Want To Be Fast? Don’t Try Harder

Anyone who knows me well understands my beliefs in how to efficiently begin winning, and how we get there can happen only if we are consistent in everything we do, given a specific sport. As long as an athlete, or driver consistently practices a given assignment, it will become easier to see improvement or to make corrections or adjustments. By doing so, achieving perfection requires far less time, frustration and expense.

I learned that years ago when I was under the tutelage of my coach, John Satterwhite, while training for the Olympic marksmanship team. I had been training six days a week for two years solid, and doing everything my coach had been drilling into my head. Every lesson centered on being consistent: my sleep habits, training schedule, the way I stood, the shoes and clothes I wore, the way I wore my hat, even the way I combed my hair. Believe it or not, while these habits might seem extreme, all of these things and more have a lot to do with being consistent.

My coach called me the morning before my first big national competition to encourage me, and to tell me how impressed he was with my consistency.

“Faules, all you have to do to win this week, is just do exactly the same thing you’ve been doing in practice for the last year. With scores like that, you’re impossible to beat.”

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I was feeling proud, and his confidence in me was overwhelming, especially considering he was a 14-year world record holder in my sport. The next words out of my mouth ground the entire confidence-building phone call to a screeching halt.

“John, thanks for believing in me. Just to make sure everything goes well, I don’t normally eat breakfast, but this morning I got up an early and went to Denny’s and had a big breakfast. (Long silence on the phone.) “John, are you there?”

As my coach began to speak it was apparent he was upset. “Faules, do you realize what you just said? Have you learned anything I’ve been telling you?” he said. “Go compete, and good luck this week, but as soon as you’re done, you get your ass on a plane to Seattle and get up here. We need to talk.” And with that, he hung up.

I did compete and, yes, I did well, but for all intents and purposes, given how well I had been doing in practice, I performed poorly, missing out on a podium finish. When John picked me up at the airport the following week he wasn’t saying much. I also noticed he was not taking the usual route to the gun club or his home, and I sensed he was still upset, but I was unsure why. I wanted to prove to him on the phone that day that I had tried just a little harder to make sure I’d have an advantage on my competitors. It was a quiet ride, but before long we had parked in downtown Seattle and were riding in an elevator. I followed John down a hall and into a doctor’s office. “Good morning. We’re here to see Dr. Williams.” It wasn’t long until we were seated in front of the doctor in his office.

“Good morning, John. So, this must be the guy we spoke about on the phone? Gary, my name is Dr. Williams and I am a nutrition specialist. John has asked me to help you understand exactly what happens to you when your diet is changed.”

Over the next hour, Dr Williams did his best to give me a layman’s understanding of how various foods might change various functions in our body. For example, how meat slows us down. Coffee acts as an upper and how cigarettes are a relaxant.

“Gary, John tells me you’re a smoker (not anymore). Do you ever have a cigarette while you’re having a cup of coffee? Do you realize how much that screws up your brain? Basically, you’re using an upper and a downer at the same time. Your brain doesn’t know what in the hell is going on. It’s anything but consistent, and will definitely impede hand-eye coordination.
John tells me you had a major competition last week. How’d you do?”

After humbling myself in front of Dr. Williams and my coach as to my poor showing, he asked me if I remembered exactly what I had for breakfast the day of the match. He listened intently as I recalled my breakfast, but as soon as I mentioned “A large glass of orange juice.” His eyes widened and I heard a grunt of disapproval coming from my coach. “Gary, sugar levels of fruit juice cause a significant spike in blood sugar levels,” the doctor said.

Then my coach took over. “Gary, what I want you to learn from all this is simple. You had been practicing consistently every daily routine in your world as well as your daily practice and you were for all intents and purposes, unbeatable. But then … you changed everything. You changed your sleep habit, changed your diet, you spiked your blood sugar, and simply tossed everything you’ve done for the last year, right out the window. No wonder you didn’t podium!”

So, the lesson for the day is, don’t do anything different in a race than you normally do in practice. The reality is that trying harder on race day ultimately will make you slower. Just ask Dr. Williams.

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