Archive for November, 2012

Mental Preparation of Athletes, Demystified – Part II

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

In Part II we delve deep inside The Preparation Funnel to bridge the gap between knowing you need to do something and doing the something you know you need.

Mental Preparation for Athletes

Competition Day Formats

In the previous Article we looked at the significance of consistent action in creating sustainable behavioural change – with recognising ’the difference between knowing you need to do something and doing the something you know you need’ as an area of performance some athletes and coaches can, at times, struggle with.

We identified some of the more common performance issues such as anxiety, nerves, self-doubt and unpredictability of core skills that athletes face around competition time. And we ascertained these were probably internally created and fed by our own unchecked and somewhat wild imagination and sensitive emotions.

We looked at an effective and practical approach to managing this issue with the application of a preparation funnel. 

We then delved into the first phase of the 2 part funnel: The 7to2 Process, a process which creates positive momentum by actively crafting an abundant environment of success, enabling athletes to actively hone their focus and reward their achievements.

And if you do nothing more than the 7to2 Process, you have already increased your prospects of getting to competition day in a more stable and productive state of mind.

However, as an elite athlete, we want more. So the real magic occurs when we deploy the second part of the preparation funnel, when all this preparation can be brought together …

Competition Day Formats

Now by knowing what you know and doing what you do, you are already more efficiently primed for sustainable performance. So how do we maximise on this on competition day?

Again this is all about managing our emotions and controlling our imagination – it all starts long before you get to the competition venue. You wake up and follow your pre-game structure, knowing what you will do and how you will do it in the lead up to competing. This enables you to take full advantage of your internal rewards system and control your emotions. It adds a sense of familiarity to your day and puts you back in the driver seat.

Visualisation: One of the key techniques we teach athletes within the Competition Day Format includes a powerful visualisation exercise, which involves an athlete visiting the venue the day before competing to familiarise them with the layout and idiosyncrasies, before crafting a detailed performance plan to then visualise this in a very structured and precise format.

Switching On: Part of this process also ensures athletes identify where and when the ‘athlete mode’ is switched on with precision.

The concept of mentally switching an athlete on and off is all about maintaining optimum quality. If an athlete (as many do) believe they are in ‘athlete mode’ 24/7 then there is no differentiation between idle and throttle, between focused and relaxed or between preparing and performing – and this is unsustainable for long periods of time.

To avoid burnout, understand there needs to be a switching phase that enables an athlete to be highly focused, precise and concentrated when it matters rather than diluted by time.

This switching process is specifically designed to enable an athlete to be 100% on task and not have distractions, to be on the job when it counts.

It also provides a ‘physical’ trigger to an emotional state, mentally stepping up the level of intensity and precision.

It should also be a key part of the training preparation too, because we know if we train like we want to compete then we have an active NPR (neurological point of reference), so training your brain and emotions to switch into athlete mode when needed and off when not prepares athletes for competition day by creating an effective blueprint as well as maintaining physical and emotional levels of fatigue…

The Trigger: So once we have actively identified the key differences between the person and the athlete and the benefits and emotional signatures that go with each identity, a switching point can now be created (normally the entrance to the venue) and we build a specific and personalised trigger that is anchored and actioned.

Then we can move on to athlete tasks…

Athlete Tasks

These are the key tasks, such as pre-competition preparation; warming up; assessing and visualisation; and mentally focusing. When switched into athlete mode we see things differently. We can see them from a more relevant perspective as our athlete filter is activated. We get a feel for the now, being ‘the athlete’ gives your mind permission to be centric, focused on you and your needs in the context of the event.

And as with the 7to2 Process, we have a set of tasks that need to be completed before you set foot on the pitch, mat, track or ice and by identifying them and structuring them in such a way that encourages mini-successes, in turn releasing serotonin into our system which makes us feel great, motivated and in control!

But hold on there one minute – there is one more step we have not competed yet…

There is a missing link to this highly structured, highly crafted emotional manipulation that is designed for success…

And that is the PERFORMANCE! The end objective – the reason!

The whole way through this preparation funnel: the 7to2 Process and Competition Day Format we have been filtering down to that last step, that one performance… and so what action do we initiate to move efficiently into that end step?

We move our consciousness up another notch, becoming even more focused, more emotionally centered and more in control – and we do this by going from the switched on athlete who is in fine-tune preparation mode to the pure athlete – the 100% performance focused, in the moment, in the ‘system’ athlete – an ultra athlete if you like.

This is initiated by again identifying what does the pure athlete have that the general switched on athlete doesn’t, what is needed to perform at the ultimate state?

The pure athlete transcends to a new level of focus, clarity and perspective – whatever it is for you it is this next intrinsic level that produces the sparkle, brings out the stand out performance and enables you to replicate it.

We craft a second trigger point, maybe stepping up to the line, standing on the blocks, at the crease or placing the blade on the ice!

At this stage there is nothing else, no distractions, no unproductive thoughts, no destructive emotions – it’s just you and the performance!

And once you have performed as a champion, unpack the athlete and switch down a gear to athlete and then to you as the non athlete (your Clark Kent).

What we have just moved through is a highly structured template which produces a replicable, effective and efficient performance every time.

So the next time you are faced with a competition build up and the outcome is important to you – ask yourself have YOU done everything you could have done in order to be the champion you know you can be?

And if you haven’t done the preparation funnel, check in with your emotions (and serotonin levels) to see if that calming feeling that all that could be done, has been done is present in your body.

If not, begin again at the top and start ticking!

Mental Preparation for Athletes, Demystified – Part I

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Knowing and Doing… there is a difference

I was recently reminded of a saying that I have used over the years that holds deep significance when working towards becoming an elite athlete and a sustainable champion.

It’s a phrase that can snap things back into perspective instantly and has guided me through my sporting career – both as an elite coach and now as a professional mind coach.

I was with a client discussing their progress. This review process is common practice (or should be) for physical and mental coaches.

However, this time, as we sat in their gym going through their training journal and homework, this athlete was clearly frustrated at the process.

I was quickly becoming the recipient of an emphatic sell as they explained to me they understood and comprehended all the technical concepts and practical skill-sets we had learnt over the last few months. This was true, they had diligently attended every training session, taken copious notes and passionately participated in the in-session exercises, contributing a number of questions and statements at key stages along the way and even getting the other athletes engaged in the training.

Their body language, however, was telling me something completely different.

As this athlete relayed their thoughts animatedly, I could see there was something amiss, something brewing deep down within, there was this look on their face, a perplexed and puzzled look, a troubled look, almost a look of constipation (you know that look) as they struggled to get the words out clearly, choosing rather to ramble and talk in loops whilst trying to justify their position with high emotion.

The ‘look’ became more and more uncomfortable, as the rambling and looping became more prolific… the teeth were becoming more clenched with every statement…

… and then …

‘I don’t get it! I don’t get why I am not getting the results I want!’. Frustration poured out of every pore of their body.

As the air expelled from their lungs they appeared to physically deflate. Slowly, that look of constipation changed to a look of realisation – ‘Oh I get it, I have to actually change what I was doing, don’t I?’
Mental Preparation for Athletes
This revelation arrived out of the blue, but not without reason…

It was time!

Time to explain to them the difference between knowing you need to do something and doing the something you know you need.

ACTION is the key! 

Often the concept of practical application is the hardest concept for an athlete to learn outside of their sporting skill, especially if they are already an elite or professional competitor. Merely knowing something has to change isn’t enough to effectively modify behaviour on a consistent, reliable and deep level.

The system of ‘doing’ is vital to initiating and sustaining behavioural and performance change. Sure the ‘why’ is important – but just as important is the carefully structured support network that feeds, nurtures and encourages effective change on a deep and sustainable level.

Just knowing what we want isn’t going to be enough to deliver what we want – no matter how hard we wish for it. 

The key is to build a unique and personalised support system for ourselves. This enables us to:

  • hold us accountable
  • assess and adjust
  • keep us true to our objective and
  • rewards us along the way

So now we know we need to consistently apply something to initiate sustainable change – what specifically do we need to apply?

Lets look at a common performance issue, one that affects most athletes at one time or another when working towards a competition.

One of the biggest, most debilitating distractions to an athlete is the build up of nerves, the nagging self doubts, performance anxiety. This often brings on a surprise guest appearance of unpredictable skills, skills you have successfully conducted countless times before. All these issues emanate from internally wayward and unchecked emotions.

We know from experience that if we don’t get a grip on these rogue emotions, those emotions will grip us and get in the way of effective performance.

A very common mistake to make at this point is to think the answer is to simply suck it up and get on with it. By ignoring it or trying to train through it won’t solve the issue. It is more likely going to compound the issue, especially if the emotions are generously fed by more and more frustrating training sessions.

So what is the answer?

We know success breeds success and the effects of success tames the emotional monster.

So if it is our emotions that are to blame and not our inability to perform the skill, it is the emotions that need to be engaged, not swept under the mental rug.

To overcome this the Smart Mind Institute has taken the approach of building an athlete’s confidence through structured successes.

This is achieved through the Preparation Funnel.

The Preparation Funnel

The funnel is a process specifically designed to systematically tick boxes, creating sustainable forward momentum and confidence to build replicability and familiarity to success. Here we have all the key ingredients to reigning in the negative emotions and putting them back into a more productive mode.

There are two main parts to an effective preparation funnel

  1. The 7to2 Process; and
  2. Competition Day Formats

The concept behind the 7to2 Process is to have a heavily structured recognition system in the countdown to competition from day 7 to day 2. The system is built with a clear objective and a clear plan of what needs to be completed before competition.

This may appear simplistic, however without a system, many athletes either cram way to much into the last few days and begin panicking and raising the urgency, thus the anxiety – or they have no plan at all so do not prepare adequately and realise way too late, never knowing how to replicate those good performances.

The 7to2 Process

Firstly analyse and list everything you feel needs to occur in the lead up to a competition. List everything, from your specific training sessions (mental and physical); your physical preparation (massage, physio, chiro, stretching, S&C etc); preparation of competition outfit; competition food; travel arrangements; pre-comp venue visit; visualisation sessions.

Then assign the tasks to specific days in the 7to2 funnel, with the vast majority of the tasks being logged in days 7 to 4. Then as the week goes by, less and less needs to be done with day 2 (day before the event) just having 1 or 2 tasks.

Each time you complete a task, tick it off your list. This builds a sense of achievement raising serotonin levels in the body and the feeling of success and everything being ready – that calming feeling that all that could be done, has been done. The raised sense of success helps balance the competition nerves, lower the anxiety levels and brings a level of control to your preparation.

A key benefit of this process is it also creates a narrowing of our focus, preparing for competition day when all you want to be thinking about is you and your performance and being ready to switch to a 100% focused athlete. The 7to2 Process is the ultimate tool to allow athletes to take control.

In the next article we will look at the second part to an effective preparation funnel, which is day 1, Competition Day Formats. This will detail how we can move through the non-athlete, athlete and pure athlete phases to get the most out of your mental game.