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Thursday
May312012

Perfect Play 

Mastery-- The role of Perfection in Competitive Greatness.

Lombardi said “Only perfect practice makes perfect,” but what did he really mean?

The key is to practice perfect technique. Only then can you push for intensity and quickness! The sequence is Perfection, Precision, Push, and Play. Specifically:

  • Perfect the technique.
  • Practice for precision.
  • Push intensity and quickness.
  • Play for joy.

Let’s break it down and see how this plays out.

Perfect the Technique

First perfect, then practice. Otherwise you’ll simply get better at bad technique.

Anyone who’s seen Charles Barkley’s golf swing, has seen unperfected technique. Don’t practice that!

Rather, establish an ideal technique with the help of a master trainer and perfect that first -- in slow motion if necessary. The goal of step one is to Perfect Form.

Always be mindful that perfection is a means to achieve excellence, and not an end result in itself. To chase perfection is to set the highest standard, one that's impossible to achieve, so you don’t actually become “perfection;” you only approach perfection.

Yet, without perfection as the ideal, true excellence cannot even be defined or measured. It takes a master trainer to raise the bar to this level, as you can only define perfection once you know it.

"Perfection is an impossibility but striving for perfection is not. Do the best you can. That is what counts." -- John Wooden

Advanced Insight: To get the right technique, you need a master trainer, not merely an “expert.”

Every tennis club, for instance, has tennis pros, “experts” for sure but are they really masters of the game? Same thing is true for golf and other sports. There are plenty of “experts;” few master trainers.

Look beyond convenience to find the right coach. You might get in the game by doing what’s convenient, but to perfect your technique, you need to do what it takes. Begin by seeking a master coach [Key: Get a Guide before you begin practice].

Note: I would order George Leonards's "5 Keys to Mastery" more like this: 

  1. "Get a Guide" and Prefect Techique
  2. "Practice, Practice, Practice" for Percision
  3. "Visualize the Outcome" throughout Practice and Play
  4. "Surrender to your Passion" as you Push for Intensity
  5. "Play the Edge" as you Play for Joy

Practice for Precision

Practice automates your technique -- freezing good or bad technique into muscle and mental memory -- so that it becomes “second nature;” something you’ll never think about during play. The goal of step two is to make your Perfect Form Repeatable. [Key: Practice, practice, practice but only after you have perfect technique].

The end goal is to become your personal best through the means of perfection. As you practice, continually use your mind to conform to ideal technique so that your technique becomes more and more perfected. Visualize!

Jack Nicholas said he never made a shot without first visualizing the path and the ultimate lie of the ball [Key: Visualize the outcome. Always. At the beginning when you choose your sport, while you practice for perfection, and as you make every move during play].

The essence is to lose your attachment to the outcome, but never your vision or resolve. Accept the fact that you will never perfectly perfect technique all the while you relentlessly pursue perfection.

This may sound like a contradiction, but it's not. “Perfect practice” is the never ending pursuit of continuous improvement towards the ideal -- perfection -- all while revering what actually results: excellence!

"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."-- John Wooden

With a truly “no needs” attitude (read that as "no ego"), you can laugh at your failings and never take yourself too seriously-- all while you pursue perfection. Failure must be seen as course correction, never as trauma. Once freed of any attachment to perfect results, you can pursue perfection with endless joy!

Michael Jordan became the greatest basketball player of all time, undeterred by frequent setbacks because he knew failure was the key ingredient of success -- "I have failed over, and over, and over again in my life.... and that is why I succeed.

Advanced Insight: To reach the elite levels in any endeavor you need only practice at two times; when you feel like and when you don’t.

Pro Beach Volleyball player, Saralyn Smith (on left) says in "For Love of the Game“It takes extreme and prolonged discipline. You don’t ask yourself if you ‘feel like it’ anymore. You just do it, and you’ll find what you can do is amazing.”

"Embrace The Struggle" -- Hand painted sign in locker room of the Vancouver Giants, 2007 Memorial Cup hockey champions. 

The lesson here is to give yourself over to your vision and belief, then relentlessly act. By discipline you build discipline. By commitment to your plan you build commitment. By enduring the gruling practices you build endurance as “stamina, rapid recovery, and precise cooperation between body and mind.” [Key: Surrender to your passion, not just by pursuing what you love -- the goal -- but in its pursuit-- the journey].

Think of an airplane. In order to take flight you must do two things:

  • Go straight towards your goal
  • Apply constant thrust

You can actually experience this next time you fly; in a window seat, head agaist the glass, marveling at the take-off. Imagine what would happen if the pilot made sudden turns or just puttered down the runway, instead of heading straight with constant force!

Youth, talent, career, money, marriage, and life itself-- just like that runway-- will soon run out, whether it's used wisely or not! That's our only choice. Go straight toward your goals with relentless action.

Push for intensity and quickness

The only thing worse than practicing bad form -- think back to Barkley’s golf swing -- is to practice it with intensity. You’ll likely kill yourself or, at a minimum, damage some joints.

Only once you’ve achieved a high degree of precision should you focus your practice on intensity and quickness. At this stage you no longer just think about technique. The goal here in step three it to take all the perfection; all the precision, and Automate it.

You now focus on holding it all together as you push your limits with reckless abandon, which is hard to do in practice alone. It usually takes competition to push yourself to the edge. Set the bar high. Push hard and you’re almost there. [Key: Play the Edge once you can play on automatic pilot].

We've all heard about "unconscious, competence" and the seemingly alternate path to achievement -- the path for the rest of us -- through "unconscious, incompetence," then "conscious, incompetence," and then, ultimately, "conscious, competence." I always had the impression that "conscious, competence" was the highest form; at least we knew what we were doing!

Rather, I now realize that "unconscious, competence" is the highest form, and that which is achieved here by automating technique. Sure, you may know how the technique "got in there" and will have gone through all three stages, but until it's become second nature"unconscious, competence," you're just practicing. 

Advanced Insight: Clinging to perfect outcomes is only the first impediment. At high performance levels, the conscious mind itself becomes an obstacle. Only your instincts -- honed by intense, perfected practice -- can react quickly and precisely. Your conscious mind cannot; it’s too slow! When you see amazing performances, you can be sure the players were out of their minds and “in the zone,” not in real time.

Bon Jovi once said how he knows when he’s had a great night; he doesn’t remember a thing. Michael Jordan once said after hitting 6 of 7 baskets from the 3-point range, “I can’t explain it. It feels like time stands still. This bucket is huge. It’s like I can’t miss. I’m in the zone.”

For those who saw Star Wars, think of the Death Star bombing scene where Obi-Wan tells Luke “Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke."

More real world, you can find video of Michael Jordan blocking his conscious mind by making free throws with his eyes closed.

Explaining why he does this to a group of basketball enthusiasts, “It’s not just to show off.. Well, sometimes it is...Why do you think I do this?... Nothing changes...Either you believe that (the rim) is still there or you don’t believe.”

When your techique is automated, there's no difference between shots made with your eyes open or closed.

The strategy is to hold a vision of what you want. Turn off your mind. Trust your instincts. Push hard. Then let your automation take over, i.e. Set vision. Push hard. Let go.

Play for Joy

All the practice, dedication, discipline, and sacrifice is for one thing: the joy of play. 

Just look at the celebrations in any sport and you’ll see why they play; why they sacrificed thousands of daily pleasures for the permanence of championship joy.

These shared moments are best illustrated in sports where it's not just the players, but fans who share the joy. Shown here are fans and friends of Rafael Nadal after his 2012 French Open win.
_
While pleasure is temporary, joy is forever. Indeed, competitive greatness requires that thousands of pleasures be sacrificed for the greatness of joy.

 

Tears of Joy at winning his first NBA Championship, 1991

This was exemplified by Kobe Bryant during in the last minutes of an essential Laker’s playoff game. In a closeup on his face you could see the pain in his body shoot up like darts, yet he dismissed those sensations and focused on his free throw; focused on his goal.

There is no pleasure in high level play, but that’s not the point of it. It’s for the joy; for the memories. From the joy of making a great shot -- at any level -- to the joy of winning a championship, that's what matters.

No temporary pleasure it worth trading the life of your dreams." -- John Assaraf

Advanced Insight: All direct competition is among your peers, but did you realize this is rarely at the highest levels? When you compare your performance with the best and brightest of your peers, you may actually be compromising your aspirations.

Rather, take yourself out of time and space. Go beyond your peer group and set your sights on emulating and competing with the greatest “players” of all time; not just Jordan, Gretskey, Woods and other great sportsmen, but Disney, Jobs, Twain, Gerswin, or whoever you find inspiring. When you stive for the ideal competitor this need only be in your mind, not before you eyes.

Part of John Wooden's practice at UCLA would be dedicated to practicing against ideal, but imagainary competitors. This allowed players to perfect their moves, unhampered by the mistakes their own peers may have made during the drill. 

In summary, here are the keys to Perfect Play along with the milestones of each step:

  • Perfection; Have you Perfected Form
  • Precision; Is it Repeatable?
  • Push; Is it Automated?
  • Play; Do you feel the Joy

The Divine Connection

Perfect Practice resides at the intersection of Love-Create in the Dream, Believe, Love, Create continuum; the Divine Elements. Perfect Practice turns what you love into tangible form; passion into performance; and potential into perfection.

If you're practicing, it's assumed that you have a Dream and Believe you can play, or why would you practice? The prerequisite is certitude; not just hoping but knowing you are destined for greatness.

Here's how Carlos Santana saw his future with certitude as a late teenager, before anyone ever heard of him:

"People were laughing at me the last day of [high] school. When they said, “What are you going to do, man?” I said, I’m going to go hang out with BB King, Michael Bloomfield, and Eric Clapton. People were [laughing gasp!!!]. Wow. You’re tripping!"

Santana: "No. You’re tripping! Because, see, that’s all I’m going to do…. and I knew… Go ahead laugh, but I’ll show you... I just felt that I’m not an accident."-- The 5 Keys to Mastery

Most of us set our own limitations -- and we set them too low!

Actually, that's too kind. It's more like we sober up one day -- perhaps today -- to discover our limitations have been set far too low, as we were "under the influence" of parents, teachers, peers, coaches, environment -- and the most insidious influence of all -- negative self-talk. At least our friends are not always with us!

The question now is: do we go back into this stupor of "good enough" or choose the path to our own greatness? 

Until we destroy our limiting fears and beliefs, we will never know what joys lay just beyond. -- BigDreams.Com

Beyond vision and certitude, you can gleem from his words that Santata took relentless action, "that's all I'm going to do," and his resulting success speaks for itself!

It's essential to recognize that fear always stands between you and your greatness; and it's not just fear of failure, but fear of greatness. Either way, you will stand out.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God....." -- Marianne Williamson 

To manage this fear, and to remind yourself of your infinite potential, consider using the mantra from Divine Elements as you create your legacy:"No Fear, No Need, No Doubt, No Limit, No End" 

Dream big (no limit), steadfastly believe (no doubt), labor with love (no need), and create the life of your dreams (no fear); Dream, Believe, Love, Create... As you move from potential to perfection, think: "No Fear, No Need, No Doubt, No Limit, No End."

Surrender to your passion. Let the joy flow!

 

PART I: PUTTING PERFECTION IN IT'S PLACE

PART II: PERFECTION REVEALS EXCELLENCE

PART III: THE DARK SIDE OF PERFECTION

PERFECT PLAY

 

 

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Reader Comments (1)

Dead on accurate I think, that is how I go about things. There are too many ill informed or un-thougthfull people out there telling kids to focus on the wrong ideals/techniques during their skill progression. Not sure if it is that they never spent the time thinking about it or because they never have walked the path you laid out. Somewhere along the way maybe they compromised or never really thought about the process properly in their own path. In turn this can led to the wrong information being passed along.
Most important point is the process is the fucus, the destination is never as rewarding as the journey; that is a promise. Look at life, our destination (death) is not nearly as much fun as the journey. Also, don't compare yourself to your peers go above them. Be a little crazy and step outside "average". Take a chance the worste that happens is you look stupid. But only people who never try anythign never look stupid, I like to call them the peanut gallery and there are always plenty of seats in the nose bleed sections!

June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNoah

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