Intensity: The hallmark of a champion

It was most interesting to hear Adam Gilchrist, Australia’s charismatic wicket-keeper batsman hold forth after his team enjoyed a close shave against New Zealand in Perth. The Black Caps went within nine runs of beating Australia after the home side had piled up a mammoth 344-run total in a one-day international at Perth. “Being tested allows us to work under pressure in a high intensity and not just go through the motions for that last 10, 15, 20 overs,” Gilchrist said. “So there’s got to be benefits from that.” Clearly, the world champion pines for intensity. It is the quality that lets the Australian team, for instance, identify and dominate critical moments like the a couple of overs before or after a break when the opposition is tending to be slack.
Curiously, another instance of the trait making its presence felt also surfaced in Australia at around the same time. Roger Federer, acquiring legend status in tennis and beyond, combined artistry with intensity to dismiss Andy Roddick’s challenge in straight sets in the semifinals of the Australian Open. It was an object lesson in finding the optimum levels of intensity and sustaining it through a contest. Federer, of course, nearly always plays with a certain level of intensity but he steps it up seamlessly when playing a big point or a key moment. From what can be the equivalent of a brisk jog, he increases the intensity to a hard run and even a sprint if necessary.
The Australian cricket team’s desire to stay familiar with intensity and Federer’s own intensity tells us a great deal about how that quality combines with several others like focus, confidence and competitiveness in the making of a champion. A couple of months ago, we looked at confidence that the champions exude all the time and how we could incorporate that in our lives. The time is now right for us to look at intensity and see if it can impact our daily lives.
First, let us understand what intensity is. Viewed from the sports perspective – and you could use this for other walks of life as well – intensity is the quality of work you turn out for as long as it is necessary. This would include intensity during training and during competition. To be sure, mention of intensity does raise visions of physical exertion but we are talking essentially about the desire to be competitive at all times and be in a position to go for the kill.
How do these champions develop intensity? No list can be exhaustive but it will be fair to expect the champions to warm up smarter, use imagery, keep talking positively to themselves and concentrate on the event on hand or on personal goals if they do not find the task of winning challenging enough.
During practice and warm-up, the key is to train smarter rather than merely harder. Imagery is the most effective language in which an athlete can communicate with himself. It can also work to generate intensity and pressure and to inspire players to lift their performance to meet those conditions. Positive self-talk helps create winning thoughts while concentration is the ability to focus on the present without letting the mind linger on what happened in the past or think of what can occur in the future.
It is such a combination that works to help the champions find and sustain their intensity for any length of time. Occasionally, you may find the less gifted sports persons also some times come across as intense but the challenge is to sustain that and enhance performance. And, if its possible to incorporate such techniques in our day to day living, one will have walked the champion route towards overcoming stress and competition at once.