I recently conducted a workshop with a group of U14 soccer players in Northern NJ. As part of the session, the girls engaged in a wonderful group activity Ed Kingston once aptly dubbed “Happy Fun Ball”. The purpose of the drill is for the group to keep a beach ball in the air for as many hits as possible, without it touching the ground. The team, as a requirement for successful performance, must monitor their communication, their strategy, and their response to setbacks. I typically run “Happy Fun Ball” outdoors, so teams must battle the sun, the wind, noise or distractions from neighboring teams, and any potential natural disaster (you’d be surprised how many typhoons run through Bergen County).
The team finished with 92 consecutive hits. Not a bad score, considering their first few attempts yielded only 16 hits. While reflecting on the activity, one of the girls said, “We would have done so much better if the wind wasn’t there!”
That’s true! But…a realistic complaint? I wondered if it’s fair to blame something so natural and, well, existing, on less-than-ideal performance. It would seem silly for a hockey winger to say, “I’d have scored three goals if the goalie weren’t in the crease!”, for a baseball hitter to cry, “That line drive would have fallen if the center fielder wasn’t right there!”, or for a golfer to grumble, “That putt should have gone in had it not been for that stupid slope!” (although this one is probably more commonly uttered than the former two). The wind, like the goalie or the center fielder or the slope, neatly falls into a category I’ve personally acronymized as a FITWOP: factor in the way of perfection.
You hear it from athletes everywhere. “I would have run a PR if (insert FITWOP).” “My coach would have started me today, except (insert FITWOP).” I even heard a participant of the Tough Mudder, an outdoor obstacle-laden mud-slathered 12-mile fitness event, complain, “This would have been so easy if the obstacles didn’t exist!” I resisted temptation to laugh uproariously, although it took great effort.
If a FITWOP presents itself naturally and consistently – slopes and outfielders aren’t going anywhere any time soon – is it at all helpful to lament its presence? We seem to have only a certain amount of expendable energy on which successful performance relies. Using valuable energy wishing against that which is guaranteed is rather wasteful.
Two choices, then, emerge: Bust or Adjust. Allow the FITWOP to control your performance, or adjust to the certainty of uncertainty. Break with the obstacles, or adapt to them.
The pessimist complains about the wind…
The optimist expects it to change…
And the realist adjust the sails.
~William Arthur Ward
Rather than grumble about the outside environment, which is where all FITWOPs originate, pay attention to what’s under your control – how you’ve prepared for the performance, the feel of the swing/shot, your energy level during play. A FITWOP in some form will appear, that I promise you. Accept it as a natural part of the athletic experience and adjust.
The soccer team could have adjusted to the wind by changing their positioning, which would have resulted in markedly greater performance. They chose, as a well-intentioned but mental skills-lacking bunch, to yell towards the wind (“This stupid wind!” they screamed craning their necks upward). Just as football players will get hit and swimmers will get wet , so too will a FITWOP emerge. Try to identify all the FITWOPs that have taken your energy and affected your play. Commit to adjusting your next time out.