Mental Preparation of Athletes, Demystified – Part II

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!

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