How Do I Maximize My Performance in Competitive Sports?/Carter E. Lambert, PhD

Editor’s Note: This article views participation in competitive sports from a Christian point of view. Therefore, it deserves to be published on this page.

How Do I Maximize My Performance in Competitive Sports?

1) Most importantly, you have to be playing because you really want to. Sounds simple but it isn’t. Some people play competitive sports because their parents want them to, their friends encourage them, or it is the expected thing to do. Because there are so many benefits from athletics, I believe it is okay to participate for those reasons; however, if that is the case, don’t expect to succeed at the highest levels of competitive sports. There is nothing wrong with that or playing at a recreational level.

But, if you want to maximize your performance, you must be competing because YOU want to. If you are truly internally motivated (it is what you want) instead of externally motivated (doing what others want) the next few principles are fairly easy because no one is going to have to make you do them. YOU will want to do whatever is necessary to do your best.

2) Work hard. At the highest levels of sport, there usually isn’t much difference between the ability of athletes; but there can be a big difference in how hard they work. Make sure you have put the work in to be your best.

3) Work smart. Technique is a great equalizer. Learn how to do things right. Learn the best way to perform the elements of your sport (e.g. to be efficient, to create the most power, to be accurate). Go slow. Break the activity down into parts until you understand why you are doing what you do and then continually repeat it until you master it. Don’t get in a hurry. It is better to take longer to master something doing it correctly than to rush and master a technique that isn’t right.

4) Take care of your body and mind. A part of training is breaking your body down and allowing it to rebuild stronger than it was. Proper nutrition is critical to your body’s recovery and getting the most out of your work. If you don’t have good nutritional habits you are wasting some of your hard work. Get appropriate rest. Your body needs sleep to regenerate and recover. You will also need to know how to space work with rest in your workouts and between workouts. You must give your body time to build back up from your work. Rest also helps you mentally. Appropriate rest helps you stay fresh and maximize your training.

5) After principle one, this is the most difficult principle but it might be the most important. Don’t try to be the best. WHAT?! Okay, don’t stop reading. I think this will make sense if you will hear me out. Don’t try to be the best, try to be YOUR best. Too many times athletes try to measure themselves by others—what others do, say, or expect. Don’t get me wrong. There have been a lot of great athletes who have focused on being the best. I just happen to think they could have been better if they would have just focused on being their best.

People who focus on doing their best don’t waste energy on what others think or do. They don’t waste energy and time in practice trying to impress others. They are focused on getting the most out of themselves. When they compete they don’t think about failure. All of their energy and effort is on succeeding. For example, when they shoot a free throw, all they think about is what they have to do to make the shot (relax, good form, follow-through) not about missing the shot, letting others down, or looking bad. The same thing happens when they have an open outside shot or lay-up. They aren’t afraid of failing, because quite honestly they are only thinking about succeeding or doing their best.

Funny thing is that those people seem to perform better under pressure because the only pressure they feel is to do their best. After all, that is all you can do. We all want to please our coach, our friends, our parents, but the true measure of success is being able to ask yourself if you did your best and to give an honest answer. It may be hard to be honest with yourself at first but it gets easier each time you do it. Did you play as hard as you could? No loafing or resting. Did you stay focused on the game the whole time? No daydreaming. Did you take every shot you should have? No fear. Did you pass when you should have? No selfishness. Did you stay positive when you made a mistake? Once it is done it is done. It doesn’t help to dwell on it. Did you stay positive and encourage your teammates no matter what? No getting your head down or feeling sorry for yourself. Occasionally you may have a day when everything comes together and you don’t make mistakes, work hard the entire game, and stay focused the whole time. When that does happen it is a great feeling. But don’t expect that to happen a lot. We are human and aren’t perfect. But you can get closer to maximizing your performance if you stay focused on doing your best and you will become a better and better competitor.

6) Make competition a measure of how well your preparation and work is going. Being your best is an ongoing process. Be objective about why you make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Make changes in your training. Remember, it is all about doing your best.


7) Have fun. Relax. Focus on success not failure. All you can do is your best. Believe it or not, you will perform better if you are having fun and are relaxed.

8) Keep things in proper perspective. Sport isn’t life or death. Yes, it is important. You are putting a lot of time and energy into it and you are going to treat it like it is important. But your success or failure at sport doesn’t define who you are. Knowing that you have given your best is who you are. Being kind is who you are. Serving others is who you are. Loving your family is who you are. Above all, loving God and Christ is who you are.

Carter E. Lambert, PhD
President, Central Arkansas Christian Schools
Little Rock, AR

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