The term process is a concept that is being discussed among coaches and players in team meetings everywhere, and rightfully so. On a team scale, a focus on the process means a focus on any detail that is controllable, and leads towards the ultimate goal—weight training, nutrition, sleep schedule, attitude, effort—these things, and many others, are a part of the process. It is important to draw our team’s attention to the controllable aspects that lead to a goal, rather than the goal itself, but we can take it further than that. Once a team-level understanding of the process has been established, we can begin to talk with individuals about developing a process that is specific to them.
The first time I was introduced to the idea of developing an individualized process was in 2015, when I listened to Alan Jaeger on the Sliding Home podcast with Dr. Chris McKenzie. He explained that for an individual, their process should be two or three things that they are completely in control of during competition, and those thoughts or cues should be the last things that go through their mind before they execute their task. For a pitcher, this would mean right before beginning their wind-up; for a tennis player, right before they begin their serve.
Skill: Athletes will identify two or three things—completely within their control—that they can do before a period of action.
Why: Their process will help keep their focus on controllable aspects, rather than distractions such as stakes, score, or opponent. Additionally, it will serve as a transition from a period of thought, to a period of action, and limit the number of cues running through the athlete’s mind.
How: After the athletes understand which aspects of their game are controllable, have them brainstorm and experiment with different mental cues and self-talk until they find what works best for them. Have them write it down so that you can speak their language when adversity strikes.
For an example of how this would look, I’ll turn to golf:
The golfer stands behind the ball on the tee box and examines the fairway. They develop their plan and commit to it before approaching the ball. Once they’re at the ball, the planning is over and it is time for their process to begin. Their self-talk says, “settle in”; they take a deep breath; and they think, “swing with conviction.”
Every shot the golfer takes can follow this process, and that consistency in approach will lead to more consistent performance.
The way I approach this with my athletes is to introduce the idea, and let them play around with it for a few weeks. Let them find what works for them and what doesn’t. I try not to give too many examples for what their process could be—instead I let them arrive at it independently, so they have ownership of it. After they’ve landed on what works, and have a good feel for it, I simply remind them to keep their focus on the process, and ignore the rest.
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