I was listening to a podcast entitled “The Compounding Effect of Discipline” with Eddie Farrell, World Lightweight Muay Thai Champion. This podcast was on the Coached Success Podcast, and he said something that really caught my attention. Obviously he is a fighter, and his craft is one of the more unique ways to make a living. He made a comment about half way through the podcast about how people sign on the dotted line of a contract to accept a fight, but many never really mentally accept that they are going to get locked in a cage or ring and fight another human being. By this, he implied that many fighters don’t mentally prepare for the last hour of the fight prep, and the actual fight itself. They train, they prepare ahead of time, but things fall apart at the eleventh hour, they lose it in the last hour leading up to the fight itself.
I thought about this for a bit, even pausing the podcast to really give it some head space for a moment. I was never a fighter like he was, the little bit of martial arts training was formative for me, but hardly parallels what the boxers and MMA guys do. The art of executing your craft with the pressure of getting punched in the face repeatedly is a very high level skill. Keeping your emotions in check before, and more importantly during the fight is crucial to winning. What Eddie was referring to was the lack of truly understanding what you are about to undertake, the consequences of walking into the ring. Without the mental preparation for the task at hand, the acknowledgement of the consequences of fighting someone, the highs and lows, the moments of doubt and fear, you are preparing to fail in my opinion. By visualizing all of the possible scenarios and preparing for them in advance, you greatly increase your chances of success, as very little will catch you by surprise.
I am sure for some it is easier to manage the anxiety of the fight by NOT thinking about it. I can’t imagine the stress of weeks of build up to a fight, the days and hours closing in on that trip to the center stage where everyone is going to watch you. Georges St Pierre is considered one of the greatest MMA fighters and martial artists of all time, has openly admitted he HATED fighting in the octagon. He was a martial artist by definition…his skills were not in place to inflict harm to others unless given no other choice. The week leading up to the fight was so stressful for him that he retired before the end of his prime years were passed him. If you listen closely to some of the conversations when he is between rounds, he is on the verge of freaking out, and his coach has to get him to calm down and stay focused. Despite this, he marshaled his talents to perform at a very high level every time out there in the octagon. Again, his skills were honed to inflict harm to others only given no other choice. When that cage door closes, there is no other choice…
As a Racquetball Pro, I didn’t have any real concerns about getting injured by another while competing. But winning matches to pay rent, or in a more immediate need, gas money to get home, is a lot of pressure to function under. I did a marginal job most of the time, a terrible job on occasion, and some times I did a great job of it. I never got consistent with this, and while there are a variety of factors that go into each event (time zone, opponent, injuries, etc.) it is easy to see the lack of ability to manage my emotions during those times is why I fell short of performing at my best.
Ultimately, the goal should be to perform at your highest level under duress. The results are sometimes out of your control, but if you execute your best when it counts, that is a victory in itself.
Two of the best matches I ever played in my career both resulted in losses, but on the score card only. I knew I had a truly “zoned” moment when it counted, I just got out played by someone else in the end. I did everything I was capable of, when it counted, and that is why those were successes.
One of the things I really like about my current job is how it mirrors my athletic career. Now instead of flying to a city to play a tournament, I fly to a city to have a one hour meeting with a prospective client. I prepare in advance, doing my homework for the task at hand. I rise early, do my final preparations. I put on my “uniform” for the event; previously it was athletic clothes provided by my sponsor HEAD Racquetball, now it is a suit and tie. I used to inspect my bag to make sure I had all my racquets, gloves, shoes, and everything else I would need; now I make sure my laptop is charged, I have the power cord, my handouts, and back up batteries for the presentation clicker. I have one hour or so to do my thing, and hope that I execute to the best of my ability. I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that my previous life as an athlete was great preparation for a career in sales. Merit based, eat-what-you-kill, what have you done for me lately…all are front and center in that life. Just like before. At some point, your rote skills become second nature to the point that you can perform on command, at the drop of a hat. You lose the need for elaborate warm up rituals, advanced scouting of the opponent, etc., and you just “go play”.
The art of preparation is the secret to the art of execution. It is the foundation that your skills are built on. If you don’t do the prep work, you will know you are on shaky ground while in the heat of battle. If you have done the work, logged the hard miles, you will have the confidence that you are ready for whatever comes your way. As a coach, this was something I really tried my best to impart to my players. It is a critical life skill, not just competition skill.
Regardless of the “fight” that lies ahead, you need to prepare. You need to do the work, get yourself ready. You need to have prepared, body and mind, for the upcoming battle. Whether is it an athletic competition, sales, fighting an illness or disease, whatever it is…do the work. Visualize, see yourself winning, succeeding, healing. Put the most powerful weapon you have to work for you…your mind. Practice this skill, as I believe it will take you farther than any other single skill you can acquire.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.