Achieving Optimal Performance: Relaxation – 4th in a Series

“The mind of a perfect man is like a mirror. It grasps nothing. It expects nothing. It reflects, but does not hold. Therefore the perfect man can act without effort” – Chuang Tzu

Most of us truly believe that if we try hard enough, our efforts will be rewarded. Players and coaches push to the max for success. Thinking it will help bring out the best in a player  coaches and parents often say things like: “ Give it all you’ve got” and. “I want a 100% effort”. Rather than elevating a player’s performance, these “going all out” attitudes create enormous tension, stress and anxiety that in fact impede performance. An athlete’s optimal performance occurs when their physical, mental and emotional selves are relaxed and working harmoniously together, both prior to and during a performance.

Do not try too hard. Too much concentration defeats itself. Trying is the opposite of trusting. The instant you become conscious of trying and making an effort, that very thought interrupts the flow and the mind blocks. There is an ancient Zen riddle that says: “If you seek it, you cannot find it”. Bud Winter, coach of many Olympic athletes developed what he called the “Ninety Percent Law”, which says: “Running or performing at ninety percent effort stimulates relaxation and results in faster movement, more strength, sharper vision, less fatigue and improved sense of well-being.

If your mind is fixed on victory or defeating your opponent, you will not function automatically.The less effort you have to expend on thinking about what to do and how to do it, the faster and more powerful you will be. If your mind is fixed on either your own victory or on defeating your opponent, you will be unable to function automatically. Too much concentration defeats itself. If you truly relax and allow the unconscious to do it’s share instead of working the unconscious overtime with unproductive thinking and stress, concentration can become effortless.

In athletic environments where people take themselves and their sport very seriously, it can often be difficult to relax. So how do you achieve relaxation and effortlessness? After you have practiced something for a long time, it becomes second nature. It’s like operating on automatic pilot. Think about your best practice sessions. I bet you make some of your best serves on a Sunday afternoon when you are all by yourself on one of the back courts, relaxed, with some music playing and not a care in the world. You are not thinking about making big serves, they just happen. As you compete, remember how relaxed those serves felt.

Relax to achieve the max. Tension and stress are obstacles to achievement. When you begin to feel tension, think of the image of water. Water is soft and yielding, yet strong. In the great scheme  of things, no loss or setback will ruin your life. Create a mental environment for yourself where you take your task seriously, but not yourself or the outcome.


2 thoughts on “Achieving Optimal Performance: Relaxation – 4th in a Series

  1. One of the interesting aspects of skiing to me was needing to let go of trying to control (trying too hard). More interesting was how you actually gain “control” through improved technique over time — so that you don’t have to think about it…..concepts that seem to conflict with one another. But really they don’t. I’m finding it’s the same in tennis, even at this early stage!


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