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10 Key Elements of Human Performance

Over the past thirty-plus years I have been in Private Practice (sounds better than “three decades”, doesn’t it…?) I have been seeing primarily, athletes. My field is Performance Enhancement, and I am usually called upon when athletic performance on the track/court/field/track is suffering, and a “fresh set of eyes” is required. Initially, it was just the athlete and me. But, as time went by, we would sometimes be joined in our sessions by others. I began to see athletes with their significant others. Sometimes we were joined by their coaches, their trainers, and even their sponsors. Over the last ten years, I have become a “go-to” resource for Coaches, Trainers, & Instructors (I call them “CTIs). The CTIs would seek my counsel, get some answers, and return to their athletes or teams with a course of action.

I have put together a list of the Ten Elements of Human Performance for my CTIs to take with them after our sessions. After speaking with several of my Colleagues, they suggested that the List might be useful to readers of Muscle Media Magazine. I agreed… I think the List is representative, but not exhaustive. Are there other “elements”? Of course, there are!  But I believe these Ten Elements are useful to developing a grounded foundation for all aspiring CTIs. If you work with people in such a capacity, I offer this list gleaned over a long and varied career. Submitted for your consideration…!

1. Pay Attention

As I was growing up, I was always being told to “focus, Focus, FOCUS”! However, the more that I tried, the more I missed. It seemed that my energies were being derailed, and I rapidly became distracted. I found myself more involved with “trying to focus” than to trying to actually perform! The energy cost of constantly trying to exclude everything but the object of my “focus” was enormous.  I was using a lot of energy without evidence of any reward. I thought to myself that I could either “stop being distracted” or “take care of business”, but not both effectively. It took an enlightened Master in my Martial Arts studies to offer another solution. “Pay Attention, he said. He explained that trying to “focus” is an act of constraint. You may miss important information as you dismiss it as a “distraction”. When you “Pay Attention”, you are unbound and expansive. “Pay Attention” with more than just your eyes. Use ALL of your senses. This may seem difficult at first, but the more you do it, the more it becomes “second nature”. With patience, you will be able to “see” far more than what others merely look at…

Human Performance-limitations2. Have Your Athletes Explore Their Limitations

Part of your role as a Coach/Trainer/Instructor (CTI) is to serve as a source of accountability and inspiration. You serve to encourage athletes to push beyond the point at which they would stop, if left on their own. Limitations are different than Limits. Limits are a reflection of physics. Beyond a certain point, there is no more of the resource to be had, and performance stops (no more oxygen, no more water, etc.). Limitations, however, are self-imposed. These are the points at which the athlete stopped, not the point at which physics took over. Please understand that as the athlete approaches their “Limitation”, they will experience more & more discomfort. They are also keenly aware that they are exploring “new ground”. “New ground” represents something unknown, and usually has some associated anxiety and (yes, I’ll say it) “Fear”. Encourage them to achieve “one more…” Make note of the accomplishment. Measure it. Write it down. Graph it to clearly illustrate progress. Celebrate as you all make note of it! Over the years most of the athletes I have seen in my Practice fondly credit a specific CTI for helping them push beyond their self-imposed Limitations to explore new levels of performance.

3. Practice Beyond The Competition

Here at MonuMental Performance, I use the term “PCTWO” when referring to the process of Practicing, Conditioning, Training, & Working Out”. Although different terminology, they all describe the processes of repetitive preparation for competition. I encourage my CTI’s to clearly understand why they have their athletes PCTWO. Beyond the “why”, I have them describe precisely what it is that they are PCTWO. Many CTIs think PCTWO is purely physical. They believe that “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” is the key to success. Other CTI’s mistakenly “take it easy” while having their athletes “go through the motions” of PCTWO. They are doing their athletes no favors. Many people believe that PCTWO should probably be “Easy”, and competition “Hard”. Wrong! They have it backwards! All of the trial & error, the “heavy lifting”, the experimentation should take place during PCTWO! There is an old Martial Arts axiom that states “You Will Always Fight As You Train.” Competition is not the place for your athletes to experience novel situations. It is too late… They should have been exposed to similar situations during PCTWO. It gives them a solid frame of reference. When confronted with a similar situation during competition, at least they do not have the additional burden of dealing with the novelty of the situation. They have already “seen it, done it, been there…”

4. Use Your Resources Wisely

As a CTI, you have resources at your disposal.  Across the field/gym/court/course, your opposition brings similar resources to the competition.  I remind my CTI’s that all of these resources are finite. They are all limited. You do not have infinite supplies that you can endlessly re-supply. A CTI would be wise to conserve such resources! Many elements of PCTWO place demands upon these limited resources (team cohesion, socialization, specific plays, tactics, strengthening, acclimatization, etc.). Raw talent aside, the two universal, limited resources to consider are time and energy. As a CTI, it is up to you as to how to use limited time and energy during your preparatory PCTWO.  You and your opponent are both responsible for the proper allocation of these resources. The less experienced the CTI, the more they view these resources as an “on/off switch”. With experience, you will be able to understand that you can “turn it up” or “turn it down” as the situation demands. The “on/off switch” becomes a “dimmer switch” that you can control… Ultimately, the purpose of your finely-tuned PCTWO is to develop experience. As a result, you and your athletes will be more efficient in decision making and judgment. Improved judgment will help your athletes determine if and when it’s time to “turn up the heat” (or not!). This leads us to:

5. Optimize, Not Maximize

“Always give 100%!” You have probably heard this expression, perhaps even use it in your PCTWO. While it initially seems to make sense, closer examination makes it difficult to justify. Keeping in mind that all of your resources are finite, CTIs would be wise to conserve, if possible. We are all familiar with “first-half teams” or “race-rabbits” that start strong, but have nothing left for the second half. Sometimes, victory does not go to the strongest, or the best trained, or the one who “really, Really, REALLY” (whiney voice) wants it… Oftentimes, victory goes to the last one standing while everyone else is drained. Most situations do not require “100% effort”. They require sufficient effort. The more experience your athletes acquire, the more efficient they become. This saves precious resources. You are able to get progressively greater results with less expense of time and/or energy. Proper PCTWO includes presenting progressive challenges to your athletes. This allows them to become more accustomed to the increased demands and learn to become more efficient. This also affords you, CTI, to more accurately assess your athletes’ Limitations and plan accordingly.

6. Harness Your Powerful Feelings

In my book PerformanceSpheres, (shameless plug..!) I describe how I see the “Human Condition”. I explain five “Spheres” of influence: Mental, Physical, Technical, Spiritual, and Emotional. Without going into detail that exceeds the scope of this list, suffice it to say that each Sphere interacts with the others. Each Sphere influences and is influenced by the others. The nature of the interactions can be revealing. It is a way to diagnose where problems exist, and offer insights into possible corrections. However, of all of the “Spheres”, the “Emotional” Sphere accounts for many (if not most) of the presenting problems seen in my Practice. Generally, the athletes and CTIs I have seen have few problems with the “Physical”, the “Mental”, or the “Technical” spheres. Some have difficulties with the “Spiritual”, but these are often a reflection of Emotional distress. Emotions are often quite insistent, and demand action. The danger lies in becoming unbalanced by the feelings and losing clarity of purpose. Each of us, at one time or another, has acted…”impulsively”…because of unbridled emotion (this is usually followed by futile attempts to “justify” the behavior…!)  I offer the opportunity to have my athletes and CTIs explore their Emotional distress and dissect it cognitively (Mentally). “Thoughtfully Understanding Feelings” is a good first step to recognizing the impact of Emotional distress. Powerful emotions may become potent allies, if properly recognized and directed. From there, we explore how much time and energy (remember those finite resources) are consumed attempting greater levels of performance…

7. Develop Competence And Confidence Will Be Found

“Everyone is a winner, and everyone gets a trophy!” While I don’t often hear that sentiment expressed by the CTIs and athletes in my Practice, it is repeated often enough to address. The “lack of confidence” is seen by some CTIs as something that can be corrected by “leveling the playing field”. This usually means artificially lowering standards, discouraging achievement, and rewarding mediocrity in the name of “fairness”. These attitudes display a fundamental misunderstanding of the Human Condition. Humans have a natural desire to “Strive for Superiority”. This “Striving” occurs against other competitors, against established standards, against existing records, and most importantly: against oneself. I cannot think of a single client or patient that has ever expressed a longing desire to be “Average”. They want to get better. To some, “better” is not enough. They want to be the BEST. If confidence is lacking, how do you propose to create it? The CTIs and athletes that I see do not wait around hoping for their athletes to find some secret stash of “confidence” before they act. They act again and again, “Striving for Superiority” (competence). They realize that each and every attempt is yet another opportunity to learn. I have found that the most consistent method to develop “confidence” is to develop “competence”. Attempts to artificially “award” confidence without any effort or challenge is discouraging to all participants.

It annoys achievers and those striving to improve. It gives a false sense of accomplishment to those willing to settle for mediocrity. Most tragic of all, it robs “the settlers” of the opportunity to experience true, effort-related success that comes from their own consistent hard work. There is an old management axiom: “No Involvement; No Commitment!” (This is especially important if you want them to keep coming back…) Afford your athletes the priceless opportunity to work for competence, and you will not need to concern yourself with awarding artificial, manufactured confidence.

Human Performance-homework8. Do Your Homework

“Prior proper preparation prevents perilously poor performance!” or so the saying goes. “Fail To Prepare: Then Prepare To Fail” reflects a similar sentiment. Our lexicon is full of sayings cautioning us about the perils of not being prepared. Thousands of years ago, the great General Sun Tzu said that all conflicts are won or lost long before the battle takes place. It is just as true today. Preparing for “probabilities”, or what will likely happen, is the responsibility of the CTI. Spend time wisely by carefully considering what is likely to occur. Take into account the weather, terrain, distances, and participants. Research your opposition. Study trends and tendencies. Draw upon your own intimate knowledge of your athletes and their strengths and weaknesses. Above all, structure your PCTWO to include preparations to take advantage of your opponent’s known tendencies.  Do not wait until competition to begin your research. Essentially: you need to know more about them than they do about you!  There is no excuse to not prepare for the most probable. If afforded additional time; carefully consider additional, less probable situations.

9. Practice Discipline

Whenever asked about “Discipline”, I like to distinguish between the verb and the noun. Initially, discipline (verb) is imposed either on yourself (usually more difficult) or on others. If benevolent, it follows logical and natural laws of “cause and effect.” It is intended to teach through correction leading to more acceptable outcomes as the goal. Usually, it offers clear opportunities for correction towards improvement. The practice itself requires diligence and persistence. Discipline (verb), if appropriately practiced, usually leads to changes.  As I don my “Exercise Physiology Hat” (one of many that I wear), I like to view Discipline (verb) in terms of Duration, Intensity, and Frequency. Physiologists use these three factors to formulate exercise prescriptions. I find it useful to offer my CTIs a functional framework to design an appropriate program of Discipline. Deciding the “Duration” (how long), the “Intensity” (how much/hard), and the “Frequency” (how often), CTIs are better able to communicate, teach, and track the progress of their athletes (and themselves!). As progress is accurately and consistently measured, clear evidence will be revealed of Discipline (verb) becoming Discipline (noun).

Human Performance-be-the-part10. Be The Part

This is really the essence of what you hope to be as a CTI. The word that I use to describe this quality is “Integrity”. Remember the Spheres? The amount of over-lap, or integration, of the five Spheres, the more stable the individual. The degree of stability reflects dependability, consistency, and character. As we are all practicing in a “Service Industry”, we encounter clients seeking advice and guidance to help them improve. This is a considerable responsibility not to be taken lightly. Consider that, with all of the options available, they have come to YOU for help (they can find “No Help” anywhere, but they have come to you!) Misinformation and disinformation offered by unqualified CTIs is unfortunate, but with Integrity, you can rise above this.  I encourage my CTIs to “Be The Part”. This means consistency across all five Spheres. It involves being prepared and knowledgeable (educated) in your field. It speaks to “Looking the Part” and clearly demonstrating that you “Practice what you Preach”.  Your “Image” is a reflection of the message you want to send to the World. Your “Style” is the manner in which it is delivered. I have heard a common theme from my CTIs over the years. They claim that they want to “help people”. This “help” takes many forms, but to be of any real use, you would be wise to start with getting your own house in order. Just as “posers” are eventually found-out, so, too, are those CTIs with Integrity. Let’s revisit our lexicon for a moment. Isn’t it said that “The Cream always rises to the Top”? You have the power to be a real game-changer. With that power comes accountability and responsibility. Be Prepared. Be Ready. Be Worthy…

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