Recently, my nephew Keaton Jennings, scored two centuries in the opening match of the English county cricket season. Any cricketer will tell you how remarkable this achievement is. His performance placed him in the Durham County Cricket Club’s history books.
I often equate life to the image of an iceberg, where 1/7 lies above the surface (the seen), while 6/7 lies beneath the water line (the unseen). His remarkable performance did not surprise me one bit, since I had observed the accumulation of all the hard work and dedication that goes on behind the scenes. He never shies away from doing the ‘hard yards’, and is keen to learn more and more about the complexity of top performance.
In talking about the mental aspects of elite performance, I shared with him that the mental and emotional components of an athlete need to be integrated and balanced for exceptional performance to unfold. In order to assist this process, Keaton and I spent 6 months doing tai chi together. In addition, he applied the calm breathing exercises of the tai chi practice to his batting.
Besides working on getting into this balanced performance state, I mentioned that an athlete will not be able to perform to his(her) potential if riddled with fear during competition, especially with the ‘fear of failure’. Fear constricts and restricts the energy flow of a person. It tightens the body and freezes the mental capacities of the athlete. Fear vacillates (depending on the context), and tends to rear its ugly head at critical moments during the competitive encounter of elite sport.
There are two processes that one can use to tackle and neutralize fear. It is worth mentioning, however, that fear is a powerful and stubborn energy that is not easily conquered. Given this, one needs to apply gentle perseverance to the process of overcoming it.
Firstly, one should ‘look’ at the fear squarely in its eyes and acknowledge its existence, without trying to change or resolve it. By just looking at your fear, you shine light on it. Since fear operates in the dark recesses of the mind, it does not like light. Besides wanting to remain in the dark, fear thrives and grows with denial. Honest looking, is a powerful neutralizing agent since this is opposite to the denial process.
Secondly, one can counter fear by applying lots of love to it. Love is the opposite energy to fear. When there is love, there can be no place for fear. Playing top sport with love in the heart, assists the athlete to enter the emotional and mental place where mind, body and spirit integrate into a unified and coherent energetic force that allows a quantum performance to occur.
Playing with love in the heart does not mean that the athlete is soft, weak or casual. Love requires taking care of what one does and insists that you are patient, persevering and dedicated in your efforts. Further, love means that the athlete is not critical or judgmental when dealing with failure. Instead, love is expansive and drives the athlete further to reveal the true potential that exists within. By accessing the energy of love, the athlete becomes alert to the unfolding moment and responds spontaneously with an open heart. It is in this emotional place, that the athlete enters the zone, where doubts are released and replaced with an inner peace that thrives on the challenge of the competitive moment.