In the first part of this blog series, I was focused on the physical aspect of athleticism and how we can improve it. In the second part, I want to share with you another, different view on athleticism.
Let’s took an example of a marathon runner who starts the race with his full running speed, without calculating weather conditions, wind directions, terrain configuration – how far he can go like this? Or a football player who is trying to play the whole 90 min without stopping, always in a run or jog, without trying to anticipate ball movement, the opponent formation and position on the field etc.…How efficient that player can be and for how long he can stay like this in the game?
Next, imagine a tennis match where one player is under constant excessive mental tension. When we are talking about mental tension actually we are talking about not effective stress management. So for this tennis player, an environment of that match is really stressful (because of his or other’s expectations, the importance of the match). In this situation, his body will crank up sympathetic nervous system function (fight or flight) and by doing so he will burn much more energy (ATP) than he usually needs to play a single match! Stress is about the perception of the environment, the greater the stress, the more energy the body produces to handle it. But there is whole other negative reactions inside the body under high levels of stress, cortisol levels are high (producing inflammation), fascia gets tense as well (muscles can’t move optimally), etc… Because all of that what do you think is this player able to recover well enough between points, or how efficient he can be during long rallies? What about his body after 1 or more hours of playing? My point is you can be physically at your top but if you cannot control your stress response you can look like someone who is completely out of the shape. On the other hand is he able to make appropriate tactical decisions under these circumstances? Can he be technically precise to hit the ball with the center of his racquet?
Because all of that above:
Athleticism is best define as a game between
• tension to produce power/speed;
• relaxation where is getting feedback to make necessary adjustment
During tension phase athletes are trying to go as fast as possible, consuming a lot of energy! The tension phase (strength, power, speed) is the “energy production” side of performance. Those things are important, but they just create the potential for performance!
During the relaxation phase, athletes are trying to recover and prepare for the next tension phase adapting and anticipating as much as possible to the situation on the court!
This game between tension and relaxation can be different for every sport and situation on the court. An example of this interplay during tennis can be: tension phase is every time player is playing a point and relaxation phase is during 25 seconds between points. But we can also apply same principles during one rally or single point, every time player is preparing to hit the ball he is in “tension phase” but between two strokes whenever possible, a player should “relax” to recover as much as possible (by breathing properly), to adapt to the demands of that point (staying in the corner or move more to the center) as he is trying to anticipate opponent next shot. In the next two videos pay attention to the body movement and how Novak Djokovic keeps his body less contracted when he is moving between two shots. From my experience in tennis, this is the major difference between young and experienced players, between top players and others.
I hope I was able to show you a different view on athleticism. Definitely athleticism is not only about who can jump higher or run faster!