Archive for the ‘Mental Coaching’ Category

Mind Games: Real strategies to Help Athletes Deal with Competitors

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

 

It’s no secret: by the sheer nature of what we do as competitive athletes – there is a very likely chance there’s going to be competitors!

And one of the most intimidating parts of competition can simply be… those competitors.

As an athlete you may be very confident in your own ability to perform and your skills, however the thought of going up against a competitor who has a proven track record can shatter an athlete’s self-confidence.

Katya Crema, an Aussie women’s skier, has first hand experience with the mental games involved in competing. After falling foul to the negatives, she devised a way of increasing her own self-confidence and thwarting those self-doubts.

She simply practises active believing in herself, as well as believing she is as good as her competitors. The act of simply outwardly acknowledging this fact we can decrease the emotional weight of self-doubt and increase confidence. Our doubts are nurtured by our own imagination, our ability to mentally create the worse case scenarios and our emotional buy-in to this state.

And so self-confidence is a must have for all competitive athletes.

Building self-confidence is imperative for success in any sport at any level, whether it’s the Olympic games, a local club sports carnival, or even a sports team in primary school. Oftentimes, an athlete begins to lose confidence when he or she starts to focus on things that they cannot do or control and a classic example of this is focusing on a competitor’s performance.

When we allow our attention to shift from what our specific performance role is and what we can do, to instead focusing on what our competitor is doing we immediately deviate from our preferred performance strategy onto a path of being reactionary to someone else’s strategy.

To build self-confidence, an athlete can begin by working on:

  • Consistently training towards a set of objectives during training sessions
  • Practising good self-management by setting challenging yet achievable goals
  • Recording and rewarding the successes
  • Taking responsibility for both successes and lessons and knowing what to do with them
  • Remembering that success is performing to the best of one’s ability, not necessarily just winning.

Learning to concentrate

Competitors are also a distractor that can take an athletes’ concentration away from more important things, like performing to their best or sticking to their performance strategy and what they are supposed to be doing and when they are supposed to do it.

According to the Australian Institute of Sport, there are two types of distractors. Competitors are visual, external distractors. Focusing too much on a competitor can also lead to internal distractors, such as anxiety and negative self-talk (ie. “I’m not as good as that person.”).

Training to improve focused concentration on your performance is an important sustainability skill. If competitors easily distract an athlete, then he or she can actively work on techniques to set the distracting thoughts aside.

This could be done by using positive self-talk, mantras, similar to the method used by Katya Crema, or by imagery, which involves taking the distracting thoughts and visualising putting them in a non-distracting place until after the competition is complete.

I teach them a technique to learn from the moment and then discard the emotional box the lesson came in. This technique is both specific to the athlete and the sport and allows an athlete to look for the lesson without carrying the negative emotions it’s wrapped in.

I ask my clients to imagine all their competitors are boring grey blobs, with no name, non-descript objects and no personality. This way my clients do not have the issue of feeling intimidated by past competitors successes or skills. They are just objects we will move around.

I also tell my clients to metaphorically check their emotional baggage in at the front door, and not allow it through the doors.

There will always be competitors in a sport, and if they especially distract an athlete, working with a mind coach will be beneficial to learn specific strategies. Dealing with a competitor is a part of competing, an integral one, and an athlete must remember that there is nothing he or she can do but perform his or her best and do their part to be successful.

 

Mental Fitness: Important Tool For Triathletes

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

A Tactical Edge [Not Physical]

At a recent Iron Man event held at Lake Placid in the U.S. a last minute announcement was made that wet suits would not be allowed for athletes competing for a Kona slot. Those with good mental fitness heard the announcement and were prepared to deal with whatever came their way. Those not as mentally tough had no other choice then to panic – thereby losing any tactical edge they might have had. Mental fitness plays a key role in the training of any athlete and is often the deciding factor if you win or lose.

Jesse Featonby – Triathlete

Task Relevance = Eyes on the Prize

When triathletes are performing with the benefit of mental strength and toughness they are able to perform each task with a specificity and single-mindedness which is, in essence, basic and simple: Their eyes are on the prize and the system to achieve it. Nothing will distract them from their objective and that automatic desire to continue to swim their defined strokes, pedal their bikes at a predetermined speed or climb the next hill without distraction.

Just like the mentally fit athletes were able to hit the cold water, swim slower and succeed, the athlete with the right mindset does not allow themselves to get distracted because they are focused on task-relevant items, not tasks such as worrying as someone passes them – it’s all part of the bigger plan. Being focused on task-relevant items means they concentrate on their ability to complete the task. This enhances their physical performance as it becomes their one and only focus and reduces the impact of emotional fogginess.

Over and Under Arousal

Arousal of an athlete also plays an important role in their mental fitness. When an athlete is over aroused or stimulated they will focus on irrelevant tasks which are going to make them deviate off task and under-perform. However if an athlete is under aroused or under stimulated they will not be able to perform to the highest of their abilities. Therefore an important aspect of mental toughness is knowing where your happy medium is, consistency and continuity when it comes to arousal and stimulation. You will be ready at the start of the competition with the right emotional energy and mindset to succeed.

Compartmentalise your Competition

Another key strategy is compartmentalisation of the event. This allows you to tackle bite size chunks of the competition stages, as well as initiate more opportunities to reward yourself within the performance, creating momentum and further motivation.

Mental Fitness Tools

Some of the tools that work for triathletes include relevant and specific mental imagery, learning to manage thoughts so you can become more focused on task relevant items and trigger words associated with positive moments in their performance. Boston Marathon champ Wesley Korir credits his 2012 win to singing, as we are mentally wired to seek out and follow patterns.

He told letsrun.com: “I started in the beginning and just kept doing it, especially when I was in pain. It’s a mental thing.”

From the mouths of champions: it’s a mental thing.

 

Image credit: Hammer Nutrition

Winter Olympics Athletes to Utilise Sports Mental Training to Stay on Track

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

 

The winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, Russia, this year, beginning on February 7 and ending on February 23.

Winter Olympics Sochi 2014As one can imagine, the participating athletes have been preparing for years, physically and mentally. Much of the world is watching the Olympics, and the athletes can no doubt already feel that pressure.

Even though Olympic athletes have been preparing for months, they can still experience self-doubt when it gets close to competition time. They can find themselves engaging in self-doubt minutes before an Olympic event or after an injury that occurred during training.

Athletes that compete in the Olympics consult sports psychologists, or mental coaches, to mentally prepare for the big games. A mental coach is much like an athletic coach, except the emphasis is on developing the mental toughness, self-confidence, and motivation required to succeed.

Strategies that help athletes in the Olympic Games

One athlete that competed in the 1998 winter Olympics stated that her mental strategy was to pretend that the Olympics were like any other day, and on the flip side, to treat every day like the Olympic games.

How is this possible if there isn’t a loud, cheering crowd or cameras following the athlete’s every move?

  • When training, pretend there is a crowd watching what is going on. Imagine the cheers and yelling mentally.
  • When practising a skill, imagine that how you perform the skill that very day is the difference between a bronze and a gold medal.

Australian athletes preparing for the summer and winter Olympics are provided a clinical psychologist. The athletes are taught relaxation and stress-management techniques, such as counselling, and sleeping and breathing techniques. Others listen to music and practice positive visualisations, such as remembering past successes. Athletes have even used hypnosis to obtain optimal visualisation results.

Katya Crema, an Australian skier, has stated that mental preparation for the upcoming Sochi Olympic Games is just as important as her physical preparation. Crema believes that the Olympics are a mental game as well, so it is essential that she believes in herself and that she is as good as the athletes against which she is competing.

Australian athletes will be working with sports psychologists at this year’s winter Olympics. Not only will they be learning stress management techniques, they will also be learning to focus on the process of the sport in which they are competing and not the outcome. Additionally, they will be utilising techniques that will help them adapt to change and be more flexible in unexpected circumstances, like having a roommate that has a completely different training schedule.

 

Mental Skills Of Sports Performance (And How You Can Improve Them)

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

 

Mental Skills of Sports PerformanceSustaining high sporting performance requires more than simply putting in time at the gym, or on the field, every single day; it’s just as much about maintaining a high level of mental toughness. Psychological studies continue to show just how important a developed, or natural, psychological edge is when it comes to sports performance. It is imperative athletes develop and receive support for the following key components to mental toughness:

1. Believing In One’s Self

One of the toughest obstacles that athletes in every sport face is negative and self deprecating thought patterns. A missed goal or a loss of points can quickly undermine an athletes belief in his or her abilities, which has a negative impact on how well they perform. By having a strong self belief, an athlete won’t be so easily shaken when they do face a difficult situation. He or she will maintain a secure trust in the unique abilities and qualities they possess that they believe make them better than their opponent.

Improvement Tip: Keeping a training log will provide an athlete with evidence on how they’ve improved over the days, months and years of training.

2. Maintaining Focus

There are so many factors that can affect an athlete’s focus, from a roaring crowd, to the performance of other athletes, to their very own “self talk” or internal voice. It’s key for an athlete to be able to regain focus as quickly as possible when they find themselves distracted or when an unexpected event occurs.

Improvement Tip: Positive self talk as well as verbal, physical and visual prompts and queues will help athletes control their focus.

3. Conquering Pain

Every athlete is confronted with some sort of mental or physical challenge at some point in their career. In order for an athlete to grow and improve, he or she needs to be able to push through any painful barriers that may potentially block his or her success. This mental toughness also goes a long way to helping athletes overcome any feelings of failure.

Improvement Tip: Creating opportunities for athletes to work for longer or harder in a secure environment will help them build both mental and physical endurance.

4. Dealing With Pressure

Pressure plays a role in any sporting performance, as each sport involves some level of competition. Fortunately, pressure can be utilised in a way that will allow an athlete to thrive and use it to their advantage against the competition (i.e. use it as motivation).

Improvement Tip: Getting into a performance routine will bring a sense of familiarity, which will help an athlete stay calm and focused at an event.