Mental Training and Sports Performance

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Mark Spitz once said, “Practice is 90% physical and 10% mental and competition is 10% physical and 90% mental.”Mental Training

How true!

There is a vicious circle that occurs without the help of mental strength.    There’s a trigger, it could be a missed catch, a dropped pass or a missed putt, what ever it is this event gets’ anchored into the psyche of the athlete.  You don’t have to be a professional for this to happen. This can happen to a weekend warrior, armature or semi-pro athlete.

What happens is this trigger event causes all sorts of chatter in the mind.  This chatter takes the athletes focus away from what they can control, i.e. their specific sports skill and puts it on the outcome, i.e. winning the game/match.

When and athlete becomes outcome focus, i.e. win the event or what will happen if I do or don’t win – this leads to distraction in performance.  When the athlete becomes performance focus, i.e. how can perform this technique the better? – This will lead to peak performance.

When a player focuses in the “right” things, there are no distractions.

So, how does an athlete focus on the “right” things?

Taking Back Control

By becoming aware of this chatter and by using power of the mind to enhance personal performance, the athlete will flex his/her mental strength and start to take back control of their thinking.

Your mind and its power can either enhance or disrupt performance; it’s up to you…when you take back control.

When an athlete finds themselves in a situation where they’ve come off their game and they try to use self talk to stop struggle in their performance, they actually create more struggle.  What you focus on expands….what you resist, persists.

Any attempt to control an out of control mind and its thoughts will lead to distraction.

By shifting to empowering performance and in-control thoughts, this will lead to peak performance.

This is why is so important to set-up a pre-game ritual as well as an intra-game and end-game ritual.  If the athlete can go into the competition feeling confident in their abilities and NOT the outcome of the game, they’re more likely to have a peak performance.

Three critical items that will spiral an athlete out of control are:

1-     Destructive self talk (disempowering inner coaching)

2-     Focus of concentration on what’s wrong or not working

3-     Focusing on what they can’t control, i.e. the other team/players, the weather

Guaranteed that by paying attention to these three things an athlete will not have a stellar game.

Again, the first action to resolve these two factors is awareness of the inner dialogue.  Is the self-talk supportive or destructive? Also, where is the focus of concentration before and during event?  Is it on performance and what’s working, or is on what’s not working and trying to win?

It’s also good to look at what is the trigger is for the destructive self talk?  Then there are several processes that can assist in “naturalizing” the thoughts associated with the event.

Remember with self talk, you get what you expect, so say it the way you want it.

When an athlete is involved with destructive self-talk there is a direct connection to the body, this is manifested as nervousness, stress or anxiety.  These states’s cause:

  • Tight muscles
  • Inefficient and shallow breathing
  • Cold extremities (hands and feet)
    • Blood flows to ‘deeper’ muscles (fight or flight – parasympathetic)
    • Can ‘sense’ the object, i.e. ball, club, bat, stick etc

The power of the mind must be respected for how it affects the body.

Try this:

Sit up straight; now turn your head as far as you can to the right looking over your right shoulder behind you.  Pick a spot to mark your position.  It could be a picture on the wall, a lamp, anything that will let you know how far you’ve turned your head.

Got it?

OK, bring your head back forward and close your eyes.

Now, imagine turning your head again to the right.  This time imagine yourself turning your head past the reference point you picked….way past see.  Really see past the point your picked, feel what’s it’s like to have this flexibility.  Enjoy being this flexible and going way past your previous point.

Great…now open your eyes and turn your head to the right again.

How far did you go this time?

Amazing, right!

That’s just a small sample of the power of your mind and how it affects your body.   Now imagine what you’re doing when you’re thinking about all the things that are going wrong?

Your body will respond!

You can use your mindset to lower you’re the quality of your game or you can use you mindset to raise your performance.

This reminds of the Native American story about two wolves that live inside everyone of us.

An old Cherokee chief is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One is evil – he is fear,  doubt, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

“The other is good – he is confidence, self assured, joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Which one do you feed before and during your event?

Please let me know your thoughts and any pre, itra or post game rituals that keep in a supportive mindset.

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