Friday, December 07, 2007
Your Personal best: A Mind Game
By GINA KOLATA
BILL MORGAN, an emeritus professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin, likes to tell the story, which he swears is true, of an Ivy League pole vaulter who held the Division 1 record in the Eastern region.
His coaches and teammates, though, noticed that he could jump even higher. Every time he cleared the pole, he had about a foot to spare. But if they moved the bar up even an inch, the vaulter would hit it every time. One day, when the vaulter was not looking, his teammates raised the bar a good six inches. The man vaulted over it, again with a foot to spare.
When his teammates confessed, the pole vaulter could not believe it. But, Dr. Morgan added, “once he saw what he had done, he walked away from the jumping pit and never came back.”
After all, Dr. Morgan said, everyone would expect him to repeat that performance. And how could he?
The moral of the story? No matter how high you jump, how fast you run or swim, how powerfully you row, you can do better. But sometimes your mind gets in the way.
“All maximum performances are actually pseudo-maximum performances,” Dr. Morgan said. “You are always capable of doing more than you are doing.”
For the rest of this New York Times article, go here.
NVDL: I had a smiliar experience to this pole vaulter when I was a little outjie. I trained like a mad little man when I was young as 4 years old. By the age of 5 I could swim a complete length of a 50 metres pool, Butterfly nogal. Ja, I was a Ryk Neethling in the making. But then I had a fateful race, Free State Provincial Trials in Kroonstad, a race I sacrificed a lot for (like quitting first team soccer). The crazy thing is I won that race, but by such a narrow margin that I was horrified, terrified that I might easily have lost (despite the surpreme sacrifice of training invested).I never reached such a top level, performance wise, in swimming again. Sure, I attempted a come-back, but I guess I was psyched out by the fact that your best is sometimes (possibly) not good enough.
I have since learned that you can also bullshit yourself in the opposite direction. You can put in a maximal (not necessarily ultimate maximum effort) and always argue that you're a work in progress, capable of doing better. That frees you to defend less than stellar performances, and lessens the pressure of topping the latest performance.
I have to say though, even training for the likes of the Ironman and being in incredibly top nick for Olympic distance triathlons, I feel like I never came close to the sort of excellent form I had as an 11 year old. I mean, at that race in Kroonstad I did a 50m Free in 30 seconds. I'm now 24 yerars older, arguable stronger etc, and there's no way I could beat that little squirt. For more Poolside Reflections, go here.