Josh Waitzkin has become a grandmaster in both chess (the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer was about his childhood) and Tai Chi. He realized his gift wasn’t greatness in any discipline, his gift was an amazing ability to learn.
In his book The Art of Learning, he discusses one of the key elements that pro athletes like Jordan use to perform at their peak: spontaneous relaxation.
“…one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods.”
The pros are able to fully relax during the briefest periods of rest. This prevents them from burning out during hours of play.
Via The Art of Learning:
The physiologists at LGE had discovered that in virtually every discipline, one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line… Remember Michael Jordan sitting on the bench, a towel on his shoulders, letting it all go for a two-minute break before coming back in the game? Jordan was completely serene on the bench even though the Bulls desperately needed him on the court. He had the fastest recovery time of any athlete I’ve ever seen.
How can you learn to relax like this?