It’s crystal clear.
There is a relationship between mind-body. Sometimes, it’s conveyed through the interplay between thought and action. However, this clarity gets muddled all the time, especially during moments that demand one’s absolute best performance. These are the moments where whatever overlap between mind-body exists comes down, right to the individual. For every athlete, questions that emerge might be: How much overlap? And to what degree? Is it good, bad, or neither?
Applicability is what follows one’s depth of understanding (or lack thereof). This is why experience matters, because those experiences you accrue are unique to you and you get the choice of what to do with them. This is also why so many study sport science, to add layers of objectivity. Athlete, practitioner, or somebody in between, everybody is walking the fine line between the objective and the subjective.
So, to determine the effectiveness of the applicability, repetition must follow. Repetition then shift from the singular to the plural. Through the passing of time, hopefully those repetitions bear a fruitful yield. That yield – repetition of action - is one that athletes and sport practitioners try to then quantify objectively.
Turn on any championship match in any sport (E.g. Federer vs. Djokovic at this past Wimbledon) and, if you pay attention, the commentary shifts. It seems that in every championship-level competition, as the intensity increases, so too does the discourse pivot towards the less intangible elements. No longer are the commentators discussing the objective, measurable, and quantifiable. Rather, the core of the conversation swings towards the subjective and by that, I mean grit, heart, focus, mental toughness… (This is only my observation by the way.)
We’re living in an era obsessing over data. You see it everyday through the proliferation of wearables, tracking devices, and other measurable worn by most weekend warriors. Don’t you worry; this is not a rant opposing data acquisition. I’m all for it. It fuels the fire. In regards to athletic performance, data is absolutely necessary. Numbers are terrific indicators to approximate where you’re currently at in relation to where you’re going. Perhaps, the obsession revolves around the fact that they never lie.
We need the data, but to a point. That point – in my estimation - is jagged because it represents the moment where this incessant craving for data begins to override intuition. Let me preface that I am writing this from my own experience.
As on display this past Sunday at Wimbledon, none of the data mattered. It turned out to be the longest championship match in Wimbledon History and between two legends. If the match were to be solely determined by numbers, then Federer was the clear-cut winner. He produced more winners (94-54), won more break points (7-3), had a higher first serve percentage (63-62), served more aces (25-10) and, most tellingly, won more points during the contest (218-204) (Reuters). But, after almost five hours of back-and-forth, Federer fell short.
In that last set, everybody watching was looking for fatigue-induced expressions as a sign of who might break first. From the first point to the very last, how much of the difference between win and loss can be attributed to physiological adaptations? On the flip side, could winning that match have been more attributed to a series of psychological adaptations? Was it a chess match where they were strategizing and conserving three points ahead? Was it, instead, a war of attrition where each player was only concerned on the right-here, right-now? Did the match move from one to the other? How much of the match came down to intuition? Who focused on external circumstances and when? Did that even affect the outcome? Were emotions a factor? If so, were Federer and Djokovic tuning into the right ones? Are there right ones? Was the difference between winner and loser attributed to technical prowess? Age? Vo2 Max? Nutrition? Unwavering belief? Was it the culmination of years and years of experience?
Slice and dice it any way you’d like, the truth remains; there is no one number or thought that guarantees victory. Whether that victory is one over an opponent or over oneself, the truth lies in the effort. For Djokovic and Federer, that effort started well before they ever stepped onto the court Sunday. Sure, it can be tracked, measured, and used for comparison, but that’s still an oversimplified perspective. The type of effort that we saw between Djokovic and Federer resonates at a much deeper level. Everybody who tuned in to Sunday’s match witnessed a combined effort that no piece of data can fully express. Two legends pushing themselves to the point where intuition triumphs over numbers and, because of that, elevating each other’s level of play. As competitors, what more could they want? The same goes for spectators.
Last week’s match between Federer and Djokovic reminded me that, at some point in a performance, the objective variables fade into the background. As the external noise amplifies, those performing in the arena are left with their thoughts and actions. In these moments, the athlete gets to choose, again and again and again, what might be deemed worthy of one’s attention: the internal or the external. Being at your best means you know what you want to be attuned to and when. This is the difference between learning to let go of and knowing what sticks, tuning out versus tuning in. This doesn’t come down to dumb luck either. It can actually be done with repetitions, but done with intention. To get “there”, might look different for everybody, but how one gets there takes time. It’s mental practice, and with enough tinkering and adapting, you too can become much better at distinguishing an obstruction from a new path forward. It’s never too late to find out.
[For the next two months, I’ll be exploring strategies, backed by research and forged through repetition, whose value is based on applicability]
Citations, Photos, & Resources,…