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Competitive Self Development

How to address competitive under performance


   There are a very large number of players who are frustrated by not being able to compete at the level they train and much less at the level they want to play at.

     A few years ago I read a book that influenced my coaching career the most, "the Inner game in tennis" by Timothy Gallwey.  Gallwey's work simply reveals "self 1" and the "self 2" showing the existence of different "identities" within each one of us.

     With Gallwey's permission I would like to propose a variant of his idea. There is no doubt about the existence of our different "self's".  We are one when we are among friends, another when we are with family and another when we are alone. Without reaching the point of having many personalities it is a fact that we have different facets.

     Within sport, and specifically within competitive sport, I have realized the existence of 3 "self's" that are part of our totality and that have to work with each one in their role to have more chances of success, these are:

1- Ideal self (IS): what I want to become

2- Training self(TS): What I can be

3- Competitive Self (CS): What I am

     Having consulted with many players, to a greater or lesser extent, they all identified those parts. Depending on how those three "self's" interact, it is how we will advance continuously or crash with our limitations.

1- Ideal Self (IS): what we want to be:

      It is our vision, our model, the player we want to be, maybe it can be a certain model of player, a game style, a ranking, etc.. There are 2 variants of the IS.

a. Focused on Goals (ISG): Work to make something happen.

     If the IS is working properly it must be the lighthouse that guides us towards our goals, it must be the source of our commitment and motivation.

b. Focus on Expectations (ISE): Expecting Something to Happen

   On the contrary, if it works from expectation and is contaminated by parents, coaches or ourselves and our ego, then it becomes a source of expectation and pressure.

2- Training Self(TS): what we can be, the test bench.

It is what our capabilities allow us to do, or perhaps what we will able to do. Our training version is the one that allows us to expand, to try, repeat and learn based on trial and error. Let's say it is the transition between knowing how to do (knowledge) and how to apply (wisdom)

     It also works with 2 derivative versions of the Ideal Self:

     a. The Training Self guided by the ideal Self with Objectives: if so, there is no conflict, they work together and there is an understanding of the process of work and development. There is an acceptance that errors are something of a necessity and as a learning opportunity.

     b. The Training Self submitted to the Ideal Self with expectations: If the Training Self is in this position, normally the player hides behind "perfectionism", tends to have a lot less tolerance of errors and does not attempt too much out of fear of judgment and criticism from the Ideal Self. The player prefers to keep the bad instead of trying something new. He's terrified of "change." He looks for excuses as to why he is not progressing and usually wants to train with players who play better than he does and obviously prefers to play practice matches with weaker players or those against whom he has nothing to lose.

3- Competitive Self (CS): What I really am, the most important

    It's what I'm really capable of doing right now, it's what I am now and not what I'll be in 10 minutes.

We have 2 types of Competitive Selfs:

     1- Those who compete better than they train: In this case the competitive Self is in balance with the other two, they work as a team, complement each other and provide feedback. compare this with a company, this would be a horizontal structure, where each work alongside each other.

     2- Those who compete worse than they train: in this case the competitive Self is afraid of losing because it is afraid of being judged by the other two "self's". Using the same comparison of a company would in this case be a vertical structure, where when you win, the responsible is the ideal Self and when you lose, the responsible is the competitive Self and then they normally seek external reasons: referees, court, wind, coach, etc....

Let us consider for a moment that the Ideal Self is the Father and the competitive Self a Child.

  • What does the child want?  To satisfy his father.

  • What happens to the child if he is humiliated and punished? He will be afraid of making mistakes, frustrated and perhaps traumatized. All of his/her strategies will be aimed at meeting the parent's expectations and not in his/her development.

  • What if the child is guided, listened to and supported? The child develops in an appropriate environment for growth and development, is courageous, because he/she knows that if he/she is mistaken he will not be punished but guided.

     The Competitive Self is the weakest link, the most susceptible as well as the most important. Yet he is the most humiliated and punished, by the Ideal Self. Comments and thoughts like:

  • How can you lose a ball like that?

  • How stupid am I!

  • You never miss that shot in practice.

  • I can't be that bad.

  • Etc., etc., etc.

      They are all phrases directed from our ideal Self to the competitive Self: punishments, reprimands, disrespect, humiliations, contempt, criticisms and comparisons. The ideal self then seeks for excuses and justifications: He gets angry, throws the racket, throws the match, maybe "invents" an injury, all of this is to justify to himself, "to be  right"(that he is right/ to prove he's right) and somehow keep the ego in order: if I get angry it is because I care.

     If we press our Competitive Self to do things at a level in which it is neither technically nor emotionally prepared for, we will limit belief and create trauma. It's like pushing a child who is scared of the dark into a dark room. If we want the child to overcome his or her fears, we need to support, listen, respect and show him or her that there is nothing in that room to be scared of and not to humiliate and make him or her feel like a coward.

     Respecting, caring, listening and guiding our competitive self, accepting that the player needs time is very important in the development of his/her confidence. Don't rush him/her, wait until he/she feels ready and not when we push him/her indiscriminately to be ready.

Note: all this analysis is related to the attitude of the player, there are situations where the player does not know what he knows, in which case it is the role of the coach to show him the possibilities, or on the contrary there are players who know that they do not know but are not interested in knowing, in which case, these players have already failed.

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