Human beings are self-regulating mechanisms. This means that we have an idea or expectation in our minds of how we will behave or, in the context of sport, how we usually perform. We subsequently regulate our behaviour and performance around this standard.
‘Matching’ and ‘mismatching’ performance expectation
Let’s take the example of marathon runners, participating in a physically demanding and mentally challenging sport. Certain marathon runners might describe themselves – for example - as ‘a sub 3 hour marathoner’. When they go out and finish a marathon in less than 3 hours, their performance matches their own expectation, so all is ‘right’ with the world.
When, however, they run a marathon slower than they expected (mismatching), runners often distance themselves from that performance by stating that: “I don’t know what happened, I usually run this sub 3 hours”. The next marathon they participate in, it is likely that their overall time will be faster to compensate for their previous ‘poor’ performance.
The exact same thing happens in reverse; that if they perform better than expected, their comment could be something like: “I don’t know what happened, I flew around the course”. And the next time they will compensate this (ironically) by going slower again; bringing them back to match their own level of expectation, which was the sub 3 hour performance to start with.
Why do we do this matching? This type of self-regulation happens at the sub-conscious level in our brain. We don’t actively control it, but it is constantly happening to us with all our behaviours and performances.
So, what does this have to do with preparing for an important match?
The question of how to prepare for an important match is in effect flawed and is set up to cause a performance deficit. By defining one type of match as ‘important’, we automatically relegate other matches to the ‘not important’ category, and this changes the way we approach important and not important sports matches, how we perform in them and how we match our own subconscious expectations.
If we want consistency of performance, a way forward is to see all competitions as important. After all, all our matches are part of our sporting journey. When we take this approach, we set up an expectation of preparing for and performing at our best in every competition and we can self-regulate around this standard. The trick therefore is to see all matches as important, expect to do your best at each one and prepare for them accordingly.