How Do You Choose to Prepare Optimally?

Consider the two examples of below, of a fabricated tennis player named Mark Johnson. Which story appears to be a more effective means of preparation – that is, which example will lead to more consistent, more relaxed, and more confident performance?

  1. Mark Johnson is an elite junior player in Texas, one of the top competitors in his region.  To prepare for each match, he does fairly extensive research on his upcoming opponents – he views their ranking, their playing history, who they’ve beaten, even asks his friends to give him info about the player and checks out whatever videos are available.  “It’s all about adjusting to the opponent you’re facing,” Johnson says.  “If I know I’m playing someone who has certain tactics, I’ll change my approach and adjust my game a bit to give me a better chance of winning.  It’s really important that I know as much about my opponent as possible.”
  1. Mark Johnson is an elite junior player in Texas, one of the top competitors in his region.  To prepare for each match, he doesn’t pay much attention or put much importance on who he is playing, or what they bring to the match.  “If you’re doing your job the opponent doesn’t matter,” Johnson says. “I don’t even know who I’m playing sometimes.  What difference does it make, when I’m hitting my shots to the right targets and playing my game to the best of my ability.  Sure, I won’t hit to the guy’s backhand if he’s got a strong one, but I won’t give up playing my game and doing the things I know help me be successful on the court.”

Our natural tendency is to choose a side – one that conforms with our existing ways of thinking – and only make arguments in favor of that side while neglecting the efficacy of the other.  After all, if you historically prepare for your competitions by extensively researching the field, you’re likely to lean toward supporting option 1.  But try this: choose the side that goes against how you typically prepare for competitions.  If you’re an avid researcher, select option 2, and make as many arguments in favor of why this option is best.  In other words, intentionally choose the option with which you naturally don’t agree.  While considering a different point of view may not permanently change your mind about your own preparation, it’s an eye-opening and perspective-changing activity.

Ultimately, the answer lies in finding a balance between the two – for many of us, excessive “research” on a player might limit our game, increase anxiety, and lead to overthinking.  If research has led a baseball pitcher to conclude that a particular hitter is most successful with the high fastball, he might dedicate too much attention on “not” throwing the hitter a high fastball – attention which, ironically, may make him more likely to throw it high.  On the other hand, insufficient research on a player might cause you to feel underprepared, lost, and without much direction.  Simply, hold onto big, important bits of information about an opponent, but keep the majority of your attention on yourself – on what you must do in order to be at your best.

Greg Chertok, M.Ed., CC-AASP

Greg Chertok
About the Author:

Greg Chertok. Greg Chertok, M.Ed, is the founder of New York based Chertok Performance Consulting. Greg specializes in sport and exercise psychology with experience working with athletes and coaches ranging from youth to professionals. Greg’s list of clients includes high performance athletes, high school & NCAA champions, Super Bowl champions, Stanley Cup participants, and Olympic athletes. His expertise and knowledge is evident through his contributions to various publications including the Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Runner’s World Magazine, Women’s health magazine, and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. Greg has also been featured as a sports psychology expert on multiple radio shows, including National Public Radio (NPR), SiriusXM’s “Doctor Radio”, Healthradio’s “Sports Medicine & Fitness Show”, CaptainU radio, and Voice America’s “Enter the League”. ”. Greg is a Certified Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) as well as a Personal Fitness Trainer.