The Single Best Predictor of Performance

Which do you think is the best predictor of athletic performance: self-esteem, confidence, hope or mood? If you said “hope”, you may have just won a trip to Ironman Hawaii.

The power of hope has been well documented primarily by studying it’s absence. Prolonged lack of hope often leads to depression. Only recently have researchers developed a theoretical model of hope, and ways to measure it. Psychologists C.R. Snyder and Lewis Curry propose that hope is actually composed of two factors: “personal agency” and “pathways.”

Two factors required

Personal agency is a concept similar to confidence, referring to the belief that a person has the ability to initiate and sustain efforts to reach a goal. Pathways are the various options or routes available to reach a desired goals. Both are necessary ingredients to have hope.

For example, a person can be extremely confident (have a strong sense of personal agency), but lose hope if there doesn’t appear to be a path to reach one’s goal. On the other hand, a person may see a pathway, but lack belief in his or her abilities to successfully follow that path. Either condition can result in a loss of hope.

The importance of personal agency seems obvious. The techniques and principles we discussed in the earlier article on confidence can develop it. The importance of “pathways thinking” is often overlooked, though it is equally critical, and also an ability that one can develop and improve through mental skills training.

One of the best ways to do this is by practicing in as many diverse and adverse conditions as possible. This means riding in the rain and wind, running in the heat, and swimming in choppy open water. Like the old saying, “when you get lemons, make lemonade.” Rather than canceling your workout because the conditions are not pleasant, it’s the perfect occasion to practice different pathways.

Also, learn how to change a tire! Need I say more?

Finally, develop a detailed refocusing plan. Actually sit down and write out what you want to do if an unexpected change occurs and your ideal path is blocked. For example, how would you deal with a pre-event hassle such as getting stuck in traffic on the way to the race; no toilet paper in the Port-A-John? What if its rainy or windy on race day? How do you want to handle it if the start is delayed?

Then there are the refocusing plans for hurdles during the actual race. How will you refocus if you have a poor start? What if you start to lose focus during the event? What will you do if you make a mistake such as dropping a water bottle or forgetting your hat on the run? How will you regroup and re-focus if you are having a poor performance during a portion of the race? Expect the unexpected.

Once you have your refocusing plan, mentally rehearse going through the feelings, sensations and actions of confronting the obstacle and then finding your path around it.

How important is the ability to generate various pathways towards a goal? Ask Karen Smyers after her goggles were knocked off early in the swim at Ironman Hawaii. Or ask Paula Newby-Fraiser or Luc Van Learde when they had to sit in the penalty area prior to starting the run at Ironman Hawaii in 1996. In each situation, their anticipated plan (or mental path) was blocked. In each case they were able to revise their plan, take a different pathway towards their goal.

As to winning a trip to Ironman Hawaii, you still have to earn it. But by applying these principles I hope you’ll find it easier to get there on your own.


© Copywrite 1998, Dr. Charlie Brown.  All rights reserved.