Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What do you do when you're under pressure?

Wandering around a certain online bookshop, I found myself scanning a book about performing under pressure. I haven't decided whether I want to read it yet or not, but it's sure to show up on my "recently viewed" items for a while, so I can always go back for it. I thought it might be interesting from a tennis playing perspective and from a therapy point of view too. The later because as a therapist you feel the pressure to diagnose a problem and find a solution when a client presents with an issue.

Everybody knows that pressure impacts performance. Some people seem to deal with it far better than others, but no one is immune to the effects pressure has on our ability to do whatever it is we are trying to do. In fact the evidence apparently suggests that everyone performs worse under pressure than they would normally be able to do.

If you play sport competitively then this will not be news to you. )Neither will it be news if you spend some of your time doing presentations of any sort, or leading meetings, organisations or working to a deadline.) If that sport is a solitary activity like tennis or golf, then you are quite alone with the pressure.

So how do you cope? It's always struck me that you need a strategy. I was talking to a tennis friend some time ago, and they were quite surprised that I said that every time I prepare to serve or receive on the court, I do so with a plan in mind. I might not execute the plan, but at least I have one! The plan might be simple: get the ball in play, or it might be a little more detailed: first serve wide, second shot cross court to the other side third shot down the line to finish. Whatever it is, there's always something I'm going to try to make happen. Doing this doesn't make me play any better (sadly) but sometimes it stops me trying too hard or trying to hit the high risk shot when it's not necessary.

So what might a strategy for coping under pressure look like?

In the book I was scanning there were a series of chapter headings that I suspect are the authors' distilled wisdom on the matter.

  • Confidence
  • Optimism
  • Tenacity
  • Enthusiasm
Now, I haven't read the book, but these four words seem to form an interesting strategy. How would you turn them into a plan? It strikes me that it might boil down to a simple approach that starts with a basic assumption that there is no reason at all that your plan shouldn't work. Normally we're beset by doubts about the plan we have. We see all the things that could go wrong and almost expect at leafs one of those things to occur. If you were to stand by the tee on a golf course that requires you first shot to avoid a lake on the left side of the fairway, you'd probably see a lot of shots veer sharply to the left and disappear below a ripple of water. 

At this point you'll probably hear the unfortunate golfer declare, "I knew that would happen,"  rather than, "I didn't expect that!" The point is simple, we tend to expect the worst outcome rather than the best. Perhaps "confidence" is about setting your mind on your ability to achieve the best outcome. If you can't imagine yourself hitting the best outcome target, then look for a next best alternative rather than the worst case scenario. For example, it's 30-40 and you're serving. What's your plan? My best outcome plan would be a wide sliced serve taking my opponent right out of court and giving me an easy second shot into an open court. But what if I've missed the last 3 or 4 wide serves? If I can't imagine myself hitting that wide serve I might go for a body serve instead. On the other hand, I might still go for the wide serve because I know I can do it and when I do it right it's a very good serve indeed!

I guess this is where optimism kicks in. Confidence assures me that I can do this because I know my abilities, optimism encourages me because it expects the best outcome. Tenacity and enthusiasm suggest something about holding onto the self-belief that comes from confidence, even if the plan doesn't work this time. I'm not quite sure what I understand enthusiasm to be in the context, I'll have to read the book to find out!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A year with Polar Loop

I've had my Polar Loop for almost a year now (it was a Christmas present last year), and I've worn it almost every day since then. Accepting that these fitness monitoring bands are more about trends that truly accurate raw data, it still makes interesting reading to look at the numbers it produces.

I have my Loop set set to a very active day that would normally take about 1.5 hours of running or similar high intensity effort to hit the 100% target activity level. Given the amount of time I spend on a tennis court, this isn't usually problem, and as some of you know, I often hit 300% on my big training day on Friday each week.

Anyway, I had a quick look at the numbers for 2015 which showed an average monthly amount of activity as follows:

Total time spent being active: 7 days (i.e. 168 hours of activity a month)

Total steps recorded: 429026 (this is all movement converted to steps)

Distanced covered: 326Km

Kcal burned: 88127 (that's around 3000/day)

Those are pretty impressive numbers given that I don't go out of my way to exercise for the most part except the occasional swim, walk or short run when I'm not playing tennis.

I wouldn't want to use this information to plan my diet, but it does give some indication of my activity levels and why I occasionally feel a certain lack of energy when I get to my last coaching session on a Friday evening and find myself ready to flop onto the sofa when we get home after the weekly visit to the supermarket after finishing on court. Imagine what an 8 hour day on court might look like!!

I'm not convinced to Kcal number is accurate because I'm sure I don't eat that much on a typical day. In fact I know I don;t because I've used an app to measure that and it doesn't come near 3000.

I suppose the point is this: if you find collecting such data motivating or at the very least rather entertaining and interesting, and if you understand that it's not a precise measure, then you might find it helpful to wear a device. Having done the data collecting thing a few times using a pedometer and now the Loop, I still find myself intrigued by how the numbers build up and what they might actually be telling me.

Mind you, how loose the jeans are getting is also a pretty good indicator that something's happening!