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In any sport that you look at, the athletes all have one ultimate goal, and that is peak performance. They seek to build their skills and improve their techniques, but above all, strive for peak performance.
This goal is at the top of every athlete’s list. It does not matter if they are youth soccer players or Olympic swimmers, attaining peak performance will allow these athletes to meet any other goals that they may have. In today’s modern age, the field of sports science is skyrocketing, and new developments are being made every day.
This leads us to the question, are there specific factors we can focus on to result in peak performance in athletes? Are there any secrets that we may not be aware of that can help peak performance? Can these factors be modified for each athlete? Today, this article discusses some of these factors that will help the sports community, from coaches to athletes, work towards peak performance.
There are many articles, books, and other resources that outline principles, programs, and success factors that help contribute to peak performance in sports. Many of these ideas are universal, and there have been some in-depth articles written about practices such as progressive resistance, variety training, goal specific training, and recovery.
These reasons are undisputed as ways to achieve peak performance. In the following article, we will go a step further in exploring these universal factors in a different light. This will help athletes, coaches, and anyone in the sports industry apply these factors in their training. We will address the factors that have been proven to cause higher success rates regarding achieving peak performance.
In looking at peak performance, there are two different sets of factors that we will address. Peak performance is built upon technical and human factors. Technical factors are skills that are learned and developed with the practice such as knowledge and skill of the game. Human factors are the emotional factors within the athlete that drive them to success. First, we will take a closer look at technical factors.
Practice Makes Perfect: Building The Foundation of a Peak Performing Athlete
These factors consist of quality preparation, mastering individual skills, high fitness levels, understanding overall team play, filling up key positions of the team, and minimizing errors in games. Quality preparation begins before the season ever starts when the athlete enters their preseason training.
This period is often the most disliked part of training since it is challenging and sometimes tedious for the athlete. This phase is necessary to achieve peak performance in the competition season.
The hours of work and training put in during this season will build the athlete’s endurance, speed, strength, and skill. It is important to note that during this stage, quality is more important than quantity. It is important to train often, but it is more important to make sure that the work being done is that of the highest quality.
When an athlete simply goes through the motion of preseason training and does so without putting any passion into it, their performance will be hindered in the competition season. The athlete will experience fatigue, injuries, or lack of sharpness in their competitions if pre season training is not completed.
Quality preparation is often difficult in school sports settings. Often, school sports begin as soon as school starts. This gives the student-athletes only two to three weeks to prepare for competition. This is not a feasible option and will not result in peak performance.
There is no way for a coach to properly practice team play, build fitness, and prepare the athletes mentally in a short period of a few weeks. If the student-athlete is not ready before competition game, it can be detrimental to their development both mentally and physically. In these athletic environments, the quality preparation responsibilities fall on the coaches, teachers, and parents, as well as the players themselves.
A training program should be developed at the end of the school year and distributed to the athletes. The athletes need to understand that even though they are on vacation from school, their sports season has already begun.
The teachers and coaches instruct the athletes on the training that is to be completed over the holiday, and parents can assist the athletes in staying on track. Each athlete should have a plan that they can use to improve their abilities while they are on their break from school. These activities should work to improve the fitness and endurance of the athlete.
A few examples would be cycling, running, swimming, playing catch with siblings, or individual practices, such as batting practice, to improve certain skills. The primary goal of this training program is to make sure that the athlete maintains all of the skills they learned in the previous season and even improve.
The training programs will ensure that the players and coaches do not have to start from scratch at the beginning of the next season. Being proactive and planning out programs will provide quality preparation that will lead to peak performance in the long run.
Building Basic Skills
The next factor is for the athlete to master individual skills. Every sport has a skill set that needs to be learned before it can be played. These skills are considered the foundation for the game and are necessary for success. An athlete must learn the skills and then built upon as they advance to higher levels of play.
A basketball player needs to learn how to dribble and shoot. A baseball player needs to learn how to catch, field and hit a baseball. Every sport has a list of core competencies that need to be cultivated. For young players, these are the skills that are learned in the preseason, or at the very least, at the earliest playing stage. At first, all of the coach’s effort and time need to be focused on getting the athlete to master these crucial skills.
If an athlete does not know these skills, it will be difficult for a coach to create a cohesive team and perform more complex plays that would contribute to peak performance.
If a baseball player cannot catch a throw from a teammate, it would be difficult for them to field a ball that was hit by an opposing player and make the play to get them out. It is in everyone’s best interest to learn and develop these skills as early as possible so that they have the proper amount of time to improve.
Professional athletes also need to focus on these core competencies. Often it is a basic mistake that can lead to a win or loss. It is important for professional athletes to continue to fine tune these skills.
At this level, teams and players are evenly matched, and if one player has slightly more advanced dribbling skills, they can get around the opponent and complete the more complex task of scoring a goal.
In the world of professional sports, the difference in core skills is more easily noticed, making it just as important to maintain these skills. Under these extreme conditions, peak performance is possible.
Focus on Fitness
Once the athlete has learned the skills, they need to develop a high fitness level to accompany that. In high school and youth sports, the athlete has not yet reached their maximum physical development.
Each athlete will develop at a different speed. Some will achieve a high fitness standard more quickly than others, which will cause a variance not only within teams but between teams as well.
Whichever team has a fitter group of players will ultimately win the competition. If one team can outrun another, there will be no way for the slower team to stop them, no matter how skilled they may be.
A team may have better dribbling skills, but they will not be able ever to outrun the opposing team and always be stopped. A high fitness level will always enable you to succeed on the playing field. This fitness level is very evident in younger athletes.
As the game progresses, athletes tend to get tired faster. A team with higher fitness levels will be able to maintain peak performance throughout the competition and score more at the end of the game when their opponent is tired.
Athletes at this age need encouragement regarding the importance of fitness as they often do not understand it yet. With proper teaching, they can achieve the highest fitness levels possible.
Professional athletes are without a doubt expected to be at their optimal fitness levels. If a professional athlete is not as fit as they need to be, their next opponent will be, and they will have to face those consequences when they are outperformed.
Professional athletes typically know what routines they need to do to prepare for the season and maintain that fitness through the end of the season. The age of professional athletes is also helpful as their bodies are at a perfect stage to be developed to their best fitness potential.
The Skill of Strategy
The next factor in achieving peak performance is for the players to understand the importance of team play. It is crucial that the athlete understands why they are doing something on the field and not just passing the ball to a particular area because the coach said so.
It is important to teach the players the strategy behind playing the ball to the wings of the field. If they know that playing the ball to the wings of the field because it spreads the defense out and allows easier access to the goal, in the long run, they will be more likely to do it.
Many young players see the goal and want to drive directly to it; they do not realize that they are making things harder for their team to score. The players must use their minds as much as their athletic abilities sometimes.
The coaches need to ensure that they are using whatever methods necessary to make sure that their players realize the strategic decisions behind the coaches instructions. If the players understand the tactical significance of their gameplay, it will lead to peak performance.
Fielding a Phenomenal Team
You can teach a team strategy, but if you do not have the best players in each position, your team will not perform well. This leads us to the fifth strategy, which is filling the key positions on the team. There are certain positions in every sport that need to be filled first.
On a basketball team, it is best to find a point guard first. The point guard controls the team on the court and calls the plays. Without a point guard calling plays, the other positions do not know what to do on the court. In hockey, you need to find an excellent center.
The center needs to play defense and offense and needs to be one of the fittest players on the team. On the baseball diamond, the catcher is the key player. The catcher can see the entire field and has the responsibility to call each pitch. Making sure that these important positions are filled is important.
Sometimes this requires moving a player from one position to another. If on your team, you lack a goalkeeper, you may have to look to other players in other positions to field this slot. You may have a striker who is as good at blocking goals as he is at scoring goals, and he may need to be switched to the goalkeeper to help the team. Some positions, such as goalkeeper, require specialized skills that not everyone can do.
It is better to move a striker with goalkeeping experience to the goal and then move a midfielder up to that striker position than it is to move that midfielder with no goalkeeping experience to the goal. This tactic leads us to the final factor of peak performance which involves making as few errors as possible.
Eliminate the Errors
The outcome of a sports competition today can often be decided by a single mistake. It is important to minimize errors as much as possible. Obviously, mistakes will be more common in youth leagues.
They are not as knowledgeable about the game and have not had as much practice, therefore, making errors inevitable. Generally speaking, the team with the least amount of mistakes will typically be the winning team and perform at peak performance levels.
It is important to make sure that players have the mentality of making as few errors as possible, both at the individual and team levels. If this tactic does not seem reasonable, take notice of how goals or points are typically scored in the competition.
Usually, the drive to the goal started when one team makes an error, and the opposing team capitalizes on that mistake. A mere fumbling of a ball when attempting to field a hit can result in a run that may cost the game. A peak performing team makes the fewest errors.
Coaches need to train players to make few mistakes in competition. A good way to do this is by watching game tapes and pointing out where mistakes were made and how that error impacted the game.
These six technical factors are crucial points for coaches and players to understand and perfect to achieve peak performance. It does not matter how talented a team is, if their elements are not developed, the team will not succeed.
Succeeding from Within
It needs to be understood that the team is made up of humans first, athletes second. There are some emotional factors within a player that can help or hinder the performance of a team. It is easy to teach some of the technical elements with patience and skill, but human factors are harder to explain.
These human factors are at the foundation of peak performance. There are less human factors than technical factors, but the weight that they carry has the power to impact a team’s peak performance more than any of the technical factors.
Dedication to the Dream
The first human factor requires having a team full of dedicated and committed players. Although dedication and commitment are something that must come from within a player, there are still some actions a coach can take to help facilitate this.
Each player is different so that the coach may need an individual plan for each player. If the player is intrinsically motivated to succeed, it can be helpful to sit down with the player and set some individual and team goals. These goals will motivate that player to succeed and help the team.
Some players may not have the same level of motivation and require a reward system to motivate them. No matter what strategy is used, if all of the players are not dedicated and committed, then the performance level will not be at its peak.
Teamwork and Togetherness
The second, and final, the human factor is maintaining high levels of teamwork and team spirit. A team needs to work together to achieve success. The team should be able to understand each other and predict movements so that they can function as a seamless unit.
Lack of teamwork can lead to arguments and selfishness. These flaws can be detrimental to a team and ruin the team’s potential for success. Good team morale will motivate the players to play for each other. They will realize that a good pass to a teammate helps the whole team.
This will prompt them to pass to the open teammate instead of trying to beat three players on their own and score. The player should feel just as good about a teammate scoring as they would if they scored the goal themselves.
Throughout history, teams with the best team spirit and teamwork have won, even if they were not the most skilled. Once players decide that the greater success of the team be more important than any personal success, that is when peak performance will be achieved.
In the long journey of a sports career, training for and achieving peak performance is something that is desired by both players and coaches alike. This mentality spans from high school and youth sports all the way to professional sports.
Humans innately want to succeed at what they set out to do. To be the best, you have to train the best. Combining the technical and human factors in this article will allow will allow a team to grow into a skilled and cohesive unit, together achieving that ultimate goal of peak performance.