3 Top Tips About What To Focus On For Best Results
Australian athlete Nicola McDermott won the silver medal in the Women’s High Jump at the Tokyo Olympics with a personal best performance of 2.02 metres. Matt Horsnell started coaching Nicola in 2007 when she was 10 years old.
Below are three key things that we can learn from Nicola and Matt:
1. Focus On The Process
Before her Tokyo success, in April 2021 Nicola was the first Australian woman to clear the 2-metre barrier in the high jump.
I interviewed her coach Matt Horsnell after the Olympics in September 2021. I asked him about how he and Nicola treated that 2-metre barrier. Below is his response:
” . . .we always treat records as don’t limit yourself by that. So what we tend to do is look past it. And always from experience that I’ve had through the years, all athletes – doesn’t matter whether they’re an Olympian or whatever – if they look at a record, and they focus on that, they never get it, they’ll never achieve it if that’s what they focus on. If you focus on what you have to do, to execute, like: lean more away from the bar, hold the take-off, get your left side longer, you will get the record automatically, if you’re jumping that well. So you don’t focus on records or PBs, you just focus on what you have to do to execute, to achieve the next level if you like. So you learn to fix things and go back to basics. . . . we never focus on a record because that can just get into their head and they think ahead to that when sometimes they don’t even get near it because they’re thinking ahead so they lose the plot earlier on in the jumps . . .you just have to go back and execute all those little things . . .”
Focus on the process, rather than the outcome.
2. Find Positivity In The Process
One of the main talking points following the women’s high jump final at the Tokyo Olympics was how Nicola diarised during the event and recorded ratings of each of her jumps on a team shirt.
The only jump that Nicola rated an overall “10 out of 10” was her final jump – one that she missed and which ultimately resulted in her leaving the competition. This jump shows up in the results as a failure. But according to Nicola’s assessment, it was far from a failure. To her, it was her best jump. For kids, this is a wonderful example of finding fulfilment despite “failure”, and a genuine instance of a “process” focus rather than a “results” focus.
Rather than fixating on a “failure”, we can look for positivity in the process.
3. Focus On What You Want, Not On What You Don’t Want
Don’t think of a pink elephant.
Are you now picturing a pink elephant?
A recent tweet from sport psychologist Daniel Abrahams tells us that this is known as ironic processing – when trying to quell certain thoughts makes it more likely that they will appear. According to this theory, telling an athlete not to think about false starting in a race or fouling in the long jump may backfire and have the opposite effect.
In a 2020 webinar interview I did with Matt Horsnell, he said that he had learned to tell athletes what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do. He said: “If you tell them what they are doing wrong, it reinforces what they’re doing wrong, and they will do that again.” He explained that this is because they are picturing what they are doing wrong and not correcting it in their mind.
We should always try to frame our instructions in the positive. Be mindful of using the word “don’t”. Describe what you want the kids to do rather than what you don’t want them to do.
- Focus on the process.
- Find positivity in the process.
- Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want.
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.