Jeff Huber: On Preparing Mentally for Competition

I ended up having surgery this week (which, thankfully, went well), but I’m still unable to read normally, so a regular post wasn’t going to happen this week either (and if you missed last week’s podcast-stravaganza, you can check out the list of podcasts I was enjoying while on bed rest here).

So I thought this might be a nice opportunity to catch up with 3-time Olympic diving coach Dr. Jeff Huber, who recently retired from coaching at Indiana University, but still teaches in IU’s Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences and is also Director of Education for USA Diving.

As a former diver himself, a coach who has worked with athletes at the highest level, and with a Ph.D. in educational psychology to boot, Jeff has a unique perspective on the many facets of developing expertise, which we explore in the 30-minute conversation below.

You’ll hear Jeff share some insights on:

  • the importance of making sure everything you do in the practice room is connected to what has to happen on stage (i.e. remembering that practice is just a means to an end, not the main goal in and of itself)
  • how to take practice home with you – but in a constructive, healthy, and non-crazymaking way
  • why tomorrow’s practice actually starts as soon as today’s practice ends
  • why you may need to create or invent customized drills and exercises instead of relying on existing etudes and exercises
  • how to make sure you don’t “waste” your best playing in the warmup room
  • a critical part of each competition that can easily be overlooked in preparation, but also needs attention (i.e. all the downtime)

And, if you listen closely, you may be able to hear the gears in my head turning…really…slowly at times (we recorded this less than 24 hours post-surgery…so, you know…maybe still a little loopy). =)


Additional resources

Jeff’s book Applying Educational Psychology in Coaching Athletes covers motivation, theories of learning, how to develop a coaching philosophy, and more. It also has great stories, and I think it’d be a valuable resource for teachers in any performance discipline. Especially if you’re into the idea of cross-training (i.e. applying ideas and concepts from one domain to another). I also have to say that it’s one of those books that just “sparks joy” sitting on your bookshelf. =)

Check out Applying Educational Psychology in Coaching Athletes

Jeff also mentioned Anders Ericsson’s book The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games.

Check out The Road to Excellence

I have to admit that I haven’t read The Road to Excellence, but I did read his newest book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which I enjoyed very much.

Check out Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

And last, but not least, Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab recently released this free resource for teaching younger students how to engage in more thoughtful, mindful practice:

Expert practice @Character Lab

And just how high is 10 meters anyway?

To get a sense of how high 10 meters is, here’s a 16-minute NY Times video of people going to the edge of the diving platform…and trying to psych themselves up to jump off (fast-forward to 5:55 to get a better sense of the height):

Ten Meter Tower @NYTimes

And while I don’t think this is 10 meters, I figured this would be the perfect moment to include a snippet of the classic Mr. Bean high dive episode too:

The Curse of Mr. Bean

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

For most of my life, I assumed that I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, with time and performance experience, the nerves would just go away.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing, and start enjoying more satisfying practice days that also transfer to the stage.


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