Barriers to Championship Performances

Rio Olympic Games ALTIS ACP
Dan Pfaff

Dan Pfaff

Head Coach

The below is a collection of Coach Dan Pfaff’s thoughts and observations acquired through 40 plus years of coaching and interaction with Championship Performers from across the globe … Enjoy!

Risk taking is a common trait among champions. Learning to be comfortable with taking calculated risks to drive positive change – whether than be in mind-set, mechanics, strategies, tactics or training methods is essential.

Perpetual residency in the familiarity of comfort zones, and associated risk avoidance will consistently blunt your progress. If you want to be a Championship Performer, get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Believing there will be a perfect jump, run or meet is a deadly trap which slowly becomes a virus. Attachment to perfectionism wrecks not only competitions, but practices – and ultimately one’s life balance. Any analysis of a World Record effort will yield numerous flaws and detractors from the athlete’s better performance cluster.

Self-talk is powerful – both in a positive and negative vein. What you think and say to yourself evolves into patterns; these patterns become habits, and eventually drivers for your practices, competition, and life duties. Closely related to this is body language: If you project defeatist traits, they will drive everything you do.

“If you project defeatist traits, they will drive everything you do”

Lip service is plentiful. Folks always claim they are all in. They talk and dream about being at the top, yet few study those at the top and note what it truly takes to be there. Elite performance involves deep study, endless efforts, honesty on all fronts and accountability beyond the norm.

Elite performance evolves over time: Tools, tactics, mind-sets and behaviors that worked in the past must change as situations increase in demand. Living in the past with these factors is a one way ticket to frustration – both for you and those around you.

Selective energy use will result in gaps during pressure performances; less than mindful and purposeful attention to detail in all work tasks creates these gaps. Everything you do daily has a purpose and intent – just ticking boxes does not ensure understanding or efficacy.

Many people stay in a situation because they are fearful of the next chapter. Viruses in mental and spiritual growth manifest when one treads water, waiting to muster up the courage to take the next step, or to change paths from the route they are currently treading.

Communication is oxygen to relationships. The inability to express your thoughts, moods, concerns, boundaries and desires create a slow death in any relationship you are involved in. Learn to communicate, or any relationship will inevitably be short-lived.

Enjoyment of the journey is critical in all endeavors. One must find ways to enjoy every step of the climb: Why climb the highest peaks to stare at the crevice in front of you rather than turning to see the majesty of the view from the top?

"Learn to communicate, or any relationship will inevitably be short-lived."
“Learn to communicate, or any relationship will inevitably be short-lived.”

Champions love puzzles. They can’t wait to get to work the next day to find solutions. They embrace failure, for it acts as a springboard to solutions. Work is play for them.

Failure is embraced by leaders in all walks of life. It does not paralyze; it does not diminish risk taking; it does not color behavior: It is a catalyst for problem solving.
Champions know how to network and use networks. They are on a never ending search for answers and solutions. They all have a gate keeper for this search engine – a person they use for wisdom, guidance and advice when utilizing networks and network inputs.

Champions see the big picture and do not get hung up on minutiae: They are resilient and antifragile in nature; they realize there are many roads to Rome. At the same time, they respect that there are principles, theories and accepted practices in their area of expertise.

Champions embrace and accept constructive criticism. They crave systematic feedback. They keep detailed records of their journey, and they frequently review how often they receive these criticisms; looking for patterns that lead to elimination of said faults and behaviors.

Champions pay attention to detail, and never tire doing the fundamental tasks that support their endeavor. They find enjoyment and stimulation in the most mundane tasks. Repetition does not bore them.

Champions strive for balance and excellence in all areas of their life. Whether it be at work, in relationships, in community or in self-analysis. They are always pushing boundaries, limits and current accepted ceilings, created by themselves or others.

Champions know how to build out conditional, seasonal, and state of health metrics for practice and competition-cluster analysis. Knowing how each Key Performance Indicator is progressing during various phases of the year, and in varying conditions and state of health, are practical, healthy ways of managing expectations and predictions.

"Champions strive for balance and excellence in all areas of their life"
“Champions strive for balance and excellence in all areas of their life”

KPI analysis is an ongoing, never-ending process in organizations that exhibit excellence. The number, scope, and type of KPI factors change with evolution and the training year.

Champions have many tools in the tool box, for practice and competitions. They realize that trying harder, going faster, or getting emotional may have worked at an early stage of their career, but these tools no longer work at the elite level.

Champions understand the arousal curve for performance exhibition. Through experimentation in training and at meetings they find a zone to operate in when under pressure, or sub-optimal conditions. They are flexible with this zone and know how to adjust KPI factors accordingly. It is an art.

Successful Championship Performance is a finely tuned skill requiring years of practice, along with the ability to calmly ride out the multiple peaks and valleys of frustration that will inevitably occur along the way. I hope some of these points may have resonated, and will aid you on your journey.

Best of luck with your endeavors,


Coach Dan Pfaff is on Twitter – follow him here.


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