The Performance Equation

The performance equation is a broken one. 

For those of you who read my piece from 2013, Soccer and Logic Don't Always Mix, well, below is somewhat of a version 2.0. 

You see, this sport continues to plague those of us who enjoy the reliability of basic logic. In soccer/life, energy expended doesn’t always equal energy lost. Sometimes we build energy from using it. And a player’s ability doesn’t always translate to an equivalent level of success. 

As Todd Beans says so plainly in this piece on technical development: “Football is not the sum of its technical parts; it is much more.” But why is that the case? What if that's how math worked? Sometimes 3+4+2+1=10 but sometimes it's only 8 and on rare occasions it's 12. That would be insane!

Performance is not a perfect equation. Add in an opponent or obstacle, pressure, an audience, or a variety of other factors, and suddenly logic goes down the drain. We see this often in sports and life. There are the athletes who seem to have all the pieces in place, but the product just consistently disappoints. And then there are those who always out-perform their apparent capabilities.

Performance is fascinating to study. And the fact that something—or someone—can be more or less than the sum of their parts is a concept that’s taken me a long time to accept.

After all, my business, Techne Futbol, is based on creating as many tools to “sum up” as possible. So it's kind of B.S. that some of those tools may just get lost in the equation, or that someone with fewer tools could have a greater sum. Why would this be? What intangibles can throw off the equation?

There's a reason that we call someone a “gamer." Success is just as much about confidence, instinct, timing, and sometimes (as much as we may hate to admit it) luck as it is about technical or physical capabilities. 

I think for many years I've been misunderstood by a lot of coaches and have even misunderstood myself. The sum of all the tools I work so hard to master never seemed to be as high as I felt it should be. I think that coaches--and myself--saw what I should be able to do and expected that over what I could do. 

My instinct for years was not to respect those who could outperform the sum of their parts because I didn't understand it, and it didn’t seem fair. And I would constantly underperform the sum of my parts because I didn't understand it, and THAT didn’t seem fair either.

So what can we take from this? I think that by recognizing and respecting the "magic" in the equation we allow for several possibilities:

1. We can appreciate people who over-perform, rather than resenting them. It is not, in fact, an over-performance, but instead the mastery of some aspect that cannot be seen or measured. 

2. We can gain patience with those who under-perform. Perhaps these people just need one small element added to their equation that will allow performance to skyrocket. It can be as simple as a shift in mindset, the addition of one skill set that unlocks some others, or the removal of a paradigm that is unhelpful or blocking aspects of obtaining an optimal performance state. 

3. We can try to maximize our personal sum. More tools will always lead to greater possibility. It is the next step to then train situations and mental skills that unlock this possibility. 

The bottom line is that performance is not an equation after all. Coaches and sports scientists can work off of equations to predict many aspects of the game, but there will always be the intangibles. And football IS much more than the sum of it’s technical, tactical, and physical parts—which is what makes it so utterly, infuriatingly, beautifully enthralling.