I work with athletes at many levels of sport, from juniors to collegians to pros and Olympians, and a major goal that I help them to achieve is consistency in their competitive performances. I see so many athletes who have big swings in their performances from great one week to mediocre to even lousy the next week, with those ups and downs continuing, frustratingly, throughout the winter.
Consistency is so important because it is one thing that separates the very best in every sport from the rest. The best athletes in the world are able to perform at a consistently high level day in and day out, week in and week out for months and even years on end.
This notion of consistently high performance is so important to me because it is a key part of my definition of Prime Sport: Performing at a consistently high level under the most challenging conditions. This is the goal toward which I believe all athletes, whatever your ability or sport, should aspire.
Of course, not every athlete is going to become a superstars in their sport, but that doesn't mean that they can't be as consistently good as they are capable. The question, of course, that all athletes and coaches ask is: How does an athlete perform as consistently as they can?
I have identified four keys to consistently great athletic performances.
You must be consistent in all aspects of your training efforts. When you train, whether in the gym or on the course, court, field, track, hill, or wherever you perform your sport, you need to exert maximum and consistent effort. You must be in your best physical condition including strength, agility, and stamina. You have to be technically and tactically consistent in your sport with no major flaws that can lead to inconsistency. If your sport requires equipment (e.g., tennis, golf, sailing, cycling), your equipment must be consistently well prepared. And, of course, your mental training must be consistently done.
Many athletes think that as long as they do what is necessary in their athletic life that will be enough to achieve their goals. But I have found that often isn't enough. Instead, what you do away from your sport, in your regular life, also has an impact on your ability to perform consistently well. In other words, perform consistently, you must lead a consistent life. Aspects of your broader life that can help or hurt your performances include your nutrition. Because what you eat and drink is fuel for your body, if you aren't eating and drinking in a consistently healthy way, your body will not be capable of performing consistently well on the field of play. The consistency of your sleep also plays an important role. Consistent sleep will ensure that you are rested enough for consistently high performances. Being consistent in your school work also has an influence. If you are stressed out because you are behind in your homework or you aren't prepared for a big exam coming up, you have little chance to performing consistently well. Lastly, if your relationships, whether family or friends, are turbulent, you will not be in a place emotionally where you can be consistent.
Though I am, of course, biased, I would say that a consistent mind is also essential to consistently high athletic performances. A consistent mind begins with consistent attitudes toward your sport in which you see it as a challenge, not a threat, think about the process, not results, have a long-term perspective on your sport, and you're willing to take the necessary risks to perform at a consistently high level. You also need your attitudes toward your sport to be free of overinvestment, perfectionism, fear of failure, expectations, and negativity.
From these healthy attitudes, you must have consistent confidence that isn't significantly affected by frustrating days of training, disappointing results, who you're competing against, or the importance of the competition. Consistent intensity, focus, and mindset come only from training and competing with the same of each every time you perform.
Emotions play an immense role in the consistency of your athletic performances. Simply put, if your emotions aren't consistent, that is, you have big swings in your emotions, particularly on the day of a competition, it's difficult to perform your best consistently. Of course, it's okay to get excited about an event and it's normal to feel disappointment if things don't go your way. But too much fear, frustration, anger, or disappointment will put you in a place mentally, emotionally, and physiologically that will make it very difficult to find consistency in your performances.
By the way, mental imagery is perhaps the most powerful mental tool for creating consistency in your athletic performances. Consistent use of imagery, in which you see and feel yourself performing consistently well, ingrains the images and feelings associated with that goal, so everything you imagined comes out on the day of a competition and the result is much more likely to be consistently great athletic performances.
Consistent preparation leading up to competitions is the final contributor to getting the consistently great results you want. This consistent preparation begins in the days before the events in which you want to focus specifically on consistency in your training. You also want to ensure that your life and mind stay consistent.
On the day of a competition, you can create consistency in your preparations by having a clearly defined and well-practiced routine that maximizes every contributor to consistently great athletic performances. What you do the night before to what you do first thing in the morning to your arrival at the competitive venue to your final preparations before the competition begins all matter. Consistency throughout this process will be the final piece of the "consistently great athletic performance" puzzle you need to put into place that will result in performing your very best consistently and achieving your game-day goals.