Mastering The Competition Cycle

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By Dr. Dean Hinitz

Each shot, game, block, and tournament can be viewed as a cycle of experience called the competition cycle. It can be broken down into several stages or steps. For our purposes we will keep it simple, user-friendly, and directly applicable to your game. Once you learn how this works you can diagnose some of the strengths and weakness in your mental game, as well as assist students if you are coaching. We will also look at pitfalls of over or under-emphasizing each part of the cycle.

The Shot Cycle

Let us get started. There are four phases to learn in the cycle. In order to learn this we will concentrate on making shots. Once learned this formula can be expanded to larger aspects of the game, and the game called Life for that matter.

Planning and Intention "There is nothing so practical as a good theory" - Kurt Lewin

Phase One is called planning and intention. This starts as early as you want it to. Preparing for the next turn you should have some idea of what you want to do. When you initiate your pre-shot routine this is part of it. Up on the approach you make your decisions about ball path, rotation, and ball speed. More than that, however, you have the opportunity to make decisions about how much to go for it, how free and athletic to be, and how much commitment to bring to your shot delivery.

This phase is an opportunity to decide to commit to the best of the best that you can bring. You employ your history of coaching and experience, in short your acquired wisdom, to make decisions. Importantly at this point you get to pick whether or not to be a lion or a mouse (Competition tip: Choose Lion. You'll bowl better!).

Execution and Commitment "An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory" - Friedrich Engels

Phase Two is execution and commitment. Once you engage the motor gears, planning is over. In this phase you let your training take over. This step reflects complete and total surrender to what you intended to do in the planning phase. There are no thoughts of consequences, old shots, making or missing the pocket or spares, or even of people watching. This step is about keeping a promise. It is demonstrating the promise you made to yourself about total mental and physical commitment. Lion or mouse time, the proof is in the pudding right now.

In this phase there may be one or two points of focus like balance, free arm swing, eyes on the mark, or anything else. These points of focus simply serve to keep the whole mechanism coordinated. There is a heart check here. You are either bringing it all or not. The truth should be obvious to you as you move through this step. You will know right afterward. If you don't bring it all, funky ball roll and crummy pinfall will likely tell you about your commitment level here.

Reaction and Emotion "The ultimate goal should be doing your best and enjoying it" - Peggy Fleming "The game is supposed to be fun. If you have a bad day, don't worry about it. You can't expect to get a hit every game." - Yogi Berra

Phase Three is the reaction and emotion phase. Something significant just happened. You either struck, spared, or missed. Unless you are made of stone you have some mental or emotional response to what occurred. Your reaction may be subtle or intense, pleasant or noxious. There is no correct emotional response here. There is simply acknowledging your reaction, or stuffing it down. Having a mental and emotional response provides both information to your conscious and unconscious mind, and also provides motivation in the form of positive feelings for successful completion of the execution and commitment phase.

Clearing and Recovery "I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love, and abundance. Then, whenever doubts, anxiety, or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal--and soon they'll forget my number." - Edith Armstrong

Phase Four is the clearing and recovery phase. In this step you follow the laws of nature which demand rest and recovery before gearing up for maximum efforts. This is a time for cutting off living in your emotions and reactions from the last phase. You may decide what you want to hang on to in terms of learning from the last shot, then shake off any lingering emotional residue and catch a moment of rest. No matter what happened you say to yourself, "That's what. So what. Now what."

This step might be the equivalent of a weight lifter letting go of the bar completely before preparing for the next set. Another example is the brief mental break a golfer can take while walking to the ball. Although it is important to be aware of the lay of the land, a golfer can exhale after a shot in order to finish the reaction phase, start walking, then gear up into the planning phase again. The same sequence occurs for baseball batters, quarterbacks, free throw shooters, and men asking women out on a date. Where there is a game to be played this familiar cycle will likely appear.

Hazards and Traps

It is critical that you keep these steps clean, without bleeding them into one another. If you habitually live in one phase too long, and another not enough, trouble in competition land can be an ongoing problem.

Planning and Intention Phase Risks. As with any of these steps there are only two real risks, too much and too little. In the planning phase too little attention means inadequate preparation for the shot. This can result in sloppy shots, misplaying the lane, poor timing, ball speed inconsistencies and more. There is another part of inadequate planning. That is not getting your mind clear about complete dedication to bringing your entire heart to every shot and every game. Remember lion or mouse, you choose every time!

The other common mistake here is overlapping planning into the execution phase. Far too often bowlers are still consciously thinking about how to bowl, or the consequences of making or missing the shot, while they are moving forward in the delivery sequence. This results in overly careful mechanical bowling. This is also one of the recipes for choking.

Execution and Commitment Phase Risks. The biggest problem tendency in the Execution phase is a failure to surrender completely to the shot. Whether it is distrust in the plan or distrust in your own ability to perform, bowlers frequently get infected with the carefulness virus. Over-control and concern about results or the score get in the way of fully and freely delivering the shot.

It is critical that in this phase you have the sensation of really letting go of conscious control in order to be truly athletic. You have a plan; now go with it absolutely. If you do not compete with total commitment, success will feel like a trick. Failure will have you angry at yourself for holding back. Most athletes lose more sleep about not bringing all that they have trained for, than they do about whether they scored or not.

Reaction Phase Risks. After the shot it is vital to note how the shot felt, physically and emotionally, after it was delivered. If you are willing to be completely honest with yourself noticing how you feel will provide instant feedback about whether or not you brought all the game you could.

There are three primary risks in this phase, (1) forbidding yourself to have any reaction, (2) over-reacting, and (3) making rules about what you can and cannot allow yourself to feel. Some athletes and coaches believe that you should behave like the Russian gymnasts from the 1960's, stoic, serious, and unfeeling. This is generally unnatural in real life. Whether you throw a great shot, carry a backdoor strike, or chop a spare there is going to be some reaction.

Inhibiting your reactions is like swallowing food in a balloon. You have it inside of you, but you can't digest our metabolize it. Instead allow yourself the truth of your own reaction, exhale it, and move on. By the way there are not good and bad feelings here. Depending on how you rolled, and the pinfall on the other end, you are likely to have quite a range of reactions. This does not mean that you have to act like a showman or a robot after the shot, this not a demonstration for anyone else.

The alternative to having feelings is to be dead inside. Life without feelings is flat. Having a child, going to Disneyland, and throwing your first 300 game are all flat without some emotional life inside. You can decide to have your feelings, or sometimes your feelings will end up owning you. Take charge, experience your experience, then move on.

As mentioned, sometimes your emotions and reactions can rule you. There is a time for all things, including moving on to the next phase of Clearing and Recovery. Lingering in strong emotional reactions overly long is a luxury that can cripple the entire shot cycle. Getting lost in anger and irritation will surely have you blow past some of the learning and planning that are part of cleaning up any game. Languishing in the glow of a great shot can similarly keep you from staying present with planning and execution. In short, have your reaction, digest it, exhale it, and move on.

Clearing and Recovery Phase Risks. Everything in nature requires some form of recovery from mental or physical exertion in order to heal, reload, and prepare for what is to come. Training and competing in bowling is no exception.

The classic abuse of the recovery phase occurs most often in training. Bowlers practicing by themselves risk overlapping shots into one another as they grab balls off of the ball return, and prepare to fire for the next shot. In league and tournament play, competitors get lost in thinking about the last shots, or sometimes get immediately concerned with the next shot. This pattern results in a constant drain on mental energy without ever clearing to have a fresh experience the next time up.

The other trap of the clearing and recovery phase is mentally going so far away that you get lazy about refocusing and bringing energy back to the planning and intention part of the cycle. Mental clearing need not take more than a few seconds. You can grab some water, talk to a teammate, breath and rest or whatever. Just make sure you gear up when it is time to turn the ignition key.

Bringing The Shot Cycle To Life

Chris Barnes, winner of the 2003 PBA Japan Cup, Kelly Kulick winner of the 2003 U.S. Open, and Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, past PWBA Bowler of the Year are all recent great examples of this cycle in action. Even through the lens of television it was easy to see the four phases demonstrated throughout their championship games.

To review, (1) Think about what you learned from the last shot or in warm-ups. Somewhere in your pre-shot routine get your plan straight for what you intend to do, and how you intend to do it. Include a bold heart commitment.

(2) When you initiate your intention into movement bowl wholeheartedly. This is the time to profoundly trust your training and ability. Go for everything you intended to do in the planning phase.

(3) Have your mental and emotional reactions. You do not have to put on a show, just be real with yourself. Information about heart and performance are given to you in this phase. Don't miss it. Also don't miss the joy involved in great execution. It will further groove your athletic memory for shot repetition.

(4) Clear and recover. Get over your feelings, unless you are using them to assist you in some way. Exhale. Clear your head. Rest for a moment or longer. Then, when it's show time, rewind the sequence and start again.

I can't imagine a sport, job, or important relationship that wouldn't have all of the same requirements in some way. Remember that this formula works for entire league and tournament outings, as well as for individual shot sequences. Master the competition cycle, and you can bring complete confidence in your ability to bring great game, anywhere, any tournament, any time!