Developing Poise

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“What such a man needs is not courage but nerve control, cool headedness. This he can get only by practice.”


At every level of sport there are three things that stand out to me as separators between levels: size, speed, and competitive poise. Pay attention to the body language of athletes when they are in a close game. The best athletes seem to have an ability to stay calm, appearing as though they expect things will work out in their favor. Obviously, there is a certain level of emotional maturity that comes with age and experience, but paying attention and working to develop this emotional control can benefit competitors of all ages.

As maintained by Dr. Shainna Ali, “an emotionally intelligent individual is able to perceive, convey, comprehend, and regulate emotions effectively.” Otherwise speaking, an emotionally intelligent athlete understands how their emotions impact the situation they are in. This does not mean they act like a stoic robot, touchy feely, or overly motivational; they simply understand the situation and how to emotionally respond to get their best performance. If you couple this with production on the field you have a recipe for leadership.

Compare two athletes equal in skill, size, and sport tactics. One athletes rages when something goes wrong, blames their teammates and coaches for mistakes; generally complains when things don’t go their way. The other gives consistent effort, shows up with belief in their preparation, gets that the ref and other external things are out of their control, owns their performance, and finds a way to improve where they can get better. Which athlete do you think has the competitive advantage?

Improve Your Competitive Poise

  1. Pay attention to your reactions. It’s simple and overlooked. Put yourself in situations where you may overreact or be tested and pay attention to your reaction in training and practices. What triggered the reaction? Do you lose your temper? Why? Did it benefit your performance? Did it help your team?

  2. Take a hard look at the stresses outside of your sport and how they may impact your performance. Whether it is lifting, practicing, not sleeping, arguing with a significant other, or chemical stress (coffee, alcohol, etc), stress is stress, and this all factors in on game day. To paraphrase Dan John: “you only have so much room in your bucket, as soon as it overflows, you aren’t making progress.”

  3. Examine how others impact you. How does your coach, teammates, parents, crowd, and opponents impact your mindset? Do you prefer to be around people or alone before competition? Are you irritated easily, moody, or rigid? How do you respond to criticism? Take note of the conditions where you are most successful and put yourself in those situations before every competition.

  4. Note how your body feels when steaks are high in competition. For example, do have butterflies in your stomach, a higher heart rate, tense your grip, or tighten your muscles? Does this cause you fatigue quickly, or does it improve your performance? Recognizing and acknowledging these experiences will allow you to have a strategy to relax or amp up as needed. Figuratively, do you need AC/DC or Enya in your headphones? Have a strategy in place for both.

There is so much of training that is entirely focused on sets and reps, fatigue, hormone levels, exercise selection, volume, and technique, you may be leaving the mental component on the table. We know that visualization, relaxation techniques, and applying biofeedback can positively impact performance, but for the purpose of this article, put yourself in controlled situations and pay attention. As the ancient wisdom goes, ‘Know Thyself’. Take notice and learn from your strengths and weaknesses, perceptions and reactions. Have a strategy in place to move the needle in a positive direction. As Dr. Mel Siff put it: “Get to know yourself with regular self-assessment or self reflection, with the purpose of improving rather than condemning yourself.”

Shaun has over 20 years of experience as a competitive athlete in the sports of football, wrestling, and CrossFit, and 10 years of strength coaching experience. He has helped athletes of all ages and levels of ability set goals and maintain focus throughout the process of achieving them. Click below to get started working with Shaun.