Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Relax and Win – 1

Today we shift gears from doping and focus on the positive.

Willie Williams was my head track coach at the University of Arizona in the late 1970s.  Coach Williams had been a great sprinter in the early 1960s at San Jose State where he was coached by the legendary Bud Winter.   Coach Williams frequently encouraged people to relax instead of simply trying harder.  Where did this come from?

It came from Bud Winter who had developed a philosophy of high level performance that can be summarized as “relax and win”.   Some of this had to do with specific form and technique drills he advocated, and some of it was about a mental approach to competition.  It also has striking parallels to the psychological concept of Flow.

Nose around and you will get some insight into Winter’s approach.  There is also a video of him at practice conducting his iconic form drills.

During the Olympics we are going to see many examples where the margin of victory will be incredibly small.  In many of these cases, the winner will be the athlete who can retain their focus, form and rhythm when their whole body essentially feels like it is on fire.  In 2008 Michael Phelps was the poster boy for this.

This concept was also covered by Mary Pilon in the NYT in a recent series on 400m runner Amantle Mashto.  I was also struck by another piece by Mary in the Times on Wesley Williams, a superb blind long jumper and how committed he must be to the type of relaxed focus taught by Winter.

The question for us all is how to apply these concepts throughout the day.

4 Responses to “Relax and Win – 1”

  1. July 26th, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Kim Pickett says:

    Really interesting! It is counter-intuitive to think that “relax” and “win” really go together, but it does make sense. I liked the parallel of the concept of ‘Flow’, as we talk about that in education as well. I have referred to it as a ‘state of flow’ as the student is immersed in his/her learning. It is exciting to see!

    I am looking forward to reading more of your blogs throughout the Olympics!

  2. August 4th, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Jamie Larsen says:

    An interesting read, especially relative to the Zagunis quarter final saber bout where all one could think of was: relax and finish it…

  3. December 24th, 2012 at 6:11 am

    Mindfulness for Christmas? | Human Limits: Michael J. Joyner, M.D. says:

    […] Olympics I highlighted what the great coaches know and how they help the athletes they supervise “relax and win”.   In other words put forth seemingly super human efforts effortlessly.   These very same […]

  4. April 1st, 2013 at 5:31 am

    Up Tempo & March Madness | Human Limits: Michael J. Joyner, M.D. says:

    […] says and shows is consistent with some of the ideas I have discussed in previous posts about relaxation and mastery.   The paradox of success in many fields is that it flows from a strange combination […]

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