During our sporting careers there are many moments or periods of time where it is worth focusing on the basics of our game. The same holds true for other spheres in our lives too (work or career, family, relationships). In sport this may be mid-performance, in the heat of the moment, or perhaps in a situation where we need to review our strategy or performance. We might also choose to focus on basics and fundamentals of our sport over a longer period of time, such as in circumstances of injury and rehabilitation, or in the strange situation we find ourselves in now – being in a global mandatory lockdown.
Sports related skills may be broken into four primary categories: technical, physical, mental, and tactical. For example dribbling is a technical skill that is fundamental across many sports (hockey, basketball, football to name a few). Time spent working on basic skills may be suggested in addition to structured training sessions.
One of my most influential football coaches as a junior, former All White Chris Turner, would always stress the importance of juggling (keeping the ball up) and even at team practices we would spend some time alone working on this form of ball control. As a youngster so much of this time was associated with personal bests and an obsession to learn freestyle tricks. In team practices I’m sure many of us thought “why and how long do we have to do this for?”, but little did I recognise back then the importance of repeated practice of key skills and their influence on self-determination and confidence in the grand scheme of things.
Even the most elite athletes and sporting legends such as Michael Jordan and Larry Bird have endorsed the importance of basics and fundamentals in sport. The late Kobe Bryant said, “Can I jump over two or three guys like I used to? No. Am I as fast as I used to be? No, but I still have the fundamentals and smarts. That’s what enables me to still be a dominant player. As a kid growing up, I never skipped steps. I always worked on fundamentals because I know athleticism is fleeting.”
How many times have we witnessed sports commentators, coaches, peers, and even ourselves in our mind suggest we focus on the basics of our game during a sporting event? No matter how experienced we may be in our chosen sports, practice of the most fundamental and basic skills is essential. Of course, having exceptional technical skills without the equivalent tactical, physical and mental skills can be a liability on the other hand. Sometimes we can experience ‘analysis paralysis’ and it becomes hard to get out of our heads and take action. In sport, athletes of all levels have experienced times when we overthink, get stuck, and under perform. When this happens the concept of returning to the basics can desert us altogether and we may wonder where all that technical practice went. It is during such times that psychological skills in particular are called upon, so that we can compose ourselves and perform to the best of our ability.
Each of us is in our own unique context right now. We may be grappling with the adjustment of sport being suspended, or the grief of losing important sporting opportunities. Many of us may also be concerned about the wellbeing of family and friends during this time. Some athletes on the other hand may welcome this time off and utilise it to focus on relaxation or personal growth perhaps outside of sport. Some of us may be fortunate to have equipment and opportunities that enable us to train and practice a variety of skills regularly. On the other hand, it may be impossible to work on technical skills of your sport (pole-vaulters for example). The following ideas and questions may help you to create achievable goals for yourself during this time.
Think about all of the technical skills required for you to perform well in your sport, where do the biggest gaps lay in terms of where you are at now and where you would like to be according to your own honest assessment or feedback from coaches? Is it possible to work on some of these fundamental skills right now in your context? Dribbling and ball control were earlier mentioned as fundamentals across several ball sports, and others can include passing, shooting, tackling, defending and body positioning to name a few. If right now technical practice isn’t possible, now may be an opportune time to work on flexibility, strength, or cardiovascular fitness. Are there more specific certain physical attributes that either you or coaches have identified as needing improvement? Some examples here may include: acceleration, agility, balance, jumping, reactions, and speed.
If you are stuck for some ideas on what to do there is an enormous amount of content online. Several high profile athletes have shown some of their home workouts and exercises on social media and other platforms, many which don’t require special equipment. For example, you could click here to watch NZ athletes who have put together sport-specific lockdown workouts with the help of Sky Sport. Alternatively, click here to check out the Olympic Channel website that showcases many athletes from a wide variety of sports. Finally, now is as good a time as ever to work on some core psychological skills that can take your game to the next level. For more on this, see our four part video series listed on our blog page created by our very own Hamish from Sports Psychology Associates.