When I was a teenager watching the West Indies play test cricket against Australia, I would hear my dad say over and over that such and such was ‘in form’ or that another batsman was ‘out of form’.
I always wondered what he meant. What caused a batsman to be in form? What is form?
For that matter, what causes any sportsperson to be in form or out of form for that matter? Is it talent? (although that is a subjective question), is it training? Is it a particular time of year or season? Is it luck? Is it how much the person is enjoying the game? Is it their practice routine? Is it just being in the right place at the right time and then presto, everything starts to click?
And can we take this to the realm of music where we can say sometimes, when a musician is sounding a bit sloppy, that they are ‘out of form’? When a band doesn’t sound tight, can we say they are out of form?
Having watched my beloved Barca crumble in the space of two weeks (April 2nd till April 17th) for the 2016/2017 season where they’ve gone from being the only team to possibly repeat winning the Treble in back to back years to being ousted from the quarterfinals of the Champions League and now they’re tied at the top of the table in La Liga where up until two weeks ago they had a nine-point lead. How did this catastrophe happen?
For want of a better word – form. Barca’s star forwards – Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have played more minutes collectively than any other group of forwards (in other teams of course) so far for this season. They seem physically fit, but they are mentally burnt out. e.g. Neymar hasn’t scored or had an assist since February.
They maybe fit or claiming to be, but the end result paints a different picture. Last year this time they were unstoppable, now, they’ve lost the last 4 out of 5 games (their worst record since 2003). There are holes in their defence, the midfield is wobbly and their star forwards aren’t producing goals.
Could it be that the entire team is out of form? And before this they were on an unbeaten streak of 39 games! A world record. So what happened? How can you go from being in form to being out of form so quickly?
It’s such a subtle thing, but I believe form has everything to do with practice, preparation, rest and rotation.
How do you prepare for a game? A show? – do you leave it all to chance, or do you rehearse everything? How much time do you practice? Do you practice the same thing over and over till it’s perfected? After it is perfected do you revise it? Do you seek to improve on it? How do you split up your practice time? Do you practice how to recover when a slip up occurs? Do you work on the weakest links? Do you have a backup plan?
Do you rest enough or do you keep going? Do you rotate your players? (In the case of music, do you change your set-list, do you practice songs at different tempos to see what can be done differently).
When this season started, a few sports writers said ‘rust’ could set-in. Not in the bones of players but in the style of play. Rust has set-in, and now the harsh reality is going back to the drawing board.
How do we create and re-create form? How do we keep things fresh that mental fatigue does not set-in, that we always feel alert?
It might have something to do with analyzing our practice methods and see what is affective. It might have something to do with critiquing what is working and what isn’t and getting rid of what’s not.
I think form can definitely be improved with an effective plan of proper mindful practice, preparation (for the best and worse case scenarios), a well thought out roster of rest periods and last, a rotation plan (focusing on different aspects of the game OR song on different days, e.g. Today focus on lyrics, tomorrow rhythm, the next day, timing, the day after that bass, and so on).
If all these four legs of the ‘table’ (practice, preparation, rest, rotation) can be made to work in harmony, then form would be a matter of discipline and work, rather than a game of luck.
Point to note: Those musicians who improvise know what they’re doing, because they practiced ‘it’ enough such that their improvisations sound like second nature.