Peak Performance and Neuro-Linguistic Programming

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Peak Performance and Neuro-Linguistic Programming

To this day, people in all walks of life know the name Pele. This famous Brazilian was recognized as perhaps the greatest soccer player of all time. Pele racked up a career history of 1281 goals scored in 1360 games, and had a belief that one of the most important aspects in his life was practicing for his sport. So what does practice mean to someone with such natural talent? Lets explore using a Neuro-linguistic Sports model?

Dictionary definition: practice > verb 1 perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly in order to improve or maintain proficiency in it. 2 carry out or perform (an activity or custom) habitually or regularly.

A famous soft drink company once ran an advertising campaign to coincide with a World Cup: ‘Eat football, sleep football, drink [soft drink name].To a soccer player like Pele, practice means eating, sleeping, and drinking football. In fact, during his career, every thought and every action, every moment of every day remained focused on what he coined ‘the beautiful game.’ Practice was not something limited to training sessions, practice was a routine habit.

Some of Pele’s talents may have been inherited from his father who was also a professional player, but at the age of five he was already practicing his skills and scoring goals in matches he played with other street kids. They had no shoes, and they had no ball either – the soccer ball was a sock stuffed with newspaper, or a melon. So, anyone believing that sports success comes easily to those born into it or from a privileged enough background to have access to all the best equipment, think on! Pele worked as a shoe-shine boy to save enough money to buy a proper soccer ball – a good example of ‘thinking’ soccer to be able to play soccer.

Does Practice Make Perfect?

The author, Malcolm Gladwell, writes in his book, “Outliers”, that it likely will take up to 10 000 hours of dedicated practice and intensive training to achieve world class master of any given skill. Mathematically, this translates into 3 hours a day for 10 years, or 10 hours a day for 3 years. Imagine what this means for a moment. How much are you willing to train to achieve the highest level of performance? Mind-boggling isn’t it? The Pele notion that everything depends on the basics of practice now becomes an more important and powerful message for everyone that aspires to reach the pinnacle of their sport, or other life endeavor.

Practicing Mental Skills

Sports psychology promotes dedicated practice in the form of mental skills training to help get the most out of physical training. Elite athletes not only have to be at the top of their game physically to be competitive but also mentally to have that winning ‘edge’ over others. It also stands to reason that if every hour of training is purely physical, injuries are more likely to occur.

So how did a ‘natural’ talent like Pele practice? Well, he played a lot of soccer matches for a start! His superior physical skills were the result of practicing what spectators believed to be ‘natural’ talents but the key to his phenomenal success as a player lies with his mindset. Pele continually strove for perfection, he never sat back and rested on his laurels, he was considered “the best player in the world” throughout his career yet he always looked to achieve more – he maintained a growth mindset.

Having the Proper Mindset

Fixed mindset: Athletes with a “fixed mindset” believe that they stuck with their lot. They see talent or ability as just something they’re born with and, for good or bad, that’s just the way things are. In a fixed mindset, athletes are quick to judge themselves harshly when faced with defeat and will often suffer exaggerated feelings of depression or anxiety. However, if talents are seen as ‘natural gifts,’ a successful athlete might also display an exaggerated sense of superiority, and feel they’re above the need to practice.

Growth mindset: The athlete with a “growth mindset” has a knowing that change is always possibility and a goal. They know that with dedication, effort and practice, performance can always be improved. This type of mindset allowed Pele to reach his full potential – and to continue pushing the limits of that potential.

Want to learn More About Donald MacNaughton?

His work spans leadership and performance development in both the corporate and sporting arenas. Zoned in Performance is a business consultancy specialising in High Performance Coaching and Performance Psychology.

To learn more about ‘Mental Toughness” to achieve winning results, sign up free for the “The Winning Edge-The 7 Keys to Playing the Game of Life. To register interest e-mail

Using proven, effective and inspirational coaching techniques, Don MacNaughton helps clients unlock potential, achieve lasting breakthroughs and increase individual and team performance. Find out more at

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