Trying Times

The aim for any coach is to get athletes to try their best.

But can you try too hard? I believe so.

Trying too hard typically results in physical and mental tension and can affect the technical execution of a skill and decision making.

This results in mistakes as the mind and body fall out of sync.  Margins are fine at the highest level and errors at a crucial time can be costly and ultimately lead to failure.

Using this year’s Wimbledon tennis finals as an example: both Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal were looking to regain titles after mini-droughts. Nadal had not played on grass for eleven months, while Williams was returning to competition after becoming a mother last year.

Despite this, both looked close to their best while progressing through the tournament. Their desire, drive and determination were undimmed, but both missed easy chances at the net when their opponents were out-played and out-of-position.

Instead of opting for a simple return into a near empty court they pounced on the opportunity and went for riskier and inaccurate power drives that were wide of the mark. The verdict: unnecessary.

Over-excited, over-eager, over-anxious, over trying. Whatever the emotion – it over-rode the calm and poise we expect to see from these iconic figures.

Understandable? Maybe - in the heat of the moment when everything is in continual flux.

Compare these with golf where the ball is motionless between strokes. Each stroke is a set piece.

Theoretically, you have total control of the situation.

However, that was not the case for Jean Van de Velde in the British Open at Carnoustie, 1999. He led from the 36th to 71st hole and was three ahead at the last. A double bogey (six or less strokes) would have sufficed. Any touring pro should have managed this.

Perhaps Van de Velde saw the trophy on its way back to France for the first time since 1907 - a life–changing moment!  

The Barry Burn lay between his ball and the green, but instead of taking the safer route and laying up in front of the Burn, he went for – and missed - the green.

The decision led to a scenario where Van de Velde found himself literally and figuratively in deep water. With socks and shoes off he was wading in the Burn contemplating hitting out of the water. It was a meltdown moment.  

In those defining six strokes he also found the sand and stands – everything but the hole.

Effort without trying is more easily said than done.