Have you ever wondered where an athletes mind goes when they’re at the start of a game or competition? They have a look of focus, a burning desire to finish or win an event, an “eye of the tiger” approach. Do they have something we don’t? Do you look at yourself and think “I am not the competitive type?” Or are you just intimidated by those of us that can tune in to the single minded focus to win. Anyone can tune themselves in to that drive and kick it up a gear, even when they don’t believe they have it in them. You can do it, through a collection simple steps, you can transform your entire performance and accomplish something you never thought possible before.
According to leading sports psychologists Jean Williams and Vikki Krane, there are six different feelings that most athletes have in common when faced with their important moment of performance. Those feelings include an absence of fear, a lack of overthinking, a narrow focus of attention, a sense of effortlessness, a sense of personal control, and a distortion of space and time, particularly in that time seems to slow in the moment of performance. It is because of this research that we are able to identify when we have properly prepared ourselves for a performance moment. If these factors are present in your performance, you are likely going to achieve impressive results or perhaps a new personal best.
The first step in preparing to reach that mindset is repetition, repetition, repetition. Practice makes perfect. You need to build up your neural pathways from brain to muscle, and make sure that this path is so engrained in your system that you are committing to your actions without even thinking about them. Team sports are a perfect example. When a player is travelling down the wing with the ball, looking for their opportunity to score, there are so many variables to account for. Speed of travel, position of other players, space you have, position of the goalie, position of your team mates and time left to commit to your shot or assist and pass on the opportunity. It takes a lot of time to process this information and can leave to you freezing or being taken down without even knowing what happened, unless you practice and prepare.
Positive affirmations are one of the most important practices to take in to consideration. If you can not see or believe yourself achieving, then you are only setting yourself up to fail. When you do something good, tell yourself. Make notes on what you liked about your last practice and plan ahead to how you can introduce something better in to your next practice. Always focus on the positive side, how can you make yourself better? What can be improved? Instead of thinking, “that was crap” or “I’m too slow” or “I’m not strong enough,” try telling yourself “My form was good up till this point,” “my first 5k was really strong.” By speaking negatively, you will only demoralise yourself and that road to being ready for competition starts to look a lot further away.
People underestimate the power of meditation and visualisation. Whether it’s on the field or off, we need to learn how to shut out any distractions and focus on whats at hand. Stop thinking about many tasks at once and focus on your end goal. Whether it’s to win, complete or beat, if you have your mind focused on your final goal, you increase your chances to achieving it. To do that you have to see yourself having already accomplished what you set out to do. What emotions are you feeling? How does your body feel? What are your first thoughts? When you can place yourself in to this way of thinking you will find yourself working harder to actually achieve the real deal. It’s giving yourself that teaser before the big show. You can do it. Feel it and live the life of the person you visualise.
The last objective is a ritual you need to adopt. Every athlete has one. Empower yourself, wake your body up and get yourself excited. Give yourself a 2 minute speech, wear the same lucky underwear, clap your hands 5 times and jump up and down. To every athlete it’s something different. It’s that moment when you flip the switch, and activate every fibre in your body, stimulate every sense and allow a flood of adrenaline and dopamine to take over. The combination of practice and repetition, positive affirmations, visualisation, and creating your own meaningful ritual will prepare you for your final performance. When you’re standing there on the starting line, waiting for the whistle to blow or gun to fire, that is when you’ll know if you are ready.