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Peak Performance in Sports

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In the sports arena, peak performance in sports has always been a 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 benefit of the athletes? This article discusses the factors that can lead athletes and coaches to peak performance in sports.

Many articles and books have detailed principles, programs, success factors, and the like that can lead to peak performance in sports. Many authors have written at length about them, and the principles and elements are universal in many ways. The principles of progressive resistance, variety, goal-specific training, recovery, etc., are all undisputed underlying reasons that allow athletes to achieve peak performance in sports.

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 the factors with higher weightage in achieving success and peak performance in sports. There are basically two sets of factors we need to look into. Technical and human aspects. 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 preseason training, which is very intensive. Nobody likes this season, as the creation and training required are often very dull and painful. But this has to be done for the athletes to be optimally prepared for the rigors 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 also vital. When players cut corners and put in training at face value without their heart and soul, fatigue, injuries, or lack of sharpness in their performance will show up later in the competition. Peak performance in sports cannot be possible under such circumstances. The quality of preseason preparation is even more important in youth sports.

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 is almost impossible and impractical in a sports world.

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 significant responsibility to ensure that our athletes are well prepared for competition. Training programs for sports ought to be drawn up and implemented at year’s end previously. Our athletes need to understand that their season effectively begins when their examinations are over.

With a training program started, coaches and teachers can then instruct athletes about a vocation training program. Each athlete should do something to improve their playing abilities during their break away from school. It could include maintaining 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 specific skills.

The main thing here is to preserve and improve what has been attained in the prior season so that athletes do not return to school and start from scratch. Simply planning and training will ensure quality preparation for the sports teams to attain peak performance in sports later.

2. Mastering Individual Skills

In all sports and games, specific skill sets and skills are considered essential 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 floorball. The list goes on.

In preseason training, or at the earliest playing stage, our young players must know these essential skills, and all efforts and time must be spent on mastering these essential 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 for players to keep improving themselves even though they might feel that they are good enough already. Even at professional levels, these basic skills for their sports are essential 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 evenly matched in all areas, one mistake can often win or lose. 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

No matter how much they train, many athletes would not have reached their maximal physical development at high school levels. Physiologically speaking, the product in this area in youths is very varied. Some children go 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 them, you will be able to overcome your lack of fitness by reacting rapidly to overcome your shortfall. Let’s say you are out-dribbled by a more skillful opponent in soccer. But if you are fitter than your opponent, who has 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 significant at the later stages of the game, 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 fitness level 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 surprised how many players actually understand why they are said to do this. More often than not, the players will just do what is required or implied by the coaches.

The understanding behind their action is very often very little. They might not know that playing the ball down the flanks or wing actually forces the opponent’s defense to spread wider, thus leaving more gaps in the middle for the attacker to exploit subsequently. Another statistical advantage is that playing down the flanks generally results in the attacker getting the ball back if 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, which usually 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 correctly, makes the players better players and improves 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 finding the right players to fill up the most critical positions of the team first. In any sports team, there will be key positions that must be filled first. The point guard in a basketball team is the driver of the group. He controls all plays. A center in ice hockey is a pivot in 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 sees the entire fielding situation. These key positions must be filled first, even if it means fielding someone out of place. I used to have a very talented and strong striker who loved to score goals. Unfortunately, I also have a significant 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 exceptionally well as very few goals were scored against us. It was not easy to make this move. But as the coach, 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. This result was the least number of silly errors from our goal-keeping department, which gave the team a much better chance to win games. This brings us to the last technical factor influencing peak performance in sports – making the fewest errors.

6. Minimise Errors in Games

In sports these days, errors often decide the outcome of the game. Mistakes will be more plentiful at youth and children levels. Children are playing at lower technical and tactical levels, making it inevitable that mistakes will be made. The team that makes the fewest errors in any game will generally perform at its peak. It’s a mentality that must be drilled into players to make the most infrequent error individually and 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 plan started from an opponent’s error 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 ensure that these factors are well looked into to ensure that your teams 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 critical. Understanding and mastering these factors and success and peak performance in sports is almost a sure thing. But very often, these factors are often the hardest to achieve. Here we are drawing on the qualities of human beings to excel in different areas 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 deal with intangible elements of human nature. It’s easy to improve your pitching skills, but enhancing team spirit has more to do with just practicing a skill. Fortunately, we only need to focus on two human factors here 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 an individual player factor, but it is also the coach’s responsibility to reap each player’s highest commitment and dedication. We all know that every player is different; hence it requires different strategies to motivate other players.

For some players, simply setting goals, both team and individual goals, will suffice because maybe the players themselves are already intrinsically motivated. Some carrot and stick methods might be required for players with poor motivation and a star attitude 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 teamwork and team spirit. When a team can work together to a level where players’ understanding is so good, the team will 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 joint team goals. History provides excellent elements for us to see teamwork in action.

It was often not teamed with the most skills that won the competitions, but rather the teams with incredible team spirit and teamwork. Players were willing to set aside personal differences to play for more significant team goals. In Euro 2004, Greece was not the most influential fair or skills, but they still won because the coach could mold a group of seemingly nobody into a cohesive unit that was willing to play hard for each other.

Training and reaching peak performance in sports is 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 the inner desire of humans 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 essential for any sports fans striving for peak performance in sports.

Jimmy Tong has been a Physical Educator for 13 Years in Singapore, with a degree in sports science and physical education from Loughborough University in the 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 and an active contributor of sports training articles to improve sports performance in athletes. He hopes to enable people’s success by inspiring them with actual sports motivational and inspirational stories.

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