Want to win? Then focus on the process
We’ve often heard the saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” In sports, this is hardly the case, at least when it comes to goal-setting at the start of every season or before a big match.
We have to make the Final Four this year. I need to win at least a bronze. We are targeting to win the national title. I aim to get an athletic scholarship.
Whether it’s an elite-level team gunning for a championship or a weekend golfer trying to break 100, it seems every athlete’s goal is focused on the end-result. But if you really want to win, then don’t target the trophy. Rather, target the process that leads you or your team to the trophy.
In sport psychology, this is known as setting “process goals” rather than “outcome goals.” The main premise in this approach is that we don’t control match outcomes or results such as who wins or loses (ok, no game-fixing comments please), how many points we score, or which medal we win. However, we can control how we train, how much effort we exert, and what we think when we play.
Instead of trying to beat your personal-best time in swimming, try exerting effort in making the proper stroke and kick frequently and consistently. Instead of trying to score a hat trick, try to develop kicking with either leg during practice. Don’t get me wrong, I want to win and I want the athletes I work with to win. But the way I go about it is that I focus on the “HOW to win” factors rather than just the winning per se.
It’s definitely easier said than done.
In winning eleven NBA championships, Phil Jackson had to convince MJ, Shaq, and Kobe to focus on developing the necessary habits and attitudes for mastering the intricacies and many variations of the triangle offense. Tiger Woods, the 14-major winner but now just the 266th golfer in the world, is going through a rough patch in which he’s learning a new swing and integrating it with the physical “changes” that his back and knees have gone through. And he’s literally doing it one tournament, one round, one hole, and one stroke at a time. If his recent solid showing at the Quicken Loans tournament is any indication, then he’s not far from going back to his winning ways.
Whenever I work with athletes, I emphasize “process” over “outcome,” and break everything down to the detailed processes they work on to become better players. By doing that, they are able to shift from thinking of the “win,” to thinking and executing correctly (form), frequently and consistently (habit) with the required effort.
Through this process, they not only start mastering the different processes (let’s say, a tennis backhand), but start developing focus and concentration. The outcome then becomes an afterthought, and pretty soon, the W’s start to happen.