Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Competitive Performance and “Again”: Why You Should Thank Your Coach

“Again”…. By this point in the season we’ve all heard it countless times and we will all continue to hear it. As I have been home for the holidays I’ve been happy to get to visit my old teams, and the theme is always the same. At Precisely Right practice I watched John and Suzanne say it all the time, “Ok again..” At Skyliners, I listened to the same from Josh and Jenny, “Again” and of course when I’m at school Carla is always saying it, “Again." So… why is “Again” such a popular coach battle cry? The obvious answer is that by doing it another time, we have a chance to improve upon the last time we did it. But is there more to it than that? Turns out there is.
Visiting Precisely Right Practice

Being the nerdy psychology major I am, I tend to think a lot about why we do things and how the way we train prepares us for competition. In one of my classes this semester we read about Bargh & Chartrand’s idea of Intentional Acquisition of Automaticity (1999), which basically states that the more we practice a task, the more muscle memory associations are created, and the less we have to think about it, freeing up our mind to consciously think about other things. In a competitive context, having a mind that can be “free” to engage in thought can be beneficial. For me, I concentrate on selling the program to the audience and just enjoying the time on the ice. My mind is usually quiet. I do not have to think about the steps of the program because they are automatic from all the “Agains” at practice. This gives me the freedom to truly enjoy the skate and not have my inner voice screaming the steps, counts or reminders at me. I can truly take in the experience of the performance. If the program is not automatic and requires conscious thought, in theory, there would likely be no “room” for our thoughts to be about enjoying the skate when we are so worried about the steps. By doing things again and again it is not just so we can do it better the next time. Repeated action makes it so programs become automatic for competition and gives our minds the freedom to appreciate the moments we all work so hard for.

On competition day it seems that a quiet mind is best for allowing the elements we trained in practice to show. Thinking about the steps when you are out there competing is not your best bet. In a study I read, experienced soccer players dribbled the ball better when they listened to and reported when they heard a noise compared to just dribbling the ball without a task that distracted their conscious mind (Beilock et al., 2002). The point is that those who were not thinking about dribbling the ball performed better than those who were (Ironic
Parent's Weekend Exhibition
right?). This makes sense though. At our parents weekend exhibition I distinctly remember trying to coach myself through a triple twizzle and I put my foot down… Thinking too hard about what I was doing made me mess up. Ironically if my mind had not been thinking about that twizzle I probably would have hit it just fine. At Dr. Porter, I had a quiet mindset like the one I described earlier and I hit everything I needed to. My skating didn’t really change, but my thoughts did. In many respects the Nike slogan “Just do it.” is my favorite. To me it means, stop trying so hard and thinking about it. Just enjoy the moment and let yourself skate.

So as we all approach the height of competition season, I think we need to thank our coaches for saying “Again” (As tired as we may get…) because in the end, it will make our competitive experience more enjoyable. We need to think during practice, but over thinking in competition doesn’t seem to be the way to go. I look forward to seeing you all cherishing those moments on the ice! See you at Colonials!


Bargh J.A. , & Chartrand T.L. (1999) The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, 54, 462-469

Beilock, S.L., Carr, T. H., MacMahon, C., & Starkes, J.L. (2002) When paying attention becomes counterproductive: Impact of divided versus skill-focused attention on novice and experienced performance of sensorimotor skills. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 8, 6-16.

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