Mind Games: Real strategies to Help Athletes Deal with Competitors

 

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.

 

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