Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

Competition Day: Success When It Counts

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

How many of us who have competed at a high level of sport have suffered with the jitters, or succumbed to the pressure of competition and not performed as well as we know we can at one time or another?

How did you react to this? Did you brush it off with a blasé comment such as “I just didn’t feel right today”, or maybe “the venue isn’t up to what I am used to” or some other excuse. For some of us this is an all too familiar problem. Sometimes, we are never able to “be alright on the night” and for all intent and purposes many promising competitive careers are destroyed by this and it happens from within our own mind.

So why do some athletes show phenomenal talent in the training hall but crumble when it comes to competition day?

It’s a common scenario in elite sport, and a scenario that is played out in every sporting discipline on every continent. Is it the pressure? Is it the venue? Or is it something more sinister?

I used to train and compete with a guy who was probably one of the greatest Gymnastic talents I had seen come out of the UK. He was everything a Gymnast should be – he was physically ideal, as though he was a kit gymnast built with a specific purpose in mind. An athlete that had been made to measure and assembled like a high performance sports car – with nothing to spare. He certainly had the dedication, talent and fantastic family support.

I used to watch him as he would pick up new moves easily, remember set routines without a second glance and had the arrogance to intimidate.

He was a couple of years older than me and the time had come where I was due to compete against him. I woke the morning of the competition feeling nervous, reflective and rather overwhelmed – I knew he was better than I and he was favourite to win.

As we warmed up prior to the competition I could see him hitting his routines with fighter pilot accuracy, as he had done all season in the gym – yet I noticed something new, something in his face. He appeared uncomfortable, agitated and almost worried. I wondered why? He certainly was a class above the rest of us and he knew it.

And so he took to the floor to perform his first routine, he was fidgety and he wasn’t acting in his usual confident – arrogant – strutting way. I could feel that air of arrogance was completely gone, on his opening line he fell! I had seen him perform that line hundreds of times without a second thought and never had he fallen! His routine was second rate and when all was said and done and after all six apparatus he finished 11th place.

We competed over many years after that day. He continued to be the champion of the training hall and never won a competition, falling in to the category of an under achiever and fading into the background never to be seen again.

So what can we surmise from this? Is it that physical ability or even talent isn’t what wins competitions or defines a true champion? It has to be something more. Sure, you have to be able to compete in the competition in order to be competitive, but it would appear the edge is your mental strength not the physical – that is the defining aspect!

So what defines the Olympic swimming legend Ian Thorp as a champion?  His physical technique has been studied, scrutinised and copied by many swimmers around the world. His physical strength has been surpassed by others yet he continues to get better and better results. So you have to ask yourself – why?

I believe it is his personal ability to not succumb to the pressure. Whether he is competing in a local swim meet or the Olympic Games, the same swimmer enters the pool time after time after time and produces the same consistent results! We have all heard Ian talking about competing against himself and himself alone and that’s what matters to him, mentally eliminating his competitors before he enters the pool.

Going back to the Gymnast. He had trained himself to succeed in the training hall but he would perform differently at competition, drawing on different learnt behaviour and a different set of neurological points of reference. He would spend 50 hours a week honing his approach to the routine and on competition day would not apply the same thought process – so essentially he was competing without preparing. He left his best performance in the training hall, never achieving anything near his potential.

When I was competing, I was always told to train as though it is a competition, I never knew why at the time and to be honest I don’t think my coach did either. I now know there is a sound scientific philosophy behind that throwaway statement.

Every action we perform creates an imprint in the brain, this becomes our neurological point of reference for the next time we perform that action! So when you go to cross the road you will look left and then right as taught from a very young age What starts as a conscious action becomes an unconscious action, or more commonly known as our behaviour.

So if you moved to a country where the traffic travelled in a different direction? You would need to retrain your behaviour, creating new neurological points of reference to look Right then Left. Obviously this can be done – it just needs some conscious thought processes for a period of time before again it becomes an unconscious action, or a new behaviour.

So if you train a bad habit, it then becomes your point of neurological reference and your behaviour! Our cerebellum doesn’t differentiate or even assess, it just does what is asked of it and that replicate.

Using the same philosophy, what if you train for perfection in the training hall but when you come to compete you draw on a different neurological point of reference? You may spend hours saying to yourself “What if I fall?” or “Don’t fall!” So when you start to compete you are concentrating on falling and what the consequences of that action would be!

Inevitably you will fall because your mind is dealing with that action. This fall becomes your competition neurological point of reference. You may have noticed either yourself, or other competitors consistently stumble or fall at the same point of a routine or the same stage of a race or they may not make the crucial pass time after time. The England Football squad (soccer) have an issue with penalty shootouts often crumbling at this crucial time.

So it wouldn’t matter how many hours had been spent practicing and to what standard – you would only ever perform at your competition blueprint – your neurological point of reference for that action / situation unless you retrained this behaviour.

So how do we change these negative neurological behavioural trends?

Well the easiest way is to first understand what makes a successful pattern and then replicate your successful behavioural pattern in the training hall and put it in the competition venue by training how you wish to compete. Train as though it’s a competition, giving your mind less available options when it is under duress or looking for answers.

When devising training programs, incorporate a formal competitive module in every training session. Increase the number of these modules as you build towards the competition date. Teach the brain to look for successful options and to refine its search to what you have trained

If, however you have had ineffective behaviour for a period of time, it may be necessary to scramble the old neurological imprint. This will render it useless as a point of reference, making your mind look for a more suitable reference point.

For this a behavioural coach would be required.

This is a psychological pattern reimprint, just replacing the old negative point of reference (action) with a more desirable one. If we can do this for you think of the possibilities open to you and your performance.

Your first step is to assess your performance and ascertain if in-deed you need to improve? Where you want to be and what you want from your sporting career.

Then when you have a clear idea of your direction then let us help put you onto that path.

A Competitive Mind

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

When we took our first steps as babies, our parents were overjoyed, a milestone in our development, a natural evolution and progression an innate instinct that has driven our species to the top of the evolutionary chain.

We probably spent months rocking back and forth on our knees, entertaining our parents with every spill and fall as they waited in anticipation for us to move to the next rung on the ladder.

Little did we know at the time, we were creating a life long strategy for learning, a system that will dictate the effectiveness of many of the things we do and achieve in our lives.

Experts estimate we make several hundred attempts at standing, long before we finally succeed for the first time. Every time we stumble, fall or correct ourselves our brains are taking notes, assessing, reassessing and making instrumental adjustments. With these notes our brains fine-tune our behaviour and before long, standing is child’s play!

As adults, you would probably expect the learning process to be far more refined, maybe even more efficient as our brains develop, experience and apply adult logic. But has it?

Actually we follow pretty much the same basic strategy of attempt, assess, reattempt and reassess as we did as babies. We make mistakes and our brain readjusts for the next attempt, learning as we go each time correcting the previous mistakes and documenting its progress step by step.

Messages are sent to our brains where they are accessed, processed, and an action is dispatched, reassessed, reprocessed and re-dispatched.

After some time our brain become satisfied with it’s ability to cope with the requested action and delegates the role, it sends the patterned task to the cerebellum, which creates a neurological point of reference, a blueprint a reference for the next time we perform that or a similar action.

The cerebellum is a smaller area at the base of the brain, often referred to as the ‘little brain.’ It handles many of our subconscious behaviours, the reactions that have been created and perfected by our learning process.

This is all well and good but exceptionally time consuming and actually not at all efficient as it presupposes we will make countless mistakes before being successful.

Of course, this may take just fractions of a second in reality, but in a game where races are won and lost on those fractions, it makes sense to improve our odds by refining the process.
This is achievable because our bodies behave like computer operating systems, it communicate with others and internally using a specific individual language, a dialogue that is evolved through the assess and reassess protocol.

When we understand our own individual neurological language it allows us to effectively communicate our messages internally and externally with more precision, it also allows us to better understand and manage our responses by cutting out much of the hit and miss mentality.

And in the world of sport where split-second communication between mind and body is so crucial, a hybrid science was constructed utilising the best of performance psychology and NLP which teaches us how to develop these skills, honing them to be effective and efficient.

Talking our own specific language, as with the computers operating system allows us to train an effective learning strategy, one without having to go through the arduous, time consuming traditional learning process. It also allows us to be specific and focused in our approach whilst imprinting the blueprint directly into the cerebellum.

This new leap forward in advanced learning has a new ally in its corner ‘Hemisphere training’ a relatively new science in neurological stimulation. It takes learning to the next level by specifically stimulating the brains receptors, priming them to learn, absorb and react far more efficiently.

Teaching the brain to be hyper alert, like our own elite internal fighter pilot, priming before imprinting the specific actions into your thought process – giving your mind perfect, efficient options each and every time.

This can eliminate months of traditional training and costly mistakes from the repetitive training process, it also reduces the likelihood of both physical and mental fatigue and injury all a common complaint amongst high performance athlete.

This cutting edge science is the next evolutionary step in creating the perfect athlete.

Have you (neurologically) Immunised your Athlete?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

In a study compiled by the UCL Institute of Child Health and the UK’s Great Ormond St Hospital it states that: In 2002 89% of all UK children were immunised against the Measles, Mumps and Rubella viruses. This left only 11% of unprotected children exposed to the virus.

These impressive statistics are helping to drive Health practitioners and parents across many countries to immunise their children, as there is clear evidence it is smart, effective and responsible parenting.

So what is immunisation and what has it got to do with sport?

Immunisation is an orchestrated exposure that allows the body to learn just how best to manage and deal with the real thing.
It’s effectively training the body to cope under attack and strategises its defence.

Once exposed the Human body creates a blue print of how the intruder is constructed and how it is best defeated, before storing this vital information as a chemical recipe within the bodies cellular system ready for any potential invader.

So clearly immunising our bodies from potential threats is a responsible and effective form of risk management. And is something that could and indeed should be applied to many areas of our lives from a welfare and development perspective.

Yet we are increasingly exposing our athletes to potentially short and long-term psychological detriment from such invaders as physical and psychological fatigue, depression, poor self-esteem, unachieved potential, to name just a few and all without any form of effective ‘immunisation.’

If exposing our bodies to a controlled and specifically designed synthesised virus protects us from its potentially harmful origins by building our immune system data base – then surely why wouldn’t you utilise this same proven science to immunise your athlete’s mind?

By neurologically walking the athlete through their preparation, competition, training and emotional build-up we can help them build a healthy neurological immunity date base to protect against their potential negative effects.

This is achieved by allowing the athlete’s mind to take ownership of its journey through the athlete’s effective and fertile imagination – utilising visualisation training harnessed with hemisphere stimulation.

We are all aware that ‘practice makes perfect’ so why not ensure your athlete practices how they would deal with competition specifics, technical moves, skills, stresses, emotional situations, fatigue even pain.

All within a safe, nurturing and educational environment that creates a lasting and powerful blueprint for the athlete to fall back on in times of heightened physical and emotional stress.

Through deeply layered and carefully constructed visualisation we covertly layer available options into the subconscious, leaving efficient desirable strategies available to the athlete.

This along with specifically targeted hemisphere stimulation impregnates this into their neurology building effective neural pathways.
By specifically crafting the visualisation you can control and directly dissociate the athlete from the harshness of some issues yet effectively allow them to create a connection to the desirable outcomes on their own terms.

We know increased emotion depletes the body of oxygen and inhibits the free-flow of muscle action.

The athlete can then make their own associations on their own level and in their own time – creating long-term sustainability dissipating the emotional attachments.

This allows the athlete to explore the different strategies open to them without feeling manipulated and or pressured into an ill-fitting outcome. By allowing them a certain amount of creative and imaginative freedom an athlete will gain ownership to their journey.

This ownership will embed the strategies deep within their neurology ready for any potential exposures in the future just as immunisation does to the body.

Target Coaching

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Are you a coach, an athlete or maybe even an involved and concerned parent who wants to understand how to perform far better than you are currently?

If so, then you really must read on…

It will change the way you behave both on and off the competitive field, in the gym, in the pool, on the pitch and even within the dynamics of your family. It will change your perspective forever as you see things with greater clarity and finer direction. Just through understanding what makes you as an individual perform allows you to see things from a new and exciting angle, an angle of purpose.

Are you performing as well as you know you can? Are you getting the results others around you are expecting from you? Is there something maybe holding you back from achieving your full performance potential? Moreover, do you own the key to your sporting glory?

My guess is – probably not! Well, not yet anyway.

And why is that, do YOU think? Is it your physical condition, or maybe your internal and external stress levels in training and at competition? Or maybe you feel you just don’t get it, feeling more and more like your mind is being spun in a washing machine each and every time you turn up.

Does this sounds familiar to you? The questions you need to ask yourself are: what have I tried thus far to correct these concerning trends? And how has worked for me?

In a recent study amongst some elite athletes and their coaches at a US sporting high performance centre, it was estimated that only 22% of the coaches information and direction was being correctly retained and acted upon by the athlete at any given moment.

That’s a whopping 78% inefficiency on behalf of the coach and athlete. When translated into actual physical hours, for every 10 hours of face to face training that’s just over 2 hours of effective learning achieved. Not very efficient use of time and resources, is it? Would you pay for 22% of your meal and feel satisfied? I know I wouldn’t.

Furthermore, out of that initial 22% ‘effective learning’ it is estimated that only 65% was specifically targeted towards the individual athlete. What this is telling us is the vital information the coach is relaying isn’t being given and or received in an effective manner.

And this is from one of our more elite institutions, so what do you think the absorption and retention ratio is at our club level?

Being heavily involved within many sports on many different levels myself, I often observe current trends and goings on at both training and competition, and I do this covertly to ensure no external influence on the results.

What I have observed over the years is countless coaches around the world pebble-dashing their athletes with verbal information, not stopping to see if the information they have given has been taken on board by the athlete, let alone if it is actually relevant to their specific learning style.

We have all observed the armchair coach or the slouch master, these are the coaches who find a comfortable possy (Position) and yell morsels of information at the athlete, without any thought as to their interpreted messages effectiveness.

This is totally inefficient on the behalf of both the information giver and also the receiver. If the athlete is not motivated or stimulated they do not taking the initiative to seek the key information from within the message.

The athlete begins demonstrating the apparent inability to ask the right questions for their own clarification and can appear disinterested thus compounding the coach / athlete communication frustration and becoming perpetually destructive and even deconstructive.

As a former elite coach I used to spend countless hours learning the most up to date coaching techniques from around the world. I would spend many hours bio-mechanically dissecting moves, watching performance after performance of athletes and their coaches trying to pinpoint the magic bullet, seeking the one thing that would make the difference to me and my athletes performance.

Little did I know I already had it, it was staring me in the face the whole time. As a child I would often annoy the living begeebies out of my coach by constantly asking him what he meant by something he had said to myself or to one of my competitive peers.

Now with the benefit of hindsight and the magic of modern behavioural understanding, I realised it wasn’t totally because I wanted to annoy him – rather, I was unconsciously searching for clarity, I had a need to digest this information and turn it into my individual internal language.

Simply I needed to make sense of his message before I could effectively put it into action.

It wasn’t until I began studying human behaviour that I realised this was in fact what I was doing and how effective it really could be. As with everything if only I had realised this at the time I was competing I could have done more with it.

Realistically many athletes are lost and bewildered as to what their coach’s real message is and what they are actually being asked / directed to do. They are not always hearing the same information the coach believes they are sending, it may as well be in a foreign language lost in translation or a radio station slightly out of tune as the information becomes lost in the abyss.

Many coaches are an unbelievable wealth of technical knowledge, yet not all are skillful in art form of conveying their wisdom in an effective and efficient communicational manner.

Some choose to pebble-dash their athletes with masses of information in the vein hope some will actually stick, sink in and be effectively converted into a desired action. Others have one format and stick to this again hoping the athlete with convert to their specific brand of communication.

Now, just stop for a moment and think about someone close to you, maybe a brother or sister, mother or father, do they think, speak, act or even perform exactly as you do?

Of course not.

Even if they have been exposed to the exact same forces of influence whilst growing up as you they are individual, you have more chance of physically being similar than psychologically. What stimulates you is totally unique to you; it’s our unique neurological fingerprint, our own personal internal language, sorting room and identity.

So if we are so different how have we managed to evolve thus far as a species? The short answer is, its been rather hit and miss, the longer answer is we naturally fill in the missing information, make do and make assumptions based on the basic context of the conversation and our own interpretations of what should be there. This leads to a hybrid version of the initial message that can be ‘made’ to fit – sort of!

From a performance perspective, understanding a persons individual neurological fingerprint does allow a coach to ‘target teach’ that athlete effectively, converting the paltry 22% to a far more respectable and efficient 80%+. Think what you could achieve with an increase of 58%+ effectiveness in your performance.

So where do we obtain this elusive, vital and highly sought after information? Well, your first step is to understand the different individual contributing psycho-dynamics that go into making our personal blueprints. The pieces of the puzzle that go into making a whole, the filters and the buttons that play your tune.

This can be achieved by studying theoretical and physical behavioural psychology and it’s impact on learning and performance, or listening to someone who has!

Supporting this is one of today’s more effective and accessible tools, it is having your athlete psychologically assessed and a detailed ‘Behavioural profile’ compiled. This will give you as a coach a complete operators manual to your athlete’s mind.

The phrase ‘The MIND GAME’ is thrown around a lot these days and has become a ‘tag’ used by presenters and commentators in many areas. However its significance should not be overlooked, especially within the sporting world. As we move towards what can only be described as almost cloning of physiology within athletes. Their results will soon become the only significant difference between two athletes and these will be determined by the power and efficiency of their minds.

This is a clear indication that the elite competitor of tomorrow will have a far more strategic grip on the power of their neurology, than the athlete of yester year.

It will be commonplace to have a mind coach, it will also be part and parcel of your regular training regime to include mental conditioning, left and right hemisphere stimulation, visualization therapy and others far improved learning and retention technologies.

With so much at stake both financially and through personal achievement buried into today’s sporting career, mind management is the performance enhancement of the future.

Are you being left behind?

Take the first steps to better sporting performance and greater understanding.