139: Number One Rule to Becoming a Better Player

We cannot always take responsibility for whatever that happens to us, but we can always take responsibility for how we respond.

Listen to the Podcast

Today’s show is where the fun part begins.

If you want to learn more on how I got here, back track to episodes 137 and 138. Episode 137, I talked about how I need to keep focus to reduce unwanted stress and burnout in out sport, and in episode 138 we talked about asking the right questions and what are the questions we should be asking.

139: Number One Rule to Becoming a Better Player

Number One Rule to Becoming a Better Player

It can be really unfortunate if everyone of us has that talent and that potential to do something not only we love doing, but we can do so well, yet we never derived enjoyment while being in the process.

Yes we love our game, but of course most of us enjoy it most when we see results, when the scoreboard shows that we are best at it.

But what if the results made us feel like we are not improving? Do we leave it, and hope tomorrow we’ll be better, or do we analyse and run through what we have done before and correct it?

Today, I will be talking about discovering ourselves while getting into the regular grind of our training sessions so that we will know what we need to learn to better ourselves.

I used to think that it’s important to develop a really solid training base so that I can cover as much fundamental skill as possible to level up when I needed to.

From that mindset, I used to look at my sport and ask myself what are the different skills are required of my sport that I need to be really good at.

Something Is Missing

It’s natural for anyone in any sport, or rather, it’s normal that we see our sport as a separate entity of ourselves and that if we aren’t able to master certain skills that we think our sport needs, it’s normal for many of us to take it as it means we shouldn’t be playing it or we just suck at it.

So as I got into the whole routine of the program together with my team for a few years, I quickly realised there was a missing element.

You know, it’s natural that one can easily become obsessed with grinding out physically.

In my case, I thought that as a canoe polo player, I must be able to throw the ball for a certain distance or I must be able to master a certain trick, if not I couldn’t forgive myself and brand myself as lousy or a failure for never been able to do so.

Yes, grinding it out is definitely one of the keys to success.

But the missing element for me has nothing to do with that. It has nothing to do with requiring anyone to train up any physical aspect directly.

The missing element is not about getting the results I want.

The missing element, is in fact when I didn’t get the results I want.

I realised I was missing an essential mental skill to enable myself to break through the ceiling from my daily grind.

Leaving Success to Chance

I could be stuck at any point whether I am number one today or number 10 tomorrow.

So what I’m sharing here is not just for a beginner. This is could be something that’s unique to each of us and it’s up to us to discover within ourselves whether an athlete just got started being competitive or has even broken a few world records. There’s a barrier in each of us whether we are world champions or not.

For example, there are times when I get into the flow of the game or race not because I knew how to be in the flow or to get the runner’s high, it was because I got kind of lucky. Instead of learning and figuring out how to play in the flow and be in the zone, I left it to chance.

The flow just developed out of nowhere. It could happen when the opposing team showed vulnerability that gave me the natural boost in confidence to perform better than expected. It could be that day’s weather turned out to be so fine that probably worked in my favour.

I left that a lot to how much my talent can shine or how good my mood is based on a day to day basis.

When it comes to being mindful, most of the time I was more mindful of how good or bad I looked if I did something rather than being mindful about what I should do to improve how I deliver physically. I was more worried about my end performance rather than how and what to control within myself to get there.

It was a lot of emphasis on results, rather than being mindful towards building the vehicle to take me from a slump to a better performing experience.

Most of the time, I waited for things to happen before trying to turn things around, not knowing that’s when damage has been done. I tend to wait for things to happen in reality but the moment I realised I can’t change what has happened, it’s too late to do anything, that’s when I lost control of myself.

Then I got stressed out having seen what’s in front of me. When I was in a situation of not knowing what to do, it was as if I suddenly realised I was at the deep end of the pool, panicking to find the quickest way to get myself out of the rut.

Now how did I get to the deep end in the first place? I don’t know.
Precisely because I wasn’t mindful of my steps, I did not intend to look within myself to discover what am I doing right now that works for me.

If I could do that, I would have observed my own steps and those of my teammates, and able to feel the water level rising higher and higher up our body. That is a very good warning sign that doesn’t scream at me. It’s up to us to learn how to read warning signs, to know what sign means danger and then to develop the skills to know what to do with our own thoughts and emotions when that warning sign is evident.

It was the problem with our state of mind.

I left my state of mind to chance, I left decision making to chance, I left my own sense of control to chance.

So I started to think, “what if, I can create a way to save myself even before I leave myself dumbfounded not knowing what to do next?”.

Is there a formula that I can apply to situations that I’ve not foreseen, or do I need to guess as many possible scenarios as I can that could happen and figure out a solution for each of them before they happen?

Many of us do not create a discovery cycle within us before taking action. A lot of us immediately take action only based on what we see. This is called reaction. A lot of us do that and do that really well because we have the required talent to do that instinctively when the right situation sufficed. But what if it keeps happening, do we use the same reaction or does it entail something else to overcome that?

The answer is, as athletes much like anything in life, we must aim to not react blindly, but aim to respond with almost 100% certainty. I said “almost” because we cannot control everything.

Back to the deep end of the pool analogy, just imagine a rabbit standing at the shallower end of a pond and looking across to the deeper end. Then it’s eyes caught sight of a carrot hanging from a tree at the deeper end.

This rabbit loves carrot, so without hesitation, it started to cross the pond, tip-toed all the way towards the end, slowly realising it’s toes are barely touching the floor of the pond.

This rabbit was so fixated to get the carrot it didn’t realise the pond was getting deeper and that it was not well-equipped with the right tools to reach the end safely.

At the same time, it was not ready with the skills to keep it floating when it meets the danger of a deeper end.

Instead, the rabbit got all frantic as it was shocked to find itself unable to touch the ground, he drowned and died.

The end.

Hope this story makes sense.

Based on this, in my case, most of the time, I make mistakes without being purposeful.

I realised I used to make mistakes because instead of responding, I reacted, and there are times when my reactions did bring about great results for me. Thing is when good things happened, I didn’t attribute them to luck. But when bad things happened, I say it’s due to bad luck.

Who doesn’t want to think that good results are accredited to their own effort? Everyone does. It feels good at that time, but in the long run, I don’t know what’s going to happen and I wouldn’t know what to do if that situation strikes again. Those are probably due to reliance on talent alone if not for pure luck. In this way, I could hardly replicate such a success, because I didn’t have the steps to follow if situation like that happens again.

Back to the rabbit story.

This time, let’s just back track and change the ending.

Lets say that just so happened that a little kid walked by and saw the little rabbit in danger. He was kind and picked the rabbit up by it’s two fluffy ears, and carried it to land. It’s now given a second lease of life, and hopped away feeling relieved.

One fine day, this same rabbit came to another similar pond and another similar carrot caught it’s eye. Again, it has to cross the pond to the deeper end to be able to get the carrot. The rabbit got all angsty and frustrated because it’s so hungry but it faced that same old life endangering situation again. The previous experience didn’t leave him a good feeling too.

At this point, the fate of this rabbit lies not by chance. The opportunity is already presented itself, but the experience the rabbit will be going through depends on what it has to prepare for such situation before this day.

People might ask, but the rabbit wouldn’t know what will happen.

Yes the rabbit wouldn’t know many things, but surely it knows it needs to find a carrot to feed himself one day. The rabbit knows this day will come, so why not feed his own mind with the required skills first before it’s too late, before it realises it’s hungry and has to risk his life to find food?

I hope this is a relevant analogy, because I feel that the food is not the point. As much as the process to get the food is important, yet that’s not the most important thing. What’s most important to me is whether that process is something that works for me in relation to my sport and my team.

For me to illustrate this point, let’s head back to the rabbit’s case. I have established that the rabbit wants to get the carrot. Say this time this rabbit prepares and trains itself so that when it meets the same situation, it knows just what to do. How do you think it’s training plan should be? What should this rabbit be training for on a daily basis? What should it focus on?

Should it learn how to fly? Swim? Or maybe train it’s little quads to do a one time big leap across the pond? There are just so many options out there to learn.

This rabbit may have once seen a bird flying across to pick on the carrot, or a mouse digging a hole in the ground to make a tunnel to get there. Maybe the rabbit should emulate the bird or the mouse. But question here is, what is the rabbit’s best quality? Can it even fly to begin with? Is it realistic for it to learn to take one big leap across the pond? What is possible for this rabbit?

I know, in episode 134, I discussed about how to break records with the right mindset.

I mentioned if anything is impossible, nobody would have broken records.

Since records are meant to be broken, that may mean rabbits can learn how to fly.

Realistically no, but technically it’s possible. Think about it, wouldn’t you agree that this little rabbit can build itself a device to catapult itself across the pond to the other side? It can build a little plane, or it could find a giant leaf to sit on and drift itself to the other side of the pond.

Learning to fly or hopping across the pond could be realistic but it may take more than it’s lifetime to learn, so I am not ruling them out as impossible. I’m trying to be so positive, you cannot believe it. But all of us have a deadline, means we need to accomplish something within our lifetime. If this rabbit wants to get the carrot, whether it got it at the end of the day or not, it needs to plan it’s journey that may take long but it’s within it’s lifetime. Makes sense? I really hope so.

You know I can really learn a lot from this rabbit.

Too many times, I hear people tell one another to trust the training and everyone fails at it. Why? That’s because there is no basis for us to trust the training. People always asked me, “how do you trust your training?”, “what do you mean by trust your training?”. Thing is, that’s what everyone says, everyone tends to advise others to “trust their training” even without knowing how to do so themselves.

A lot of times, for some people, saying it makes them sound like they are wise and it makes them feel superior to know more than the other. So everybody follows everybody probably just to try and help. But instead of helping, it confuses everyone.

Just by saying “trust your training” is in fact leaving everything to chance.

Another problem for me is I used to base the effectiveness of my training too much on the end result. If I didn’t get the carrot, it means our training program is bad, it means I am a bad rabbit. If I got the carrot, means I am a good rabbit, whether I survived it or not and whether I got across the pond without stepping on other rabbits or not.

I never realised it isn’t about getting to the carrot, but more about knowing how to stay afloat, knowing how to move if I was stuck, knowing how to stay calm when the tide is high.

I can assure you that once I managed to understand this and applied this rule to my daily trainings, I felt more comfortable in my own skin. When I was able to figure out what’s possible for myself, I don’t just leave the trust to chance, I don’t simply tell myself “I believe in myself” then I would, it doesn’t work that way.

I have developed a system within myself that I can leverage over and over again even when I’m struck with unfortunate events over and over again. This doesn’t happen out of chance or supernatural effects.

I learned to never ever do guesswork, ever again. If I needed to prepare for a game, it’s not just showing up. Showing up is one prerequisite, of course I have to be there to start with. But even before showing up, I’ve already mentally decided for myself what I was going to do if a certain scenario crops up.

Instead of thinking “what if this happens?” I reminded myself to think “what should I do if this happens?” See the difference there?

It’s positive thinking going on there. Being positive doesn’t just mean repeating a positive word over and over again. I don’t just keep saying the words “be happy” and I will be happy. There’s no way to tell myself, “stay positive” and I’ll magically become positive. Doesn’t work that way for me at all.

The risks and returns have to be calculated in advanced whether or not the results turned out in the positive way or not.

It’s the thought process that leads me to my actions that in turn leads me to the results.

So all I needed to do was to answer a simple question of “what should I do if (fill in the blank) happens?”.

Just this question alone will allow my mind to spark answers to prompt me to use them as my actions when the time comes. In this way, instead of reacting to a situation and hope it works, I will respond to it confidently knowing I have myself in control.

The least I could do is to control my own actions. Once I have that, everything else is not within my control and that’s nothing for me to worry about.

Hope this helps.

I want to work on an episode talking about setting expectations not just for oneself but also for others.

I have been in a team sport for many years although I’ve also dabbled in individual games for awhile when I was younger. But setting expectations is something rarely well-managed especially in team sports, because it’s more complicated when there are more people involved.

Anyway, let’s get to that in future episodes.

In case you might ask for today’s show notes, links and more, you can go to starplayeracademy.com/podcast, sign up for my newsletter while you’re there, all you get is my best stuff to your inbox, I bet you don’t get the same stuff from anywhere else.

And please don’t be shy, if you have any burning question to becoming a better player, let me know. I promise you it’s not going to happen now, we are going on this long game together, but I promise you that I will take you by the hand and walk on with you on this journey. That is, if you allow me to.

If you want to find me, go to Twitter @MarilynWo.

I know that we all come from different situations, family background, different sports and from different places. We all experience different circumstances, so I may be in a more fortunate circumstance that you are, I know that.

But a lot of times, especially in sports, a lot of things can happen to us. One moment we may be leading the game, another minute we may be benched for not performing up to what’s expected of us.

But like I’ve mentioned earlier in this episode, we cannot prevent things from happening to us. It’s always about how we react to those things.

What we usually focus on are two things, the thing that happened to us and our reaction. But what I want to share is rather than focussing on these two things, we should focus on the time in between what’s happening and our reaction so that we can respond appropriately. This time that is in between is our opportunity to take responsibility to take the right actions.

This is so important, because precisely in sports, many times we don’t even have a minute consider what to do next. We are constrained by game rules. Most of the time we only a few seconds or less to make things right. How are we supposed to do that? We are able to do that by taking responsibility over that time in between.

We cannot always take responsibility for whatever that happens to us, but we can always take responsibility for how we respond.

That was an awesome show, have a great day everyone.

Big thanks to Dexter Britain for composing such wonderful inspiring music: The Time to Run.

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