This shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Al Smith
Aug 15, 2015

I recently enjoyed the privilege of sharing some time in the competition arena with a fine coach whose development I currently have the good fortune to be supporting. Whilst we were discussing the nuances of constraints based learning approaches to the task of developing performance under pressure a pearl of a learning moment arrived in somewhat unexpected form.

After a shaky qualifying and in the midst of a collapsing time window with the final fast approaching it transpired that one of the coach’s athletes had misjudged their dietary requirements and risked entering the performance arena inadequately fuelled for the task ahead. With little time for deliberation and limited options available at the venue a quick dialogue led to the suggestion that the athlete consume a banana (or part thereof) to provide sustenance for the final with minimal risk of gastric upset and a low glycemic load to avoid an insulin spike.

This may seem an innocuous event and a simple lesson in organisational planning for both coach and athlete, who incidentally went on to win the final, but for me it was the perfect opportunity to explore the use of contextual perturbation of task constraints as a vehicle for learning and development. Where some perhaps would have seen the chance to reinforce a scripted behaviour based on a large dose of scientific determinism – ‘next time make sure you plan to bring a banana and eat it x minutes before your final to optimise the management of your blood sugar levels’ – I was more interested in the opportunity for the coach to help the athlete to learn a valuable lesson about the principles at play in effective decision making within the high pressured uncertainty of the competition arena.

Q for the athlete: the next time something perturbs your eating plan during a competition what do you need to have learned and practiced to be better prepared to make a decision on the fly that fits the prevailing circumstances?

Q for the coach: how can you make use of opportunities in training and competition to perturb the learning environment to challenge this athlete to become a better decision maker regarding their dietary management in ways that will ready them for the dynamics of the competition arena?

Q for myself: When is a banana not a banana?

A: When it’s the current solution to the ever changing problem of performance readiness.