The science of outstanding sport performance
Our task is to become better at winning. In Part 1, we’ll investigate its two main ingredients: talent and practice. We’ll start by discussing sports champions and seeing what we can learn from them. Then, we’ll look at the role of genetics and why we shouldn’t be concerned about it. We’ll conclude by discussing the right and wrong ways to practise—and why we should be concerned!
Winning at Sport explains how you can improve your sports performance, whatever your level, by training and competing more effectively. The book isn’t about the basics; it’s about correcting the errors that many players make when they train and compete. These mistakes damage both your performance level and your ability to perform under pressure.
After reading this book, you'll have a science-based programme that will break down barriers to improvement. Everything in the book comes from science because science is powerful. Science kills off myths, opinions, and untested theories, replacing them with methods that work. Whether you're a beginner, an intermediate, or an expert, you’ll find gaps in your performance you can fill.
You'll improve in two ways. First, you'll reach the highest performance level your talent will allow. Second, you'll learn how to maintain that performance during the pressure of competition.
In Part 3, we’ll use what we’ve learned about the brain to improve key mental skills vital for high performance. We’ll avoid the traditional sport psychology approach because many players struggle with it, finding the skills difficult to master. They dabble, but give up.
Many top players are switching to a more natural, instinctive approach—the mindfulness approach. Mindfulness is simple, takes minimal time, doesn’t require a sport psychologist, and is as effective as traditional psychological skills training. We’ll use it to improve our concentration, performance under pressure, confidence, and emotional control.
‘The scientific route to high performance - explained simply.'
We underestimate the power of our sports brain. We know top players use sport psychologists, but we don’t know what goes on. We suspect sport psychology is important, but we don’t know how to use it. We’re confused, so we put brain-training on our to-do list and get on with what we’re most comfortable with—body-training.
Ignoring our brain is a huge mistake. It’s a beginner’s mistake. If you talk to a beginner about how they play, you’ll get a detailed description of how they move. They’ll talk about angles, positions, weight shifts, muscle contractions, and lever systems. If you talk to an expert, they’ll talk about how they think.
Our sports brain is crucial for two reasons. First, an untamed brain will destroy our performance under pressure. Most of us know this. Second, our brain controls every movement we make, determining whether we hit a good or bad shot. Most of us don’t know this. We think we hit bad shots with our body, but we don’t; we hit them with our brain. Our sports brain is the centre of our competitive universe, and we ignore it at our peril.
In Part 2, we’ll investigate how our sports brain works, how it controls our movements, and how it’s responsible for our best, and worst, performances. We’ll then put together a simple brain-training programme that will mould our brain to work effectively, even under the severest competitive pressure.
We know we shouldn’t waste mental energy worrying about things beyond our control such as our opponent’s ability, dubious refereeing decisions, or bad luck. We should prepare for them but not allow them to dominate our thoughts. Then, we should have a coping strategy for when they happen. Unfortunately, most of us don’t prepare, and we don’t have a strategy.
When an uncontrollable event goes against us, we know we’ll suffer clean pain. This also happens to our opponent, and over time, things even out. Our challenge is to avoid the additional dirty pain of a bad reaction to what happened. We only need do this better than our opponent because, as the old adage goes: if your walking with your friend in a wood and you’re chased by a bear, you don’t need to outrun the bear—only your friend.
In Part 5, we’ll learn how to react maturely, using two major uncontrollables that can decide results: luck and cheating. We’ll then look at a game situation many players and coaches consider uncontrollable but isn’t—football penalty kicks.
Teams are difficult to measure, especially sports teams. We can measure league positions, trophies won, and player performances (through match statistics), but measuring how teams gel and thrive is more challenging. Even when researchers set out to measure a sports team, they usually end up measuring the individual players because it’s just simpler.
But researchers have studied team performance in other fields, such as business and the military, and we can apply their insights to sports teams. Also, researchers in other fields are now applying their measurement skills to sports teams, so the evidence base is building. We’re finally unravelling what makes great sports teams ‘tick.’ In Part 4, we’ll investigate what makes a great team, how to maximise home advantage, and how the best players read the game so well.
Winning at Sport
Science, skill and the new psychology of outstanding performance
'Just like his first 2 books - excellent! Of all the recent writers on the fascinating subject of sport (especially golf), Dr. Riddoch might just be the best.'
Amazon reviewer, 2016.
'The information Chris presents is applicable to athletes and coaches from all sports ... If you want to win more - at whatever level you play at - buy this book!'
Amazon reviewer, 2016.