Often I hear team sport athletes talk about how difficult it is to perform their skill set in competition on a consistent basis. I have frequently witnessed many of them (team sport athletes and even entire teams) ride a wave of inconsistency, playing well one night and completely opposite the next.
Think about this yourself, how many times have you heard of, seen, or even experienced competitive athletic teams playing down to the level of their competition when that competition is not as strong - sometimes even losing to a lesser team? And how many times have you heard of or seen these same teams step up their play when challenged by a seemingly stronger team?
The game doesn't really change does it?
It is during this up-and-down performance rollercoaster that I find myself asking questions like, What if?, How come?, Why is that so?, and, Is there a better way? As a former athlete, coach, and teacher, I suppose it is simply part of my nature to ask such questions.
So what is it that seems to make it difficult for many team sport athletes to achieve the consistency that eludes them?
In order to try and answer that question it might be best to take a look at sports where consistency is king.
In sports like figure skating, gymnastics, and diving, athletes must perform flawlessly if they are ever to succeed. One mistake, just one, can spell the difference between first and who knows what place. They do not have the luxury of saying, "Okay, I will get the next one" as do many other athletes. When they falter, they must hope others falter or they're done, out of contention.
As I contemplate the intricacy of how they deal with situations like this (because the best of these athletes are exceptionally consistent in their performance over time), I also reflect on the fact that these athletes do not have an opponent firing an object at them nor are they competing directly against their opponents.
Hmm, that is true, however, they do have the added pressure of that "one mistake and you lose" type of situation to deal with and no second chances.
That sure is a lot of pressure; really tough pressure.
In addition, there are athletes who do have objects fired at them and do compete directly against an opponent, and the best ones are still able to consistently perform well under pressure.
Tennis is a game like that with 125+ mph serves coming at you which you have to return. Tough to do, that is for sure, and there are athletes in that sport that are known to be deadly at returning serve. In fact, they are so good it strikes fear in many a server's mind, increasing the errors the server makes.
So that brings up another thought. All of the sports I mentioned above are individual sports and do not really carry a team aspect to them - at least not to the extent that sports like football, basketball, baseball, and volleyball do.
Hmm, that is an interesting point. However, that point in itself raises a very fascinating question that I believe is at the center of this discussion.
What would happen in a team sport if an athlete playing that sport brought to the table the same perception and attitude that the individual athlete brought to their table (into practice and competition)?
What would happen if the focus necessary to master one's skill set, the kind of focus consistent individual athletic champions demonstrate on a daily basis, became a natural part of a team sport athlete's way of thinking spilling over into their competitive play?
Would there be a change?
The answer to this question, along with several others, will become clearer in Part II of Baseball, Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, Etc. - Riding The Wave of Inconsistency coming later this week.