Posts Tagged ‘visualisation’

Mental Preparation for Athletes, Demystified – Part I

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Knowing and Doing… there is a difference

I was recently reminded of a saying that I have used over the years that holds deep significance when working towards becoming an elite athlete and a sustainable champion.

It’s a phrase that can snap things back into perspective instantly and has guided me through my sporting career – both as an elite coach and now as a professional mind coach.

I was with a client discussing their progress. This review process is common practice (or should be) for physical and mental coaches.

However, this time, as we sat in their gym going through their training journal and homework, this athlete was clearly frustrated at the process.

I was quickly becoming the recipient of an emphatic sell as they explained to me they understood and comprehended all the technical concepts and practical skill-sets we had learnt over the last few months. This was true, they had diligently attended every training session, taken copious notes and passionately participated in the in-session exercises, contributing a number of questions and statements at key stages along the way and even getting the other athletes engaged in the training.

Their body language, however, was telling me something completely different.

As this athlete relayed their thoughts animatedly, I could see there was something amiss, something brewing deep down within, there was this look on their face, a perplexed and puzzled look, a troubled look, almost a look of constipation (you know that look) as they struggled to get the words out clearly, choosing rather to ramble and talk in loops whilst trying to justify their position with high emotion.

The ‘look’ became more and more uncomfortable, as the rambling and looping became more prolific… the teeth were becoming more clenched with every statement…

… and then …

‘I don’t get it! I don’t get why I am not getting the results I want!’. Frustration poured out of every pore of their body.

As the air expelled from their lungs they appeared to physically deflate. Slowly, that look of constipation changed to a look of realisation – ‘Oh I get it, I have to actually change what I was doing, don’t I?’
Mental Preparation for Athletes
This revelation arrived out of the blue, but not without reason…

It was time!

Time to explain to them the difference between knowing you need to do something and doing the something you know you need.

ACTION is the key! 

Often the concept of practical application is the hardest concept for an athlete to learn outside of their sporting skill, especially if they are already an elite or professional competitor. Merely knowing something has to change isn’t enough to effectively modify behaviour on a consistent, reliable and deep level.

The system of ‘doing’ is vital to initiating and sustaining behavioural and performance change. Sure the ‘why’ is important – but just as important is the carefully structured support network that feeds, nurtures and encourages effective change on a deep and sustainable level.

Just knowing what we want isn’t going to be enough to deliver what we want – no matter how hard we wish for it. 

The key is to build a unique and personalised support system for ourselves. This enables us to:

  • hold us accountable
  • assess and adjust
  • keep us true to our objective and
  • rewards us along the way

So now we know we need to consistently apply something to initiate sustainable change – what specifically do we need to apply?

Lets look at a common performance issue, one that affects most athletes at one time or another when working towards a competition.

One of the biggest, most debilitating distractions to an athlete is the build up of nerves, the nagging self doubts, performance anxiety. This often brings on a surprise guest appearance of unpredictable skills, skills you have successfully conducted countless times before. All these issues emanate from internally wayward and unchecked emotions.

We know from experience that if we don’t get a grip on these rogue emotions, those emotions will grip us and get in the way of effective performance.

A very common mistake to make at this point is to think the answer is to simply suck it up and get on with it. By ignoring it or trying to train through it won’t solve the issue. It is more likely going to compound the issue, especially if the emotions are generously fed by more and more frustrating training sessions.

So what is the answer?

We know success breeds success and the effects of success tames the emotional monster.

So if it is our emotions that are to blame and not our inability to perform the skill, it is the emotions that need to be engaged, not swept under the mental rug.

To overcome this the Smart Mind Institute has taken the approach of building an athlete’s confidence through structured successes.

This is achieved through the Preparation Funnel.

The Preparation Funnel

The funnel is a process specifically designed to systematically tick boxes, creating sustainable forward momentum and confidence to build replicability and familiarity to success. Here we have all the key ingredients to reigning in the negative emotions and putting them back into a more productive mode.

There are two main parts to an effective preparation funnel

  1. The 7to2 Process; and
  2. Competition Day Formats

The concept behind the 7to2 Process is to have a heavily structured recognition system in the countdown to competition from day 7 to day 2. The system is built with a clear objective and a clear plan of what needs to be completed before competition.

This may appear simplistic, however without a system, many athletes either cram way to much into the last few days and begin panicking and raising the urgency, thus the anxiety – or they have no plan at all so do not prepare adequately and realise way too late, never knowing how to replicate those good performances.

The 7to2 Process

Firstly analyse and list everything you feel needs to occur in the lead up to a competition. List everything, from your specific training sessions (mental and physical); your physical preparation (massage, physio, chiro, stretching, S&C etc); preparation of competition outfit; competition food; travel arrangements; pre-comp venue visit; visualisation sessions.

Then assign the tasks to specific days in the 7to2 funnel, with the vast majority of the tasks being logged in days 7 to 4. Then as the week goes by, less and less needs to be done with day 2 (day before the event) just having 1 or 2 tasks.

Each time you complete a task, tick it off your list. This builds a sense of achievement raising serotonin levels in the body and the feeling of success and everything being ready – that calming feeling that all that could be done, has been done. The raised sense of success helps balance the competition nerves, lower the anxiety levels and brings a level of control to your preparation.

A key benefit of this process is it also creates a narrowing of our focus, preparing for competition day when all you want to be thinking about is you and your performance and being ready to switch to a 100% focused athlete. The 7to2 Process is the ultimate tool to allow athletes to take control.

In the next article we will look at the second part to an effective preparation funnel, which is day 1, Competition Day Formats. This will detail how we can move through the non-athlete, athlete and pure athlete phases to get the most out of your mental game.


The Assassination of a Sporting Performance: Have you been Implicated?

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

If you are a professional coach or a coach at any serious competitive level, you may have experienced this.

You have spent years physically and technically preparing an athlete for the ‘big competition’, the one stand out event that will synergistically bring all that hard work together; set them apart from the crowd; and cement their name in sporting contention.

Only to find on the day they implode and choke!

Bearing witness as their minds spontaneously combust into a scrambled mess, a coach can only watch the athlete’s precision-controlled limbs take on a zombie-possessed life of their own. Their ability to problem-solve appears left in the trunk of the car along with that old gym sock, sweaty towel… and maybe now their hopes and dreams.

As a coach at this point you begin to wonder who the hell is this athlete?

Where is my athlete, the one I have spent all that time and effort in building?

Why did I not see this coming, how could I have got it so wrong?

What do I do now?


… This is a very common scenario.

However, it is a scenario that frequently spawns a reaction that involves a complete re-evaluation of the whole process, the training schedule, the fitness structure and the technical application of the core skills!

This overhaul is time-consuming, disheartening and quite frankly probably totally unnecessary.

STOP – before you begin to unravel years of work and your coaching philosophy built up over a lifetime, first understand what has really happened here by following this simple process:

1. Was it really a train-crash or simply just a wrong turn?

Lets start by taking the high level emotions out of the situation and looking at it clinically.

2. From a disassociated perspective, ask “What could I do differently next time?”

Think backwards to the point where the wheels on the track first began to wobble and before the athlete careered out of control!

3. Did the wobble initiate weeks ago or was the first major wobble on competition day?

I often hear coaches speak of the athlete letting the pressure of the competition moment get to them or they allowed their competitors to get inside their heads or their confidence was shattered by their performance as they lost focus and objectivity.

As much as these may be contributing factors to the final derailment of the athletes performance the reality is the real core inefficiency is probably in the approach, for specifically the lack of structured approach.

The Competition Approach

The competition approach, is just that – the days leading into the competition and the day of the competition right up to where the athlete takes to the spot to perform. I refer to this as the 7-2 funnel process.

I have been working with coaches and athletes my whole adult life and it’s the most rewarding profession I can imagine. And after all these years, I would consider the ability of a coach to ‘effectively’ mentally prepare their athlete for their performance day as one of their most valuable skills. On competition day and in much of what an athlete does, educating an athlete how to be responsive rather than reactionary is all in the planning.

Humans are creatures of habit, we are also by nature essentially quite lazy (although we ‘sell’ it as being efficient) and will follow a well-trodden and established path when faced with no obvious solution rather than assess and innovate a new tailored path. In fact, we are hardwired to seek out such established patterns and to be an early and loyal adopter.

Because of this most coaches follow the same system for competition – blindly applying time after time, athlete after athlete.

However these final steps before their performance is such a critical time for the athlete, a crucial time where they need to be focused, emotionally neutral, clear, concise and precise about their objective, confident that they can deliver what is required and comfortable in knowing that all the boxes have been ticked and that everything that could have been done has been done.

Often the reality is we see two polarities, where coaches and athletes are either completely disengaged or wholly consumed by the moment, following no obvious structured and designed approach, they are emotionally charged thus reactionary to everyone else’s movements and unable to apply what they have trained for or know to be the right move for them.

I also see coaches correcting intricate technique or even teaching the athlete new skills just before they take to the competitive arena.

This disorganised approach is a mental minefield as it is widening of the athletes focal aspect not a narrowing of their focal precision.

Last minute hurdles placed into their path is not beneficial to the athlete and in fact greatly inhibits them from performing at their optimum as it splits and defocuses their ability to mentally reproduce and apply.

Instead of emotionally loading them up, sludging their thought processes and giving them little opportunity to build confidence (a history of success), the key to preparing an athlete to perform efficiently and effectively involves funnelling the athlete into a heightened state of awareness and specificity of focus, ticking boxes and disengaging what isn’t needed to make them mentally leaner and more efficient.

So when you think about how YOU currently approach competition, are you mentally weighing them down? Do you have a replicable system that is prepping your athlete for success?

Your Biggest Sporting Performance Fear, Rewired

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

What scares you the most?


What scares you so much it totally impacts on your life, your decisions, relationships, professional integrity and your sporting performance?

Do you think about those fears multiple times a day, do they consume your every thought, direct your actions and force change to your desired or planned path?

In many people ‘Fear’ can be crippling, debilitating, it can stop them doing things that add depth and dimension to their life and fear can also inhibit their interaction with people and groups and limit their perception of options.

What would you realistically do to eradicate those fears from your life, to take back control of your outcomes and live a more responsive existence?

And what would you do differently if you didn’t have the fear hanging over your head?

Consider this: do you consider yourself an imaginative and mentally creative person? Someone who has a good imagination, someone who processes in 3D mental images, who can see great detail in their thoughts? If so, then your ‘Fears’ can hold a greater reality for you, the monster in the closet will seem all that more realistic, animated and tailored to you.

That’s not to say those who are more analytical processors don’t have fears, they do. Their fears are constructed a little differently – more based on their perception of logical outcomes rather than imagined possibilities – yet no less debilitating.

So what is fear?

Fear is simply the result of our own semi-irrational creations of possible outcomes, what we imagine COULD happen IF the THING was to take place.

Think back to your own fear – is your fear based on an actual proven event or the possibility of the event?

Fear is our brain’s internal self-preservation process. It’s our own a way of preparing us for the worst-case scenario and in order to cater for the absolute worst case-scenario we have to first imagine the worst case-scenario!

And then we cannot un-think what we have first thought.

It is this over active imaginative process that allows our brain to continually add more and more emotional weight to our fears, giving them dimension, perspective and life. And of course the more weight that we add the more realistic, probable and alive it appears to us.

It is important to understand that fear is merely an emotion, built on the same construction process as say happiness. Fear is an internally primed and cultivated chemical blueprint of how to respond to an event or potential event.

As with all emotional reactions when the emotion is removed from the reality the details become clearer and more manageable.

However when it is left to cloud the mind, it increases our emotional fogginess and disables our logical thought process, which inhibits us from putting the THING into perspective.

So, once we understand why we feel fear, how do we realistically manage fear? Especially a fear that has such a hold over us!

The good news is the same imagination process that created the monster can tame the monster. If we use our active imagination not to create the fine, realistic details of what could go wrong but to visualise action steps and a structured strategy towards what you want to happen and subsequently avoid the worst case-scenario. This gives our brain effective, realistic and applicable options.

We can lower our emotional anxiety, create greater clarity of thought and keep it all in perspective with effective and realistic visualisation.

So stop feeding the emotional monster and put it to good creative work.

How to Design Your Own Neural Pattern: Follow Your Own Path

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Discover how to find the confidence and self trust to follow your path step by step, knowing where to go, what to expect and how to achieve it.


Athletes are often told by their coaches they need to set goals and then set out to achieve those goals.

However many athletes are never educated in HOW to effectively set and or achieve goals or what the difference is between a goal and an objective.

As a professional Mind Coach I get all our athletes and coaches to set an OBJECTIVE, a big ticket outcome, and then plot and plan the Goals to achieve that Objective.

So the difference between an OBJECTIVE and a GOAL is an objective is the destination, the final outcome where as a goal is the path of stepping stones along the way. The design of this direction promotes sustained motivation.

Today we are going to look at something called NEURAL PATTERNING and an innovation we have created to really get this skill ingrained in the body is Blindfolded Rock Climbing.

The concept behind this exercise is to firstly teach the athlete how to gain clarity on their objective and then design and create their path in a systematic and specific way.

Learn how to achieve the confidence and self trust to follow your path step by step, knowing where to go, what to expect and how to achieve it.


Stage One: Create The Objective

Establish what you are striving for: International representation, an Olympic gold, a World Record or something more intimate such as a personal achievement.

Whatever the objective is, it needs to be clear, concise and precise with an understanding of what will be the final step, the recognition of job done.

Then the path to the objective is designed. Selecting goals that support and enhance the journey, and part of this process includes allowing the athlete to set their own goals to the objective and the reward system that goes with it.

Stage Two: Own The Objective

Once we have our established objective and our specifically designed set of goals as the pathway we need to embed this strategy into the neural pathway of the athlete, rendering it as the optimal behavioural option.

Having a pre-designed clear and structured path allows an athlete and coach to maintain focus and if the athlete does veer off the path, the specific point of reference will instantly show, allowing them to correct and bring it back on track (by utilising effective visualisation, both with associated and disassociated techniques).

If we take ownership of something, then we are more likely to stick to it, have an emotional connection to it and be motivated by it. The athlete designed this unique path so they are not bound by the strategies of others. By selecting the path that best suits them they hold themselves accountable to the outcome.

Stage Three: Follow The Path

A very effective exercise to teach the athlete the benefits of selecting, embedding and following a path is our “Blindfolded Rock Climbing” process. This is the last stage in building effective performance neural patterning.

The idea behind this is to feel comfortable in trusting our internal judgement – Once we remove our ability to see, adjust and react we must trust our internal picture.

Our eyesight overrides and over-writes our memory – instantly becoming our primary process – reacting to an ever changing environment. But what it CAN do is react without planning and we could easily find ourselves without options or on a path where we are following another athletes strategy.

Blindfolded RockclimbingSo by creating our path, succeeding at the path and rewarding ourselves … and all whilst doing it blindfolded – we enforce our self belief and confidence in trusting our own judgement.

I am often asked to work with athletes who are experiencing confidence issues around their performance – when they are reminded of success by completing this Neural patterning process their confidence and self worth is instantly lifted. Once they have this point of reference they have a history of success, they see and feel their ability is once again reinforced.

By understanding how to design your own effective neural patterning process, you can design very specific strategies, tailored to give you the best chance at reaching your objective and performing at your optimum.