions.

Is goal setting overrated? Is following the process more important, it helps eliminate the mental peaks and troughs associated with achieving or missing goals? Is it enough to plan properly and just focus on sticking to that?

Why is it that some can overachieve in competition and others choke being unable to come close to what they were doing even 30 minutes prior in the warm-up area?

Is it possible to ‘fast track’ the ability to win? If so how?

Interesting post. This kinda reminds me of what one of my high school coaches in basketball gave our team a one hour lecture on. We had lost to a team by 5 points, but at halftime we were beating them by 22 points! So, needless to say, he made an entire practice telling us how we need to have a killer instinct, and to not relax in the pursuit of the game, even if we were ahead. He actually was screaming at us, not telling. But, the key to remember is that successful people in general are never happy with the current situation, no matter how good it is.

I believe if an individual is to be that focused, they need a plan to get there. If it was ever manifested that I could go to the Olympics, I don’t believe I would attend opening ceremony. I don’t think I’d even live at athletes village (do you have to?). No doubt, I would be a restless person until I got what I wanted. I think his focus in this case made the difference.

Very interesting post. I’d start off with looking at some of the greatest performers. Like what was Micheal Jordan’s way of thinking when it was time to play? Being who he was every oppenent was physched to play against him and try and be the one to shut him down. MJ had to be ‘up’ for every game!

I think both goal setting and sticking to the plan are needed! Perdita unfortunately may be an example of this. As Charlie said her coach was talking about changing her start so close to the finals! Even amoung memebers in here, it seems every week people are changing their programs drastically.

“chokers” lose sight of their goal or get worried that what got them there is all of a sudden not good enough and they deviate from the plan. Instead of letting things happen they try and do too much.


Indeed, very interesting topic. My observation of this is just like sprint technique, in general winning is not learned but unlearned through poor coaching/parenting and other pressure sources. I’m sure most people don’t like to lose, they just grow scared of losing because of outside pressures. The latest example in elite sprinting, Asafa Powell, looked like the favorite, even he was sure he was the favorite till finally the pressure got the best of him on day 2 of the 100m. In my case, my personal experience was with the training group I was in during all 2003. These people were so fanatical of the sport, we were training like we were going to the olympics or something, and the feeling was always that there was this major implicit pressure within the group, that originated from the coach. He would always say “when do I pressure the athletes, never”, but maybe without meaning it always felt like there was a dense ambience of pressure. In fact, if all the athletes we had performed what they were doing in practice in competition the group would be by far the dominant group in Argentina, instead 9/10 of this coaches’ athletes fail to perform and always choke. I have yet to figure out how the few that performed were impervious to this pressure, it takes a very unique individual to outperform in that type of atmosphere. I think the ones that performed were the ones that were simple so naturally talented that they were the best in practice and thus had complete confidence in what they were doing. The ones of us that were very good, but getting beaten in practice by these best ones would start, the pressure would start to get to us because we’d be unsure we’d be able to beat everyone from outside our club, which was the expectation because we trained so much harder then everyone else. It’s barely been now, in this competition period after 9 months away from that training group that I’m finally beginning to rip away from that mental block that I fell into with that group. My only good races this year, were my first 3 in March and April when I thought I was invincible with my new training program, by the important competitions I was again “blocked” mentally. But what makes me mad about this whole situation is that before I joined this training group I was an excellent performer, I never thought of the possibility of losing. For example when I played basketball in high school I was definitely the clutch player of our team, I won two games with last second shots (the only two chances I had) and had all my best games, BY FAR against our toughest opponent. I never had any problems raising my game. Even when I began track in late 2002, my performances were certainly the absolute best I could do at that time, 11.7 and 23.5. Hell I still don’t cease to be amazed that I ran 23.5 without training and can barely run that now with two years of training. But most relevant, I remember I had done a session of 3 or 4 x 200 and I was running mid or low 24’s in the 200’s I did for training back then, so I was stepping up over half a second in my performance. Ever since the beginning of 2003 and my days with that group things have been the other way around, I always underperform by half a second. Anyway, enough on my personal story, the bottom line is, as I said at the beginning of the post, clearly winning is most commonly unlearned through poor coaching and other sources of pressure.

This may not be related to sports, but i think outside pressure is really what makes most people “choke” for me for one, my parents always say they are not pressuring me with my choice in what i want to do in University, but every once in awhile my parents would be like so what do you want to become, an engineer? they know i don’t wanna become an engineer but they are applying pressure to me because most my cousins are engineers. And when a friend asks what i wanna become my dad would say engineer.

That is just one of the examples of all the pressure that comes from my parents in my everyday life. But I know from personal experience it can really get to you.

The past 2 years I’ve had a problem with running a race under pressure. Both races I’ve been in 2nd place halfway through. The best part of my race is between 50-70 meters so I’m about to kick it into high gear but I always tighten up. Last year I fell from 2nd to 5th in that race and this year I fell from second all the way to 7th running by far my worst time of the year.

I’m sick of choking in the big races every year so if anybody can give me any help on finding to keep from tightening up that would be great. I thought about looking straight ahead the whole time and not at my competition cause when I see the 1st place guy right beside me maybe an inch ahead of me and I’m trying to force myself ahead of him is when I tighten up.

Any help is appreciated.

That is a very good idea, being aware of the issue also helps but don’t let it dominate your thoughts or get to you. Charlie has often said trying to run fast only increases tension and certainly saying to yourself relax isn’t specific enough. I personally think mind tricks (preferably jedi ones :smiley: ) are the key.

Here is one I am using to work on my squat which is shite and getting inside my head :frowning:

It is based on the principles of Dr W. Timothy Galway who works on the premise that when you perform any activity (sporting, business or life) we generally get too technique focussed and actually learn technique a lot faster and better than we think. He wrote a couple of books I know of with ways to improve performance based on what he calls The Inner Game. The general theory is that you have 2 ‘selfs’

Self 1
This is the one that generally dominates and is totally technique focussed and critical. To use the squat example self 1 is saying
is the bar in the right place? pick a spot to focus on, take a deep breath, make sure you arch, sit back, not too far back though you are doing high bar squats, stop your knees from coming in, go low, you’ve lost your arch, you are going forward, you stuffed it up again!
all that and more in 1 rep.

Self 2
This is the one that is in control when you are ‘in the zone’ when you perform an activity and have no idea why it felt so easy and pure.

The aim is to use mind tricks to distract or block self 1 so that self 2 can help you perform better. Most of them relate to feel and focussing on being aware of change points for example in golf he has a drill called ‘back-hit’ where the sole goal is to say back to yourself at the exact moment you finish the backswing and hit at the exact moment the club makes contact with the ball. The end result is an outcome and success is in how closely you matched back-hit. What you find is that technique and results actually improve. In tennis for example he found that players were more relaxed and were getting to balls that in the past they wouldn’t have even tried for because self 1 would say you’ll never get that.

With my squat I now take a deep breath at the start of each rep then focuss on thinking bottom when I felt I had reached bottom of squat…sole purpose is to get that exactly right rather than focussing on form.

Thanks, ya that makes sense to me. I’ll give it a try.

I was having trouble with tightening up again in one of my races. I think it’s now less of a problem when people are closer to me but in my last race when one guy is well ahead (like .4 seconds) in the 100 meter of me and then there’s me and the field behind me it’s a hard race to prepare for. I know I 99.9% will lose but that’s a hard thing to prepare for.

Forget what others do, concentrate on performing to your best every time, if you win look at it as a bonus. :smiley:

Today I was listening to a local sports radio show on golf. The DJ’s were saying that everyone always has their eyes on Tiger, and doing that makes them choke. So the simple explanation would to just look at your perofrmance and leave the scorecard to the caddy. Easier said than done.

To some extent but not as much so as a few years ago. IMHO golf is actually one of the easier things to apply it to.

Correct, in golf you don’t have another guy trying to rip your head off so that may be a unique example.

You must have some rough racing where you are :smiley: