Beyond the Baseline of Peak Performance

Words by: Mike Shaw

There’s a lot of talk these days about what it takes to achieve a peak performance state or the flow state. Coaches and players are talking more and more about higher-level performance psychology and training tools—things like visualization, imagery, breathwork, affirmations, routines, mindset, etc. etc. 

So, why do young athletes still have problems consistently achieving peak performances?

Meet Sean. Sean is 13 years old. He’s playing Bantam Elite hockey. While he’s not the biggest guy on the team, he’s got heart, and he’s fast. Sean is playing in his first game of the season. During one of his shifts in the first period, he gets beat on a fast break and the other team scores. Sean, aggravated by his mistake, decides that he won’t let that happen again. He’s going to show his teammates he belongs at the elite level.

On his next shift, he receives a pass from one of his line-mates and takes off on a breakaway. He’s got pretty good hands, but not at that speed. He makes a push, skating up the wing as fast as he can. All he can think about was the last goal after he missed his check. 

But he won’t screw up this time.

He’s skating faster than what’s normal for him—technically he’s rushing. He ends up losing the puck, and before looking or thinking, he cuts out into open ice to chase down his mistake. 

He turns right into the shoulder of the biggest defender on the ice, taking a massive blindside hit. You could hear the hush as everyone in the arena goes quiet.

The referee stops the play.

When Sean comes to and asks his coach what happened, he hears he will have to sit out for at least a month of the season (if not longer) until his concussion symptoms have completely gone away.

His parents drive him to the hospital for a brain scan. Although he is only showing signs of a mild concussion, he was unconscious for almost a minute, so they need to make sure it’s not worse than it appears. After all, he could have a cracked skull and not know it.

The Headache We All Face

Young athletes aren’t regulating their physical and mental states, making it nearly impossible to reach peak performance. As stated above, most coaches are working on some level of performance strategy and performance training, but what about protecting the downside?

Understanding of the headache we all face is critically important if we ever hope to find a solution. Rushing, Frustration, Fatigue, and Complacency negatively impact performance and cause over 95% of acute injuries. They increase the risk of error for anything you do.

The State to Error Pattern (aka Headache)

So, what do you do if you have a headache? Drink water, rest, or take some Aspirin? Let’s take some Aspirin.

We’ll say Aspirin because it’s easier to spell than ibuprofen. 

The Aspirin, in this case, are the Critical Error Reduction Techniques. Self-triggering means to recognize and regulate (do something about) the states that take you out of the moment and compromise decision-making. The best action is to slow down, calm down, or get some rest—but it’s not always possible, so then you need to keep your eyes and mind on task.

In addition to self-triggering on rushing, frustration, and fatigue, you need to develop habits to compensate for complacency. Mind not on task causes the majority of performance problems and injuries. If an athlete’s habits don’t support better, safer behaviour, then they’re increasing the risk of error and injury.

How could we have helped Sean?

Rushing, frustration, fatigue, and complacency cause critical errors, which increase the risk of performance problems and injuries. In Sean’s case, he had both. 

The four states limit your ability to reach peak performance, so it’s best to regulate the states. If you don’t, you won’t even show up at the baseline of peak performance. 

Sean could have self-triggered on frustration, then kept his eyes and mind on task. In other words, he could have used his anger as the trigger to switch his brain on a stay focused. Frustration got the better of him, causing him to rush and lose the puck on his breakaway. 

Chasing the puck with your head down is a bad habit, but can you blame Sean? He only started playing with body checking this year, so complacency and bad habits like not looking out for line-of-fire got the better of him. 

As though his performance error wasn’t bad enough, having to sit out for over a month can be the difference between playing Midget AAA or joining a community league next year. If he doesn’t move up, there go all hopes of a professional playing career. 

You might say that the opposing player was at fault for making the blind hit on Sean, but they’re both new to playing with contact. We can probably all agree, that if Sean would have kept his head up and looked before chasing the puck, he could have braced himself to reduce the impact.

Moving Beyond the Baseline of Peak Performance

Here’s the thing, all athletes care about getting better at their sport (much more than safety), so let’s talk performance. If you regulate the states that put you at risk of making a critical error, you’ll at least show up at the baseline of peak performance more often. With rushing, frustration, fatigue, and complacency in check, it makes it possible to reach your potential and achieve peak performances more reliably.

And if the risk of injury is high in your sport, you could prevent an injury that ends your career before it even gets started, just like Sean.

Thanks for reading!

~ The HeadStartPro Team

For more info on HeadStartPro, the Critical Error Reduction Techniques, a full list of performance-related habits, and other strategies for achieving peak performance check out our online courses for coaches and athletes:

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