Posts Tagged ‘confidence’

Why “Self Talk” May Be A Hurdle To High Performance

Monday, November 18th, 2013

We all know that athletes spend an insurmountable time physically preparing themselves for the sports in which they compete. What is often overlooked is an athlete’s mental “muscle”, a strength which has increasingly been understood to have a huge impact on the performance of any athlete, whether it’s a low performance or high performance sport.

An athlete’s inner voice or “self talk” is one of the most important contributors to an athlete’s mental toughness. It can have either a positive or negative impact on a person, depending on just what it is that an athlete is saying to themselves.

What Is Self Talk?

Mental Skills of Sports PerformanceA number of psychological studies have revealed the link between one’s thinking and how they behave emotionally and behaviourally, both of which have a direct affect on an athlete. Human beings have an inner dialogue where thoughts are generated in the form of an internal conversation. What we often don’t consider is the fact that these private conversations we have with ourselves can have a large impact on how we behave and conduct ourselves publicly.

Anxiety: An Athlete’s Worst Nightmare

Athletes have a lot of pressure thrust upon them: their performance, their placement, and their competition are all reasons why they may suffer anxiety or worrying thoughts. Unfortunately, that anxiety and those worrying thoughts often lead to negative self talk. Studies have shown repeatedly that there is a clear correlation with anxiety and negative self talk, which then becomes a detriment to an athlete’s performance.

Negative self talk can occur at any time during an athlete’s performance. For example, an athlete who mentally beats him or herself up over losing points or having a bad serve will likely then continue to degrade his or her performance rather than improve.

Positivity Means High Performance

Here’s the good news: our brains can be reprogrammed so that they work for us rather than against us. Anxiety can be turned into increased focus and positive self talk that will lead to better performance and improve the development of an athlete. This is why, for example, the Australian Olympic, Paralympic and world athletes have a team of psychologists devoted to them during any event, to support them and ensure they remain relaxed and focused before, during, and after any event.

 

3 Benefits To High Mental Fitness

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

 

Physical fitness is a “must” for professional athletes and champions, but what may be even more important, and a better predictor of their success, is their mental fitness.

How mentally fit an athlete is will benefit individuals in a variety of ways, such as:

Goal Setting

Goal setting Confidence Coping with DifficultiesSeveral studies have shown a clear correlation between how mentally fit an individual is and their ability to set challenging yet obtainable goals. Athletes who tend to have a more fixed mindset or believe that they’re born with a natural or true ability tend to be weaker mentally. They’re more guarded about their deficiencies and are less or completely unwilling to try and improve them and are more focused on masking or hiding them. As a result, they won’t set the goals necessary to overcome the hardest challenges or hurdles.

Mentally strong athletes, on the other hand, are continually striving to improve their game. They know where they may be falling short, or where they need to work harder to knock the competition out of the park. So what do they do? They set goals. And they don’t just set a final goal, they’ll create milestones and steps that need to be reached so that they will get to that positive final outcome.

Confidence

The athlete whose brain fitness is just as high as their physical fitness is going to always be more confident than the weaker. Weaker mindsets are more focused on proving their ability. When they perform poorly, or when the competition is proving themselves to be the better, that athlete with a poor mindset will gradually begin to have feelings of self doubt and failure. Mentally tough athletes, however, have greater confidence because they recognize that there is always room to grow. They know that they aren’t “stuck” in their current state and can always become better.

Coping With Difficulties

Not surprisingly, the weaker athlete is mentally less able to cope with and handle setbacks. Athletes who suffer from mental weakness will immediately chastise themelves and beat themselves up emotionally when they don’t win a race or score a goal. The result: their performance immediately begins to decline, which leads to more negative self talk and self loathing, which leads to a cycle of further performance decline.

Those who have trained themselves to be mentally tough won’t let such things bring them down. In fact, not only will an individual with a high level of mental fitness then take charge of further improving their skills, but they will also take control of their motivation. They stay interested and committed to their growth and success every step of the way.

Olympic Pole Vault: Hooker Needs a Better Imagination

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

 

Pole Vault London 2012Anyone who has ever watch the pole vaulting knows its not for the faint hearted!

Sticking a long bendy pole into a hole in the ground and positioning yourself upside down as you patiently wait to be catapulted into the air and over a 5-6 metre bar before landing on a mat can seem nuts to the average person.

Of course this is what happens when it all goes to plan – but sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and its then we see the true character and mental toughness of these outstanding, if not a little crazy athletes!

At the recent London 2012 Olympics, Lazaro Borges’ (Cuba) pole snaps into multiple pieces during his qualifying jump, throwing him upside down into the mat.

He simply dusted himself off, returns to his very long kit bag, selects a new pole and does it all again – he clearly has the right mental toughness.

Pole vault has always intrigued me, I love the biomechanics of the sport, the sheer guts and determination required and the mental difference that these athletes have – its a very primal sport and one that resonates well with my days as a Gymnast.

When I first saw Australia’s Steve Hooker jump, I was amazed that this fuzzy haired dude could actually jump – I almost wrote him off before he had even put one foot in front of the other let alone sunk the pole into the ground to launch himself skyward!

But Steve Hooker clearly has massive talent and incredible guts. He has been Olympic Champion 2008, World Champion 2009, World Indoor Champion 2010 and Commonwealth Champion, so the guy knows how to jump despite his unassuming appearance.

That being said, this past year or so Hooker has a very public nemesis who has recently been beating him, who trains with him, lives with him and, dare I say, sleeps with him.

No, not is partner – but himself, his mind and his own very maverick imagination.

Last year Hooker misjudged a jump and toppled off the landing mat and onto the ground, damaging his knee. Of course the physical damage could be repaired and after physical therapy he was able once again to jump.

The Australian Athletics community gave a collective sigh of relief, thinking this sporting champ was once again back on track and heading towards the London Olympics to defend his title.

However, he was physically repaired but the psychological damage was running much deeper. Hooker had lost his nerve and confidence in jumping and London 2012 was looking shakier than ever.

As a gymnast, who had practically come to be on first name terms with many of the medical staff at the local hospital, I can certainly understand what an injury of this nature could do to your mind.

The random thoughts of it happening again, the physical changes you would subconsciously make to the pragmatics of the technique would rock your sense of familiarity and control and feeding an over active imagination…

… Your mind running through multiple worse-case scenarios as you stand there looking down the lane towards the jump, trying to collect your thoughts and think about what needs to be done…

It’s not like twisting an ankle on the track, the emotional monster goes into active overdrive, thinking that maybe next time it could be more than just a buggered knee, it could be spinal or even worse.

And so I imagine this is what began Hooker’s internally animated downward spiral, missing and avoiding jumps and worrying about what could be just around the corner. The knee was the catalyst but the mental torture was relentless in proving to himself why he shouldn’t jump.

Hooker publicly acknowledged at the 2011 World Championships whilst defending his title he felt lost on the runway. He admitted to being very nervous and even scared of the jump, choosing to run through three times, culminating in his being eliminated from the competition.

Back home in Australia, Hooker was dubbed as having the ‘yips’. (Urban dictionary – The Yips: Overthinking something so much you become unable to do it. You will often proceed to implode.)

Steve Hooker is just one example of an athlete mentally letting something in, something that eats away at you, as your confidence collapses and your imagination takes on a life of its own.  I have seen this in a number of sports and with a number of different catalysts.

Steve Hooker may not have even thought about the Rio 2016 games just yet as he comes to terms with his dramatic loss in London. However, as a Mind Coach, I think it needn’t have been this way, there are as many ways to combat the ‘yips’ as there is to get them and Hooker just needs to learn a better strategy of dealing with his imagination and more specifically his fears.

Hooker needs to learn to acknowledge what he fears and then, without emotion, deal with it. This very straight forward strategy could have enabled Hooker to have a different outcome in London 2012.

Something that I feel is paramount for all athletes is learning how to read, understand and effectively manage their emotions, they can drive you forward but can also hold you back, so understanding them is paramount.

To have such a grasp on what makes an athlete tick and what is likely to give them the wobbles can help manage them when a sniff of the wobbly wheel occurs, nipping it in the bud and bringing them back on track, maintaining direction and ultimately giving them back their control.

Fear becomes debilitating when our primal imagination becomes overly active and we begin to not only imagine all sorts of hairy things, but ultimately convince ourselves that its a forgone conclusion.

Having strategies that bypass this and keep you well and truly on the straight and narrow enables an athlete to do what they do best, whatever sport it is and to leave the worrying to the parents in the stands.

 

 

Image Credit: Flickr mrtopp

Athletes and Confidence: The Uncle Nobody Talks About

Friday, December 30th, 2011


Confidence is a hot topic in a coach or athlete’s world and something we intimately associate with both our success and our stumbles in life.

ConfidenceOften our greatest moments are attributed to our unshakable confidence in the face of competition, our belief in ourselves and the focus in our preparation and performance. Our domination and drive is celebrated and we become the self-appointed poster child for success.

On the flip side, when we stumble, our confidence is the first to feel the emotional bruises and cop the full brunt of the blame. ‘I didn’t feel confident’ or ‘I wasn’t confident in my skills I had prepared’ – and even ‘I didn’t have the confidence in my coaches choices for the routine or play.’

So clearly our confidence is a vital aspect of our behaviour and therefore our performance. It is something to be managed just as pragmatically as our physical fitness, technical skill-set and diet.

However, some coaches and athletes treat the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde  ‘confidence’ like the uncle no one talks about, hiding it away – viewing the psychology of confidence as a taboo subject, thinking if they don’t mention the word ‘confidence’ then it won’t break, fall down or behave inappropriately!

The truth is confidence is not a fragile or embarrassing entity to be tip-toed around – it is a system.

Confidence is simply a replicable pattern of specific neurological triggers and chemical stimulants in our bodies. It is robust and predictable. Being aware of this allows us to harness it and maximise on it for our own ultimate good.

And for this reason it deserves our full attention and respect!

In my experience, performance confidence issues are merely a lack of, or a stalling of, the positive forward momentum of recognition process.

What I mean by this very long term is – our confidence and motivation (intimately linked) is fuelled by consistent, periodic injections of acknowledgment and recognition of success – it needs to be fed in order to survive.

Like eating healthy foods, the results are not instant but gradual and cumulative. Like all sustainability – little and often is the key ingredient here for behavioural endurance.

I liken this to the frog jumping across the pond from one bank to another. In order to succeed the frog must select the path and hop from one Lilly pad to the next. This frog is unlikely to succeed by bounding all the way across in one leap, and with a couple of failed attempts may perhaps give up and settle for one side of the bank, believing it cannot reach it’s objective.

Each and every time we succeed at something (our lilly pads) – no matter how small – we are neurologically rewarded for our effort. We are rewarded with generous doses of serotonin and dopamine – this unique concoction of naturally-derived happy drugs are supplied to us by our own bodies as recognition and reward for achievement. This makes the successful action pleasurable, memorable and sustainable.

Serotonin and Dopamine, like many other natural chemicals are highly stimulating and exceptionally addictive. Our brain likes this reward system we have created and wants more and more of it, so urges and nudges us forward to the next success and reward point – eagerly waiting for the next hit. This forms a natural foundation for forward momentum.

Whilst it is our subconscious brains that have the higher understanding of what we are actually capable of – it is our conscious filtration system that normally ‘plays it safe’ and pulls us back into a conservative line. It is our conscious mind that also focuses on the failures rather than the successes, turning our attention to what we have NOT achieved rather than what we have achieved.

We know we get what we focus on – so if we continuously focus on our lack of success then our perception will be that we continue to fail more frequently, stemming the flow of rewards and thus killing off our motivation to succeed – and thus actually succeeding more infrequently.

If I asked you to turn up for work every day for the next 5-10 years and give 100% but you would never be paid or recognised for your effort how long could you sustain your motivation? If we do not recognise and reward our internal successes then we too tune out and have no reason to excel.

This natural reward high feeds our confidence, and sometimes fools our conscious mind into thinking we could, and should, take on more and more challenging tasks to gain the higher reward.

Many top athletes speak of being caught up in the moment, feeling un-stoppable and almost superhuman when at their peak. The reward driven highs becoming ‘the norm’ and a constant flooding of neural stimulants keeps them there.

(This is also part of the reason why retiring athletes struggle to maintain the stimulation in their life after sport – but that is a whole other topic we will cover in another post!)

Where the wheels fall off this neurological and emotional system is if we STOP or lose this positive forward momentum of natural rewards.

If we stop acknowledging our successes, we begin to suffer withdrawal from our happier days – like a drug addict without the next fix this begins to reinforce our subconscious doubts over our ability to ever again ‘score’ or succeed and be rewarded. The next logical step eludes us as we lose direction, focus and perspective.

The longer this period of time where our reward cravings are not met the bigger the desire is to have that ‘hit’ and the more important that next success becomes. All this does is increase our anxiety levels and feeds the emotional monster who has been focused on our failures.

This emotional cloud distorts our skill-set, our cognitive clarity and our perception in our ability to succeed.

And so a perpetual cycle of perceived failure is born – we have all witnessed it and maybe even lived it.

Breaking this slippery downward cycle and restoring forward upward momentum is a systematic process – just as the creation of the focused problem was in the first place.

After all, our confidence is fuelled by our success, acknowledgment and our neural-reward! And as this feeds the motivation engine, the strategy is simple:

1. Start setting small achievable goals, acknowledging them along the way, outwardly celebrating them and focusing on the success of what you did achieve not what eluded you.

2. Reward yourself again and again – it gains traction in the motivation game, like stoking the fire of a steam engine the more fuel you put in the better the results that come out.

Rewards do not have to be tangible, so set aside those flat screen TVs for now and focus on internal recognition, acknowledging yourself for your achievements in your session, day, week, season objective.

Begin a performance journal to enable you to follow your journey of achievement and see the patterns of success you create and duly reward them.

Confidence really is just an emotional measure of success and once we understand and respect that it can only serve us in our grander objectives.