What was the biggest difference between Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes performances? One was skating very tight and the other one just let it all hang out. Kwan came in being the heavy favorite and the pressure was on to win it all. You could see she was tight in her moves and all of our hearts sank when she made that one fall to the ice.
Sarah, on the other hand, knew she had nothing to lose. Winning the Gold was the furthest thing from her mind because it was such a long shot. All she did was go out there to have a great time and just give it all she had no matter what happened.
Result: Hughes wins the Gold, Kwan wins the Bronze.
Point: The coaches job is to help their top performers overcome tensions associated with the high expectations of the audience. As a speaker, I know my balance is off if I really get nervous before a program. That’s when it becomes all about me giving the audience the best performance anyone has ever seen. This is pressure most people cannot live up to. Just shift your thinking from having to give the best performance of a lifetime to just going out there and doing what you do best. Many times the audience will find that highly stimulating. Often this strategy will result in a better performance than having to operate under the expectation of perfection.
As coaches, it is our duty and responsibility to understand this and help create the atmosphere for our teams to excel at what they do best.
Another learning point here is during the skating, you did not see any coaches run out onto the ice during the performance to give advice. The time of performance is not the time to drastically change one’s game plan. Making minor changes is one thing, changing the whole process is another thing.
Coaching on style and technique should occur before the match; before the sales call. That’s when ideas should be given, practice shots should be taken, and analysis of results should be studied.
When the game starts, the only thing the competitor should be doing is reviewing in their mind an image of themselves performing the process successfully. The coaches job here is to help remove any and all mental barriers and create an environment that is best suited for letting the competitor go all out and just let it fly. Any thoughts at this time of drastically changing technique will only increase the tension and prevent one from being free to perform at their best. To be free and give it your all in a performance will usually lead to golden results.