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Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

In sports, this motto is the understanding that you have to take things slow to learn it the right way, be it acquiring a new skill or refining an old one. Starting slow is part of the process, “When you go slow you have the opportunity to scan, study, and observe. You can recognize patterns, routes, landmarks, the overall landscape - literally and figuratively. When you go slow, things are much smoother.” (Fisher, 2018)

Moving slow doesn’t involve executing slowly in competition. In competition, the goal is to perform with the right balance of planning and urgency (not rushing) so you can perform your best. Urgency represents the right speed needed to perform. Repetition and commitment to the process allow you to find that balance of performing skills on instinct and being able to survey the environment to act and react accordingly. The reason being, if you take the time to learn a skill and consistently repeat and practice that skill a certain way, that repetition allows you to act and react instinctually. The more you can act and react instinctively, the easier it is to focus on what is happening in the moment. This is what represents the balance of urgency.

Secondly, when you perform with purpose, you allow the game to come to you. Reason being, the groundwork has been laid in trainings, practices, and prior competitions. It’s those experiences that give you the knowledge, understanding, and trust to play your game.

Lastly, the more you train, prepare, and execute your game plan, the more things start to slow down. It’s what allows you to have more time to think, observe, understand, make decisions, and execute in the moment.

Matthias Lochmann refers to this as the Game Intelligence Approach. Developing game intelligence involves tapping into your cognitive abilities of creativity and speed of information processing; and cognitive capacity to take in all the action, decipher this information, and to decide on a plan of action. “A strategic game is a choice where the participants make their decisions simultaneously… To have a chance, structure must exist and an understanding of strategy must be known (Sutherland, 2020).”

Strategy includes the technical, tactical, physical, and mental preparation necessary for competition. It’s the implementation of long term goals that are broken down into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks to work on in trainings, practices, and competition. In this way, competition then becomes an opportunity to apply and test your skills. It’s what allows you to focus on performing to your strengths and afterwards, identifying specific areas of weakness that you can improve upon before the next competition. It’s better than focusing on things that are out of your control, like outcome and expectations.

Tips to attain your “smooth is fast” mindset:

Preparation = Plan, Check, and Act

i. Planning is the creation of goals.

ii. Checking is the implementation of your goals, it’s your game plan that is focused on developing and refining your skills. Periodically, you need to check to see if your game plan is getting you closer to attaining your long term goal. It’s why goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

iii. Acting is when you apply those skills in competition. Since you have taken the time to create a game plan and set SMART goals, it now time to commit to it by executing it when you perform. This type of commitment is part of the process. It’s challenging because it’s a commitment to growth and mastery vs just figuring out how to win or defeat an opponent.

Overall, it allows you to identify areas of strength, weakness, and come up with a plan to improve those areas of weakness between performances. This is how you practice and perform with process and purpose.

In The Moment = Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act

i. Observing involves taking in your surroundings, be it in practice or in competition. This includes the competition, like noting opponents tendencies, style of play, and level of skill.

ii. Orienting, once you have a feel for the competition, it’s now time to implement your plan of action. Orienting is recognizing the moments / scenarios to implement your plan of action.

iii. Decide, this is when you commit to that game plan, strategy, skill, or mindset that you created. It’s time to put your plan into action. When you see the moment, you seize the moment. Full commitment is the reminder that you are prepared and the understanding that success and failure are part of the process. Like Yoda once said, "Do or do not, there is no try."

iv. Act, it’s now that moment you need to just do it! Commitment and confidence are reinforced by your preparation and action. The better prepared you are, the more confident you feel in this moment.

v. Repeat, once that moment or segment has past, it’s time to start the process over again for the next moment.

For example:

If a midfielder in lacrosse is playing defense:

  1. Observe: get a feel for the opponent. Recognize who the shooters are and who their top athletes are.

  2. Orient: once the midfielder has identified the top offensive playmakers, it now time to see what offensive formation they set up in. From there, the midfielder recalls the key points (that were highlighted in practice and the scouting report) to defend against this set, and to be aware of the opponents tendencies in this moment.

  3. Decide: as a result, the midfielder can now put that plan into action by communicating with his teammates and getting ready to act.

  4. Act: as the opponent initiates their offensive, the midfielder and his teammates respond by executing the defensive game plan.

  5. Repeat: when that possession is over, (e.g., from successfully defending against the opponent), the midfielder and his teammates prepare to play offense. Thus, starting the process over. This time, setting up and executing the teams offensive progressions, in relation to the opponents defensive tendencies, now become the task at hand.

In the end, taking things slowly involves taking the time to learn and strengthen all four aspects of your game, the technical, tactical, physical, and mental skills. If you try to rush it or expect quick results, chances are you will become deficient in one of the four areas of your game. Deficiencies lead to the develop of bad habits that include poor technique, limited understand of the tactics, improper strength and conditioning, and negative self talk.

Instead, focus on how a slow and deliberate process leads to mastery and developing skills the right way. It’s what allows you to perform with confidence, feel calm under pressure, and to focus on things that are in your control and ultimately helpful to your performance. Reason being, quality repetitions and a consistent process creates efficiency, which in turn generates speed and the mental agility to act and react quickly in the moment. Over time, new habits become second nature and helps set the standard for mastery and excellence.


Balcom, J. (2021, April 12). Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from

Fisher, M. (2018, November 22). Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from

Sutherland, M. (2020, January 14). A study of "game intelligence" in the sport of hockey. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from

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