Peak Performance in Sports

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 7 comments
In the sports arena, peak performance in sports has always been a much sought after state by players and coaches of all levels. Whether the athletes are school boys soccer players or Olympians striving for their Gold medals, peak performance in sports has always attracted athletes and coaches alike. In our modern age of sports, where sports science is at a stratospheric level and rising, what are the factors that when applied correctly can lead sports participants to peak performance in sports? Are there secrets to sporting excellence? Are these factors easily manipulated for the benefits of the athletes? This article discusses the factors that can lead athletes and coaches to peak performance in sports.

There has been many articles and books detailing principles, programs, success factors and the like that can lead to peak performance in sports. Many authors have written at length about them and in many ways, the principles and factors are universal. The principles of progressive resistance, variety, goal specific training, recovery, etc are all undisputed underlying reasons that allows athletes to achieve peak performance in sports. This article goes a step further by exploring these universal factors in a different light. In the process, I hope to give athletes and coaches alike how to practically apply these principles and which are the factors with higher weightage in terms of achieving success and peak performance in sports.

There are basically two set of factors we need to look into. Technical and human factors. Let us take a look at the former set of factors first;

Technical Factors

1. Quality Preparation
2. Mastering Individual Skills
3. High Fitness Levels
4. Understanding Overall Team Play
5. Filling Up Key Positions of the Team
6. Minimise Errors in Games

1. Quality Preparation

The hard work for any sports season begins with the preseason training which is very intensive. No body likes this season, as the work and training required is often very boring and painful. But this has to be done for the athletes to be optimally prepared for the rigours of the competitive phase. The endurance, strength, speed and skill volumes must be done. Not just the volume of work, but how much quality is put into the preparation phase is vital as well. When players cut corners and put in training at face value without their heart and soul, it will show up later in the competition as fatigue, injuries or lack of sharpness in their performance. Peak performance in sports cannot be possible under such circumstances. The quality of preseason preparation is even more important in youth sports.

Very often in schools, the playing seasons for many sports start almost immediately when the school year starts. With our children away for long vacations, our athletes very often return to school to face competitions with very little training time. Team play, fitness building and mental preparation are supposed to be done in 2-3 weeks, which in a sports world is almost impossible and impractical. This kind of preparation is also detrimental to the development of our children. Under these circumstances, coaches and teachers (and parents if possible) have a very important responsibility to ensure that our athletes are well prepared for competition. Training programmes for sports ought to be drawn up and implemented at year's end previously. Our athletes need to understand that that their season effectively began when their examinations are over. With a training programme started, coaches and teachers can than instruct athletes about a vacation training programme as well. Each athlete should have one whereby, they can do something to improve their playing abilities during their break away from school. It could include things like maintain a certain standard of fitness through endurance activities like cycling, running or swimming, playing catch and pitching in the backyard with their siblings, or even individual practices to improve certain skills. The main thing here is to preserve and improve what has been attained in the preceding season, so that athletes do not return back to school and start from scratch. Simply planning and training this way will ensure quality preparation for the sports teams to attain peak performance in sports later.

2. Mastering Individual Skills

In all sports and games, there are certain skill sets and skills that are considered basic and necessary. These must be achieved by athletes before they can play at a higher level later. In basketball, dribbling and executing a proper lay-up are crucial. Throwing, catching and fielding skills are a must in baseball and softball. The push-pass and receiving a pass are necessary skills in hockey and floor ball. The list goes on. In preseason training, or at the earliest playing stage, these essential skills must be made known to our young players, and all efforts and time must be spent on mastering these basic skills. Without these skills, a coach will find it very difficult to execute more complex team plays to achieve peak performance in sports. If strikers cannot even control a long pass from a teammate, how can we expect the same player to hold up the ball well up field against oppositions defenders and execute lay-off passed to oncoming teammates in support. It will be wise for coaches to develop these skills early and also for players to keep improving themselves in these skills even though they might feel that they are good enough already.

Even at professional levels, these basic skills for their sports is important for peak performance in sports. The repertoire of skills required and the intensity of how these skills are performed at the highest levels are even more acute. At the highest levels where opponents are very evenly match in all areas, one mistake can often result in a win or loss. It is even more important for professionals to master all the skills required of the game or sports. Only under such intense conditions can peak performance in sports be possible.

3. High Fitness Levels

At high school levels, many athletes would not have reached their maximal physical development yet no matter how much they train. Physiologically speaking, the development in this area in youths is very varied. Some children reach a high fitness standard faster than others, while others have body types that will only respond to training optimally when they get older. Hence, it can be assumed that a team with the fittest group of players will have the most advantage. No matter how skillful your opponents are, if you are fitter than him or her, you will be able to overcome your lack of fitness by reacting rapidly to overcome your short fall. Let's say, you are out dribbled by a more skillful opponent in soccer. But if you are fitter than your opponent who have just out-dribbled you, you will be able to track back fast enough to cover your position again. This edge in fitness for youth is very important at the later stages of the game too, as players tend to tire faster at this age. A fitter team will definitely be able to prevail and score more later in the game. Players at this age need to be convinced of this need for fitness, and be encouraged to do whatever they can to attain the highest level of fitness possible.

How about professionals? Without a doubt, professional athletes are expected to possess fitness at the highest levels. If they are not, their opponents will be and consequently, they will outperform them and reach their peak performance in sports. Generally speaking, professional sportsmen know how to get into great shape and maintain that till the end of the season. Their physical bodies are also in the best state to be developed to their fullest potential.

4. Understanding Overall Team Play

The next factor of great importance in achieving peak performance in sports is understanding the overall team play by the players. Imagine a coach telling his charges to clear the balls down the flanks in any invasion game. You will be surprise how many players actually understand why they are told to do this. More often than not, the players will just do what is required or told by the coaches. The understanding behind their action is very often very little. They might not know that by playing the ball down the flanks or wing, it actually forces the opponents defence to spread wider, thus leaving more gaps in the middle for the attacker to exploit subsequently. Another statistically advantage is that plays down the flanks generally result in the attacker getting the ball back if it is knocked out of bound. That is why, you often hear players or coaches shouting to their charges to 'throw it down the line'. Young players love the direct route to goal and very often that means playing through the middle. Whatever is taught in tactics to the players, coaches must make every effort to explain and make sure that all the players understand the tactical significance of their plays. This form of coaching if done properly, makes the players better players and improve their decision making on the pitch. And we are always looking for more thinking players in our pitch which will give the team a higher chance of achieving peak performance in sports.

5. Filling Up Key Positions of the Team

The fifth factor that can produce peak performance in sports is actually finding the right players to fill up the most key positions of the team first. In any sport teams, there will be key positions that must be filled first. The point guard in a basketball team is the driver of the team. he controls all plays. A centre in ice-hockey is pivot in both defense and attack, hence he must be the best and fittest and most abled player. The catcher in baseball is the key man, as he dictates and calls the pitches, and also sees the entire fielding situation. These key positions must be filled first, even if it means fielding someone out of position. I use to have a very talented and strong striker who loves to score goals. Unfortunately, I also have a big gap in goal-keeping and he happens to be the best handler of balls in the team. After much persuasion and sacrifice, he finally converted to a goal-keeper. Thanks to his selfless act, the team did extremely well as very few goals were scored against us. It was not easy to make this move. But as the coach than, I felt that the goal-keeper is too important a player to let any Tom, Dick or Harry player, hence it must be the best. These result was the least number of silly errors from our goal-keeping department and that gave the team a much better chance to win games.This brings us to the last technical factor that influence peak performance in sports - making fewest errors.

6. Minimise Errors in Games

In sports these days, errors often decide the outcome of the game. Errors will be more plentiful at youth and children levels. The fact that children are playing at lower technical and tactical levels makes it inevitable that errors will be made. The team that makes the fewest errors in any game will generally perform at their peak. Its a mentality that must be drilled into players to make the fewest error individually as well as as a team. If you do not believe this, watch your next game with a watchful eye over how goals or points are scored. More often than not, you will realize that a goal started from an error from the opponents somewhere. Or a point or run is a result of some players fumbling the ball. Making many silly errors will not lead a team to peak performance in sports. A team that is doing well makes the fewest errors. So coaches, make sure you train your players to understand this and do the right things in the game. Show them evidence through videos or live games, and they will be convinced that the team with the fewest errors win games and peak in their sports performance.

So far we have discussed the technical factors that will lead your team to peak performance in sports. Coaches and players must make sure that these factors are well looked into to ensure that your teams will attain peak performance in sports. Otherwise, it will be a waste of effort and time no matter how talented the team and players are.

In trying to achieve peak performance in sports, human factors are also very important. Understand and master these factors, and success and peak performance in sports is almost a sure thing. But very often these factors are often the hardest to achieved. Here we are drawing on the qualities of human beings to excel in different areas in order for them to reach their peak performance in sports. Very often, these qualities form the foundation of all athletic performances in sports. The players and coaches will find mastering these factors most difficult because we are dealing with intangible elements of human nature. Its easy to improve on your pitching skills, but to improve team spirit it has a lot more to do with just practicing a skill.

Fortunately, we only need to focus on two human factors here in order to achieve peak performance in sports.

Human Factors

1. Players' Dedication and Commitment 2. Team Work and Team Spirit

The first factor deals with having dedicated and committed players. This is very much an individual player factor, but it is also the coach's responsibility to reap the highest commitment and dedication from each player. We all know that every player is different, hence it requires different strategies to motivate different players. For some players, simply setting goals, both team and individual goals, will suffice because maybe the players themselves are already intrinsically motivated. For players with poor motivation and a star attitude, some form of carrot and stick methods might be required to get the most out of them. Whatever the strategies, failure to get the highest commitment and dedication from players will mean that training and match play will not be optimum thus resulting in poorer peak performance in sports.

The second human factor that leads to peak performance in sports is team work and team spirit. When a team is able to work together to a level whereby players' understanding is so good, than the team will have reach the ultimate potential. Not just will tactical plays be good all round, but the effort to play for each other in the team will be so high that the level of satisfaction and sacrifice will be so immense that team play will improve. Players are willing to run and cover for each other more, and there is almost a magical factor in the team play. Team effectiveness will improve. Players will not be playing for selfish reasons but rather for the common team goals. History provides wonderful elements for us to see team work in action. Very often, it was not teams with the most skills that won the competitions, but rather, the teams with the greatest team spirit and team work, When players are willing to set aside personal differences to play for greater team goals. In Euro 2004, Greece was not the team with the greatest fair or skills,but they still won, because the coach was able to mold a team of seemingly nobody into a cohesive unit that was willing to play hard for each other.

Training and reaching peak performance in sports is very often the dreams and aspirations of many coaches and players. At all levels of sports, from high school to professional, all athletes and their coaches want to achieve their peak performance in sports. It is a inner desire of human to succeed and be the best. Being the best requires not just skill, but also certain technical and human factors that can be manipulated for the benefits of achieving peak performance in sports. These factors are important for any sports fans striving for peak performance in sports.

Jimmy Tong has been a Physical Educator for 13 Years in Singapore, with degree in sports science and physical education from Loughborough University in UK. He has extensive coaching experience in soccer, floorball and rugby teams in Singapore Schools.He is currently a sports development officer in Singapore schools as well as an active contributor of sports training articles to improve sports performance in athletes. He hopes to enable people's success to come by inspiring them with true sports motivational and inspirational stories.