5 Practical Ways To Develop A Killer Instinct
Posted by Dean Holden at April 15th, 2016
By Wayne Goldsmith, 22 Mar 2016
These days it seems that it’s not that fashionable to talk about having a “Killer Instinct”. It’s far more popular and correct to talk about “sticking to your process” and “working to your race plan “and to “concentrate on your technique and the result will take care of itself”.
But – let’s be honest. No-one joins a competitive sporting program to stick to a process, work to a race plan or concentrate on their technique… athletes train to win. And a critical part of winning is to have a Killer Instinct.
“Killer Instinct” has somehow developed a bad reputation in the general sporting community. It’s as if having a powerful desire to win and a strong commitment to work hard in an effort to realise your full potential is a negative personal quality.
Even the term “Killer Instinct” is a bit frightening for most people.
Let’s be clear – having a Killer Instinct has nothing to do with some primal desire to hunt and harm your sporting opposition. It doesn’t mean that by developing a Killer Instinct, young athletes will look for opportunities to chop the heads off other rugby players, bite opposition soccer players on the leg or push other runners off a cliff top!
When athletes, coaches and sporting parents understand the concept of Killer Instinct, it can be one of the most positive, constructive and motivating aspects of the competitive sports experience. Put simply, a Killer Instinct is an inner drive – a passion – a motivating force that inspires people to realise their full potential. It’s an energising and uplifting personal philosophy of “I can do better AND I will give everything I’ve got to achieve it”.
And the best news of all… athletes can develop a Killer Instinct through consistent, committed, high quality, intelligent, innovative coaching.
What is a Killer Instinct? Stayers and Players
There are two different types of athletes: Stayers and Players.
Stayers enjoy training; they like competing and they are inspired by improvement and progression. They work hard – they dream of being successful and they give their all to be the best they can be. Players want to win and they hate losing. It’s as simple as that. And it’s their love of winning and hatred of losing that drives them. It’s what motivates them and it’s what fires their commitment to be relentless in their planning, preparation and performance.
While Stayers would like to win: Players have to win. Stayers might dream of winning: Players do whatever it takes to ensure winning is the only possible outcome. Stayers don’t like to lose: Players hate losing with a passion. They despise it. They don’t hate themselves for losing – they don’t beat themselves up for not gettin’ the gold, scoring the try or kicking the winning goal – it’s not like that. They just hate the fact that they lost and they make an unbreakable personal commitment to work harder than ever to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Killer Instinct – Coaching in Practice:
“Recently at a training camp I noticed two young athletes of similar ages, size and background arrive at the camp. During the pre-camp briefing, I found out that they train together in the same team and they both train 5 times a week. They also told me that they love their sport and would like to compete at the Olympic Games.
At the end of the first day of the camp, the coaching team decided to hold a time trial. Both of the athletes stood up, raced their best and were told their time trial time by their respective coaches.
One of the young athletes said, “I can’t believe that time. Mum is going to be really disappointed. This always happens to me. I can’t race in training. I never do any good at these things”. The other said, “Man – that time is so slow. I can’t believe it. That sucks. When I come in tomorrow morning I am going work my back-side off and get this right”.
The next morning at the start of day two of the camp, the second athlete was the first one to arrive and the first one to start training. At the end of the morning training session he asked the coaching team for another chance at achieving his goal in the time-trial.”
Is it “healthy” to have a Killer Instinct?
Every time this topic is discussed, there are people who will argue that “winning is over-emphasised in sport” and that sport should be about encouragement, participation and enjoyment – the “everyone gets a prize” argument.
There is some merit to this point of view.
For the majority of people who play sport – it is mostly about fun, friendships, learning, improving, fitness and all those other positive experiences that sport provides. However – let’s be brutally honest. Some people win – and some don’t.
Participation level sport very rightly concerns itself with fun, family, friendships, learning, encouragement, positive sporting experiences etc. The nature of competitive sport however, is fundamentally focused on winning and losing. There’s a team who wins the World Rugby Cup final – and a team who loses. There’s the guy who gets to wear the Green Jacket for winning the US Masters golf tournament and then there are the other players who just get to drive home in their regular sweaters. There’s the winner of the Olympic Games 100 freestyle and then there are the other seven swimmers who don’t get the gold.
The reality is that competitive sport – when it comes down to it – is about winning and losing and the fact that some people are a little more committed to winning than others.
Does it mean that if athletes don’t win then they’re “losers”? Of course not. But what it does mean is that athletes, coaches and sporting parents need to accept the reality of competitive sport: you win or you lose – but you don’t have to like it and more importantly – you have it within you to do something about it.
5 Practical Ways to Develop a Killer Instinct – For Athletes.
1. Titles not times. Forget records. Forget personal bests. Forget tracking your percentage improvements. Compete to win! Focus on titles and podium finishes and not how much your techniques and skills levels have improved. And if you don’t win – do something about it! Work harder, work smarter, work more consistently, recover more, change your diet, and take better care of your injuries and psychological well-being.
2. Race to win. Feel free to think about, talk about and train hard for winning. Get comfortable talking about winning. It’s not a rude word! It’s what you crave. Winners naturally and comfortably focus on winning – that’s why they win so often. If you don’t focus on winning when you race or play or compete – who will?
3. Forget the obsession with “qualifying”…..so much of sport is based on chasing qualifying standards. Forget about it. Stop chasing a fraction of a second here so you can qualify for this event or that competition. Focus instead on the development of the full complement of competitive skills – (physical, mental, technical, tactical and strategic) that you need to win and embrace a relentless commitment to excellence and hard work in practice and guess what….the qualifying will take care of itself. Too many athletes focus on “qualifying” to the point where qualifying itself seems like the end point. Qualifying is merely the doorway to the competition experience – don’t knock lightly – knock the “door” down and rush in at top speed!
4. Win in practice! Training is not just training – it’s winning practice. Anyone can swim laps….anyone. Anyone can run laps….anyone. Just doing the laps will not make you a winner. At every possible opportunity in training – practice winning. Learn to race anyone – anytime – anywhere and in any situation in practice and you’re well on the way to thinking and preparing like a winner.
5. Develop Playing skills – not just Staying skills. There are millions of great Stayers in competitive sport all over the world … athletes who are focused on physiology and who train hard, eat well, get plenty of rest and recovery and love their chosen sport. But they don’t win. Getting the physiology right is important – but Players – winners – focus on also developing the complete range of performance skills they need to meet the demands of every situation they face in competition.
5 Practical Ways to Develop a Killer Instinct – For Coaches
The critical consideration for a coach is – “If I believe the development of a Killer Instinct is important for success in competitive sport, how can I coach my athletes to learn, develop and master a “Killer Instinct””
1. Coach your athletes to perform to their potential in the competitive environment – not just to be great trainers. For example, in sports like running, swimming, cycling and rowing it is a relatively simple task to coach athletes to learn good technique and to be able to execute a potentially winning time in training. But competition is so much more than times, distances, heights and speed. It’s about coaching athletes to perform to their potential at maximum speed, when fatigued and under pressure in competitive environments. Create challenging situations and problem-rich environments in training that demand your athletes learn to perform in competition conditions. Coaches are overly focused on “text-book” coaching – that is, coaching athletes to master sports techniques and skills and to achieve target performance levels in training but don’t spend enough time on coaching their athletes to race, to compete and to flourish in performances, i.e. how to win.
2. Create Competition in Training. Look for opportunities in training to match athletes in simulated competitive situations. Teach them to embrace moments in training where they can learn competitive skills. Challenge them to ask more of themselves than they ever thought possible. But…and this is essential…coach them to learn from losing – in effect teach them how to lose. No one wins every time they race or compete or play. The critical concept then is not so much to avoid losing – it’s to give everything you’ve got trying to win – then if you don’t win – to learn quickly, learn effectively and move on.
3. Coach Mental Re-direction. There’s a wonderful saying in coaching: “Losing is not the issue – everyone loses at some stage in their careers. It’s how you chose to react to losing that makes all the difference”. When athletes perceive they’ve failed – coach them to think about, talk about and most importantly act differently. Many athletes will naturally take losing “internally” – i.e. they’ll become overly self-critical, blame themselves for the failure and may even commence a potentially harmful period of negativity and self-deprecation. Coach them to learn from losing. Coach them to focus on their performance – and coach them to focus on the aspects of their planning and preparation that make a direct impact on future performances. Give them the tools they need to re-direct their hatred of losing into a powerful catalyst for commitment, continuous improvement and effective change.
4. Bring sporting parents along on the journey. A vital step for coaches to include in their coaching strategies to develop a Killer Instinct in their athletes is to inform and educate parents about the concept. It is important that parents see winning and losing in perspective and as part of the overall learning and development journey of their child. Messages and lessons taught by the coach in training need to be positively supported and actively re-inforced by parents so that the athlete’s overall learning environment is effective and consistent. For example, work with parents and educate them how to react to their child’s victories and failures equally. This is a difficult concept – but vitally important in the development of every competitive athlete. It is natural for sporting parents to overly praise their child for sporting successes while treating perceived failure either negatively or ignoring the poor performance altogether. Coach the parents of your athletes to see losing as just one part of their child’s lifelong learning, integral to the development of competitive skills and performance characteristics and that their reaction to losing has a significant bearing on the response of their children to failure. Help the parents to see losing for what it is – an opportunity to motivate and inspire positive behaviours and increased commitment and to be comfortable talking with their children about these positive aspects of competition when they lose.
5. Be a “hard” coach. And this is possibly the toughest challenge for every coach. Think of the best coach you’ve ever seen, met or heard of in your sport. The All Blacks head coaches. The leading athletics coach in the country. The number one cycling coach in the nation. What are the most common adjectives used when people discuss their coaching qualities? Tough. Hard. Uncompromising. Totally committed. Being a coach of athletes with Killer Instincts means you need to develop one yourself. In short – you need to become a hard coach. So what does “hard” mean in terms of coaching – what is a “hard” coach? Does it mean yelling, screaming and pushing athletes to their physical limits through relentless hard work? No. A hard coach is one whose personal commitment to the success of their athletes – and themselves – by necessity means a reluctance to compromise on the highest possible standards in planning and preparation. A “hard” coach never needs to raise their voice – volume is never an indication of uncompromising commitment to coaching excellence. A “hard” coach is one who demonstrates a Killer Instinct through the refusal to accept anything but the best an athlete can do at any given time. A coach who is driven by a Killer Instinct will set the “bar” at a level which they know will increase the likelihood of performance success for their athletes and who will then refuse to lower that bar in the face of any conditions, situations or challenges. In short – becoming a coach who demonstrates a Killer Instinct in everything you do is the best way to coach and inspire the development of a Killer Instinct in your athletes.
“But I don’t have a Killer Instinct” I hear you say.
Are “Killers” born or are they developed through the right training and by smart, uncompromising coaching?
Hard to say for sure. But one thing is certain. Athletes and coaches can learn to be winners. You can learn to think like, talk like and act like someone who is committed to winning and who is focused on achieving the highest levels of performance success.
Whether you’re a natural-born “Killer” or someone who wakes up one day and says “I’m sick of just training and competing – I want to win” – you can improve your competitive skills, learn to be a Player and become the Winner you’ve always dreamed of being.
And… Don’t Count the Repeats… Make Every Repeat Count.
“Wayne Goldsmith has been at the forefront of high performance sport and coach development for the past 25 years. He has worked with a long list of Olympic athletes and coaches and influenced numerous professional sporting teams including several AFL teams, NRL teams and Super Rugby teams as well as the Wallabies and Tennis Australia / Australian Open Grand Slam.
His work is focused on the realisation of peak personal performance potential – and helping athletes, coaches and teams to achieve sustainable success.
Originally trained in sports science, Wayne’s work now centres on teaching athletes, coaches and parents how to develop high level expertise in personal performance skills such as commitment, courage, confidence and personal values including integrity, honesty, humility, discipline, composure and patience.
Wayne has worked with athletes, coaches, teams and sporting organisations all over the world including USA, UK, France, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Canada, Fiji, South Korea, South Africa and New Zealand. Wayne’s connecting to NZ stretches back over 15 years. Since 2013 Wayne has worked with Sport NZ’s innovative national coach development initiative and has influenced, educated and mentored coaches all over the country.
He is a winner of the Outstanding Contribution to Swimming in Australia Award, the Outstanding Contribution to Coach Education in Australia Prize and the International Prize for Creativity in Sport”
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