Using video to look back at how you just performed is a critical view that allows an athlete to bridge the gap between what their coach sees and what the athlete can now see.
Having the ability to look at your performance from a third-party perspective can be incredibly valuable. Instead of trying to remember what you did and how it might have felt at the time, you can look at yourself, almost as if you were someone else.
The only problem with video is that it can be a little overwhelming.
I remember competing on my first Olympic team. In the days leading up to our event, CBS had all of their cameras working. There were close to fifty cameras on the Olympic track. A far cry from the one camera our manager typically had during training.
To help us out, CBS offered the US Athletes unlimited access to the training footage to up our game. At first, it seemed like a great idea. But after the first session, we opted out of watching the footage because it was overwhelming.
Our regular coaching on the track was two coaches with radios and one team manager with a camcorder—three spots covered over the mile-long track. Instead of seeing a couple of curves on the video, we now could see the ENTIRE thing.
It was mind-boggling.
Overwhelming. Too much data to process.
Today, athletes have access to footage of their runs every single day. All the time. The entire track.
It’s normal for them. But for us, at the time, it was too much. Oh, how times change.
I recommend my athletes use as much video as they can, no matter what the sport. Video is ubiquitous now, and it always shocks me when athletes don’t use video because they don’t want to look like they are too keen.
Many athletes and their parents shoot themselves in the foot by being keen…on not looking too keen. (Facepalm)
But one question that can come up for athletes when they review their game-day footage is the idea of, “I should have had that one.”
It doesn’t matter if it’s a goalie missing a save—a gymnast missing a skill. A shooter missing the net. It’s easy for an athlete to look back on their performance and beat themselves up a bit. “You idiot! If you didn’t make that mistake then, then, THEN!!!”
I used to do this in my Olympic career. As an athlete in a timed-event, the first question you would ask your coach after a training session was, “Do you have the timesheets?”
Once we got those sheets, we would pour over them. Looking to see where we lost time to our competitors. If you lost time in one segment of the track, you would quickly think, “If I didn’t lose time there, I’d be X fast by X curve and could probably win!”
I took that same approach as a goalie in multiple sports.
Dwelling on the scoreboard isn’t the best metric of a goalie’s performance. Looking at save percentage can be a better indicator of just how well you’ve done.
But an athlete who looks back on an experience and says, “I should have had that one,” is trying to change the past…which isn’t possible.
What an athlete is saying to themselves, or others, when they say, “I should have had that one” is…” I think, with the understanding that I currently have, that I should have been able to do that.”
The problem with that statement is that they NOW understand what they didn’t know at the time, even if it is the instance AFTER the experience happened.
Two examples will help give some framework here:
First, an athlete can immediately feel that they should have been able to do something based on their experience of having done it before. A racecar driver can spin out on a corner they’ve gone through a thousand times before. A goalie can miss a save that they have made routinely. A free throw shooter in basketball may miss a free-throw and think, “I’ve made that SAME shot before.”
Or, an athlete may look at the video of their performance minutes, hours, or days later and see a mistake and realize, “I should have had that one.”
One example is a very short realization, and the other can be quite long.
But in either case, the athlete is trying to say, “I think I can do that thing that I just didn’t do!”
This is where most athletes fall apart. They lose the opportunity to learn. Instead of looking at why the thing they wanted to happen didn’t happen…they say, “I should have had that!” That’s it. Beat yourself up. Feel bad. Take a nap. Done.
No progress. Just self-flagellation.
So let’s change that.
The Reality of “Should Have Had That One”
Ok, my hard-on-yourself-athlete. You should have had that one. Well, what happened?
When the athlete says, “I don’t know,” that isn’t an answer an elite athlete uses.
When an athlete says, “I don’t know.” the best question to ask them is, “Well, if you did know, what would it have been?” And then wait. There are reasons for everything, and they will start to develop reasons as to why things didn’t go the way they wanted.
If an athlete says, “Well, I’ve done it before!”
Well, what did you actually do?
All athletic performances can be broken down into a few categories. I call them the Three Key Abilities
First, their physical ability.
The athlete may have recognized what to do but couldn’t do it fast enough, strong enough, or with a level of ‘touch’ necessary.
There is technical ability. They may be strong enough to execute a skill, but they didn’t move efficiently enough to perform under the circumstances.
On a larger scale, maybe it was a tactical error. They weren’t aware of all of the options that were available in that situation. Something more experience would give them, and hey, they just got that experience—better next time.
But often, athletes perform poorly on game day because their intensity in practice doesn’t equal what they will see on game day. They get caught up in the environment: people, places, and things that are different.
Or perhaps, their warm-up is different. They underestimated their opponent. Their equipment wasn’t ready for the conditions they needed to compete. Maybe they are sick. Or they were tired. Or sick AND tired.
If You’ve Done It Before (Enough), You Can Do It Again
I encourage all of my athletes to take an attitude of “Level Up.” Just like you would level up in a video game. If you gain a skill, you get to keep that skill and level up to more complex skills and, therefore, tougher competitions with proper repetition.
But many athletes think that if they do something just once, it’s enough. It’s not. You must drill and drill and drill. It doesn’t matter if you’re a skier, a horseback rider, a racecar driver, or a goalie.
The more you drill, the stronger the pathway in your brain to help you do it again. But that skill also has to be applied in context.
In my book, An Athlete’s Guide To Winning In Sports and Life, I talk about how I would perform well in practice, but on race day, my race suit and everything else made me feel strange. The suit was tighter. It was a different color, and I noticed that when I competed. I couldn’t breathe as easily in it on race day as I could in my training suit.
Skills I could perform in practice all of a sudden didn’t happen when it mattered most.
The same was true when I competed in team sports as well. As a goalie in every sport I played, I wore different equipment in practice and could play flawlessly. But on game day, those skills I relied on were gone.
What I discovered was that I needed to bridge the gap between practice and game day. I needed to repeat the skills I did have in the proper context so I could do what I knew I could do on game day. I needed to take control and anticipate the environment (people, places, and things) and how I would perform in that situation.
By having more awareness of how I would feel in competition, I could bring that into practice to better prepare.
Instead of thinking, “I should have had that.” I now understood where precisely the breakdown occurred, which gave me more confidence the next time I competed.
Linear Challenges versus Random Challenges
Depending on your sport, you may be learning skills in a linear fashion, or you may be learning skills to apply to unexpected challenges.
Gymnasts are a great example of this. They will learn specific, very definable skills on the way to executing a particular skill to get a “10”. Everyone is doing one skill to perfection.
On the other hand, a goalie might be learning a particular movement to withstand a shot taken from any number of areas. Not nearly as definable, perfection is often subjective, “Great job making that save, but MAN, it was ugly.”
And because there are a million ways a shot may be taken, a goalie is trying to learn a handful of skills and then do their best to apply it to as many shots as possible. And yet, a goalie may leave a game and think, “Man, I’ve never seen a shot from there, that fast, like that, in the sun, in the rain, etc.” The variables are immense.
So while a gymnast may not have executed a skill yet, a goalie may have seen something similar, but it was slower, more predictable, with more time to react.
In this case, I always encourage my goalies to ask three questions: 1) Did you see it? (Can’t see it, can’t stop it.) 2) Did you know where it was going? (They may not have enough experience to understand that shot, yet) 3) Did you move in front of it? (This could mean with good technique, or just fast enough. Younger bodies may not have the strength to move quickly enough. Yet)
Athletes in a linear skill sport may lose because they don’t have a skill yet in their arsenal. “Oh, she can do a double, but I can only do a single.”
An athlete experiencing more unexpected challenges may need more time and more experience to understand all the variables they may face. It doesn’t mean they will never learn, but for now, it’s just a bit outside their comfort zone, and that’s going to require just a little bit of patience which can be hard to come by for some athletes.
The Hard Truth
Many of the athletes I work with are hard-working, diligent athletes. They are conscientious and don’t like to disappoint. It could be their coach, or their teammates, and often their parents. They hate to let people down.
So instead of saying, “I should have had that.” let’s help them turn that into something productive by asking, “How could I have had that?” By asking how you will now have something constructive to improve on.
If their answer is “I don’t know!”. Sure, I get that. But if you knew, what would it be?
Demanding awareness from your athlete helps the athlete and the coach. And the parent.
But a warning: Don’t berate your athlete for not knowing. In the emotion of the moment (maybe they just lost because they didn’t do something they felt they should have been able to do), asking them, “IF YOU KNEW WHAT WOULD IT BE!!” probably isn’t the best approach.
Remember, when athletes lose, they have to grieve. It’s a process that is very individual. Some athletes can jump right to acceptance and can start to find solutions. Others may take a bit.
Becoming aware is a skill. And like any skill, it can be trained with experience.
But What If They’ve Done It Before?
Athletes will make mistakes. We don’t want them to make mistakes. They don’t want to be making mistakes. But hey…it happens.
The question to ask, though, is why?
Were you rested?
Were you hungry?
Does something happen you never saw before? A trick shot? An equipment failure?
Were you cold?
Did you think about math class?
Did your girlfriend dump you before the game? (Hey, it happens to the best of us. Just saying.)
In a perfect world, you’d be able to execute a skill once, and then it was there, constantly wired into your brain in your body to do it again and again and again.
Were you thinking, “Holy crap, this is IT! And that college coach is in the stands too!”
Did you think about things you couldn’t control? Out of the present moment?
The best athletes learn to manage as much of what they can control and let the rest happen.
A couple of things to consider…when an athlete is fatigued, technique breaks down. That’s why you want to train harder than you have to compete. You want reserves of energy so that the technique you do have will be expressed when you want it the most.
What If I’ve NEVER Gotten This Before
I have worked with a lot of athletes who are so disciplined, so hardworking, that they want to get EVERYTHING right…right now.
But they don’t have the experience to do it just yet.
That is a recipe for constant frustration.
I can’t double backflip on my skis. I’ve never done it. I haven’t ever tried, really. (Well, I tried once, but it was a total mistake on my part.)
The point is that I couldn’t tell myself, “Oh, I should have had THAT!”
The truth is that I’ve never even tried. Not even close. If I had landed something like that, it would have been complete luck, and we don’t plan on luck.
Being hard on myself like that is unrealistic and unnecessary bur surprisingly, lots of athletes will beat themselves up over something they have never done.
Sure, they want to get it…but there is some effort that needs to happen, and that effort usually occurs in practice and other competitions.
Now, if you have actually tried a skill repeatedly but haven’t yet completed it successfully, you need to decide if the way you are going about it is actually correct.
I like to say that, ‘everything is possible with progression.” What you may not be able to do now doesn’t mean you can’t do a smaller, scaled-down version of what you’re trying to do.
Maybe you reduce speed or intensity. You might not be able to squat 200 pounds, but I bet you can squat five pounds. Starting small and scaling up usually results in being better, sooner, than playing “up” or biting off more than you can chew.
If you do play “up” or try something out of your comfort zone, anticipate failure. If you get it, great. But if you don’t…don’t beat yourself up.
Ok, we’ve covered a lot in this article—more than I anticipated. But the concept of “I should have had that!” isn’t always accurate. Sure, your athlete may be a hard-working individual who doesn’t want to disappoint and wants to ‘have’ everything. And it’s always great to envision just where you might finish if you had been more perfect, but we need to turn that into concrete action steps.
In this article, we laid out a bunch of ideas on just how to do that. So I’d love to hear just what you’ve applied after reading this. Did I miss something? Let me know and shoot me a message. I can’t wait to hear how your athlete has improved after reading this.
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Olympian Jonathan Edwards
Founder - The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint
Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Creator of "The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint": The world's only mental performance training program for aspiring athletes with big dreams. Over nineteen years he has worked with athletes who have gone on to or competed in NCAA D1, D2, D3, MCLA D1 and D2, the Olympics, NHL, MLL, NLL, NFL, and others. Feel free to link to this article from your blog and share it with an athlete, parent, or coach who would benefit from these concepts.