By: Jeff Zannetti
When you play football, you know this to be true. The game plan rarely works out the way you draw it up in practice - when you have an opponent who is working against you, things simply don't work out perfectly. That's the point of competition: it forces you to react to unforeseen circumstances.
It's harder when there is no opponent. When the game plan doesn't happen on a field but in a home or a classroom or a workplace. These situations can seem cut-and-dry compared to the fluid and unpredictable nature of a football game. But often, they still don't work out the way we plan. Sometimes, for reasons beyond our control.
There is no strategy that will ever encompass every outcome. You can't make yourself completely impervious to chance or luck. Sometimes a play will be broken up or a defense will call the right coverage at the right time. Sometimes there will be a game-breaking player who seems to have an insurmountable skill set or unparalleled athleticism. Sometimes life will throw you the equivalent. Sometimes the unexpected will happen.
But what happens is only 10%.
The other 90% is how you react to it. Your reaction can be a change of plans, for example an audible; or a resilience in the face of temporary failure, like getting set after the other team makes a big play. Sometimes getting ready for the next play is all you can do - and even that can change the momentum of a game. But there is no reaction as valuable as making an adjustment.
Champions make adjustments. Your opponent does one thing, you change your strategy. Sometimes intentionally. Sometimes on the fly. The capacity to make the decisions you need to reverse course mid-stride - that's a game-changer. And top athletes are not only capable of doing just that - they enjoy it. Being at the top of your game means being comfortable in a fast-changing environment. If you can out-adapt your opponent, you'll win.
On the face of it, or in hindsight, reacting seems easy. Yet often, in the heat of the moment, we don't always make the right adjustment. You might get burned or tripped up once in a while. You might spend the bus ride home thinking about how you could have reacted "right" or "better". Sure, a bit of post-game analysis is helpful. But too often, it only brings you down.
Your in-game reaction is often not fully in your control. Reaction is governed by the primitive aspects of your brain - you don't have time to actually think in a reactive situation. Your mind isn't telling your body what to do. Your body does what it's programmed to do. It reacts.
The good news is that can program yourself to react. You can train and practice and watch tape. When you log enough hours doing those things, your mind internalizes the information. It programs your body in how to react. The same holds true off the field: you can program yourself to react to situations you never predicted. It's a matter of practicing being the version of yourself you envision.
Whether on the field or off, there is no substitution for persistence. Set your goals, work towards them, and don't let up. Your reactions will improve. And that's 90% of the battle.