Andrew has competed for GB for a number of years as a junior. He proved his pedigree when he broke the British Universities record at the 2012 Indoor Championships. Andrew is now aiming for World University and GB senior successes.
I have been competing in the sport of archery for almost twelve years now, and it has become a huge part of my life. If I could liken it to any mainstream sport, it would have to be golf; they share the same discipline of focussing on technique, on process, rather than on the outcome. I have competed internationally as both a junior and senior and have recently ranked 4th in the UK Rankings. It's a tough game however: six days of training per week, hours of fitness, and coaching in sports psychology.
Few people (outside of sport) really appreciate the importance of a solid 'mental program' for an athlete, it's the one thing that can stand you in better stead than your opponents. If every nation trains hard, and has good ability technically, what stands the 'best' away from the 'rest'? Learning to manage your nerves, and learning to cope with the stresses of competition are skills vital to any form of success. For me, it is easy to draw parallels between sporting performance, and musical performance. Before competing, I'm often very light-headed, I feel an unease in my stomach, and I'm forever thirsty (which leads to being forever in need of a toilet break...). I start to question my preparation, have I really done everything I needed to to be in the best possible shape competitively? And I start to wonder what to do if things go wrong: the weather might be poor; I might be ill; others will outperform me; I may let the team down... Anybody who has performed in front of others (in music, or otherwise) will have felt those same feelings, or a variety of similar ones.
A great performance happens (regardless of the discipline) when a person learns how to cope with these distractions. The first thing I establish before a competition is that I'm only in control of myself, so I am the only thing I should focus on--a good performer has to be, at times, quite egocentric--not others, not the weather, not what might happen if I make a mistake. This is where the concept of process vs. outcome becomes most important. If you make a mistake, and it is sure to affect your grade/score/mark etc. how should you react to that? Will alerting others to your error (by breaking character/expressing anger/restarting the piece) really help you regain control of the performance? Focussing on process is a term we use to describe our complete and utter concentration and devotion to technique. This means knowing your form, equipment, and internal focus inside out, so that after a distraction you have a concrete method (a checklist, almost) with which to regain control of yourself, and the situation.
In archery we have a saying that goes "sort out your end, and the target end will take care of itself." This means that if you devote all of your effort to performing well technically, the outcome requires no attention whatsoever. Archery is, however, as objective a sport as they come--you shoot a 9, you score a 9, simple. Musical performance is different insofar as someone is making a judgement, subjectively, about what you are doing, yet that is no reason assume that the same goals as in sport can't be realised. A musician knows how their instrument works, and knows how to use it beautifully, so why should they clutter their minds with worry about how their performance will come across? You can't control how the examiner/audience will react to your performance, so why waste energy thinking about it? Instead, focus entirely on the technical, visual, and emotive elements of your performance. Focus on you, and everything you can do well. One thing I find in competition is that the days when things go right are easy and very little effort. Things just happen, you don't need to try, you just simply do. If you are one of the lucky people who can find those days regularly, I am very envious of you. For we mere mortals, it is forever about turning things around, turning what may begin as a 'shaky' performance into a good one, into one of which we can be proud. The easiest way to make sure you give your best performance every time, is to live what you are doing, and to love it also. A good performer uses all of the skills I have highlighted above, a great performer does all of the above and enjoys it. People can see when we're having fun, so let's all loosen up and love doing what we do!
Posted on Tuesday 4th December 2012