As an athlete, you have to deal with a lot more than just ensuring you perform well in competition. Preparing mentally, is just as important, if not more than, preparing physically.
Obstacles you may encounter include:
- Lifestyle management
- Performance anxiety
- Maintaining relationships
- Managing emotions
- Sleep education
You have been preparing for a major tournament for over 6 months. Training your body, sleeping well, monitoring your diet, and constantly improving your technical skill. It is competition day and you have had a terrible conflict with your partner, causing you to become angry.
You arrive at the competition venue but cannot get the argument out of your head. You warm up, stretch and listen to some music to take your mind off it. Nothing works. You are agitated, apprehensive, have a high heart rate and tense muscles.
You are unable to manage your thoughts and emotions to focus your attention back to the competition. Subsequently, you lose confidence and start to panic.
A common adversary to excelling in performance is emotion management. Ensuring you allocated time during your 6 month preparation to training your mind and putting plans in place for potential scenarios could have better prepared you for this moment.
Firstly, by actively becoming more self-aware and understanding the triggers that have the potential to influence your focus, you are able to create a management plan to avoid the negative affects of triggers and stay locked in to what is important at the time.
Secondly, because you have developed self-awareness, now you know what can impact your emotions, you have a solid, practiced plan in place which you have developed over time.
You put this plan or these psychological techniques into action and you do not lose your ability to manage your emotions, you do not lose focus, you do not lose confidence and you do not panic. Rather, you remain composed and collected as you have prepared for such an event and continue to perform at an elite level.
There is no one answer to improving the psychological skills of athletes to enable them to perform optimally. Everyone is different. However, in this particular scenario one plan may be:
Use a reflective log over time to note your emotional reactions to certain situations and how you handled them. This allows you to, not only take the time to reflect on what happened, but understand why you felt a certain way about the situation and determine if your reaction was justified or something you could improve on.
Putting in the work and going beyond the call of duty to learn more about the influence of psychology and mental state on performance will propel you forward. Learn different skills necessary for elite performance and the different techniques that you could implement to improve those skills. It’s important to learn the semantics of the technique, not just the description or its benefits.
In this case it may be appropriate for you to learn breathing and attention focus techniques like self-talk, to combat the array of irrelevant emotions, from both a physical (heart rate and muscle tension) and psychological (thoughts, feelings and focus) perspective, heading into competition.
Take time to reflect on worked, what didn’t work, the emotions you felt and their intensity. For example ask yourself:
Was I able to remain calm using the techniques?
What is the evidence for this?
Was I able to focus on my attention on the competition?
What was the evidence for this?
From understanding the efficacy of the techniques you employed, how they helped you and how they did not, you are in a better position to now adapt your approach. Maybe breathing techniques were able to return your heart rate to normal, but didn’t not help the muscle tension. Next time, you might consider educating yourself more on muscle relaxation techniques and integrating this into your psychological training and preparation.
Following this process, you will refine your techniques and arrive at a solid contingency plan that you have in your locker to use when necessary.