Skater in Residence – Elvis Stojko, Warrior vs Performer

Warrior VS Performer

Many people have asked me over the years how I was able to perform under pressure; coaches, skaters, sport psychologists, reporters and fans have all asked this question. Of course, there is the everyday on-ice training and mental prep with visualization, off ice training, diet etc., but once that is done, how do you call upon “your best” at the actual moment it is needed under pressure?

During my early years with Kung Fu, I learned there are two types of fighters, the Interceptor and the Hunter. When it comes down to it, no matter how you train, you will eventually be revealed as one of the two. My Kung Fu instructor is an Interceptor and I am a Hunter.  The Interceptor sees the opponent’s attack and spots the opening to counter and use the attack against them.  The Hunter will create or make the opening in the opponent’s defences to land the blow. There are times when an Interceptor will adapt and use the Hunter’s approach and vice versa but there is only one at your core.

In skating, there are two types of athletes, the Warrior and the Performer.  The Warrior is all about the competition and uses it to test themselves under pressure and the Performer is all about the self-expression in front of an audience. Now the Warrior will learn whatever they need to be successful because they will fight to win and push themselves to the limit to achieve their goals, like learning a technique or skill. A performer is all about self-expression but can also tap into the Warrior aspect of themselves if guided.  The Warrior aspect comes into play when we are put under pressure.  Being under pressure means to perform a skill or achieve a goal that you value at the precise moment it is needed, at which time, there are consequences for not performing at that specific moment to your highest level. However, even your highest level may not be enough to achieve your wanted result.

When in the state of pressure you are pushed to the “Fight or Flight” response, this is where you need the Warrior mind-set to be successful; if you tap into the Performer mindset, you will be crushed. The Warrior mindset is the ability to drive forward and not hesitate.  It is a sensation that as you are being pushed back on your heels, you drive to dig deep within yourself and not let go of your focus.  When you feel everything around you is pushing you back. When your demons come out to test your mind. When your body does not feel like yours and your nervous system is forcing you to make a choice to drive forward, cave into the foetal position, or run. With all your willpower, you say “I will succeed” and you literally push up with your body, stand tall and fight this urge to give in.

When you are told to “let go” and let it happen it is usually said by people that have never been there in that moment, or if they have they never have been successful.  By letting go, you cave in under the pressure around you.  You can try to alleviate the pressure with different ways of looking at the situation, talking about it, breathing etc., and this helps but there is still a moment of choice that stands on a knife’s edge that you must learn to fight and not give in.  The only way to train this moment is to put yourself in that place of pressure and find your inner Warrior.

That inner Warrior will actually allow the Performer to do its thing; the Warrior must come first and the Performer second. Each time you are in this uncomfortable situation you learn to understand it more; to know why it is vital that you put yourself there and to understand which demons come out to play during that time so you can defeat them. No simulation can recreate this feeling.

If you tap into the Warrior mode, it searches for the centre of yourself that contains the pool of your strength to draw from.  Sometimes under pressure, you feel like Atlas holding the world on your back so the performer can do its thing, other times you feel like you are in quicksand and have to dig yourself out, however, the situation, no matter what, you cannot let go.  The Warrior must draw upon the inner waters of strength and use it to fight the urge to collapse or sink.  Kick, punch, scratch, claw, bite, scream, whatever it takes.  The Warrior is relentless in its fight and never ever gives in. And what about “Fear”? The Warrior does not destroy fear, it uses fear as fuel to overcome it and drive past it.  Fear is a challenge to the Warrior and with any challenge, the Warrior will not back down.

Once the Warrior has awakened, knows its fight and finds the strength to match the pressure, then and ONLY then can the performer “let go” to perform.  To “let go” is to trust the training and yourself, but also trust that your Warrior will find the strength pool to hold the pressure back.

The Warrior side can also be used daily to train and work on your skills and achieve smaller daily goals, he is the guy who gets me up in the morning when my Performer wants to sleep in and feel good!

For me, my waters of strength come from my Chi centre.  I know my Warrior side can go there to tap in and draw from its unlimited source of energy.  Find your Warrior side and do not be afraid to tap into its power.  I know him, understand him, and trust him.  He has been there since I was a child.  Yes, there were moments when I thought he left me or that he was defeated, but then I realized he was always there, that he never left, he can never be defeated and is always ready for a challenge.  He is not only in my DNA he is in my core. In essence, he is who I am.

Finding the Warrior and knowing the Warrior is key to everything we do.  Even while resting it searches for the next challenge to test itself, to express itself, and from that point, the Performer can show its true colours.