As a group, athletes tend to get too caught up in their thoughts before and during their performances. Before hand, they worry about messing up, not coming through in the clutch, what others might say if they lose, getting beaten by a specific opponent, making sure they execute correctly, and the list goes on and on. During the performance, they think about mistakes made, who may be watching and what they might think of them, how nervous they are, what they need to do mechanics or strategy-wise or any of the “what if’s, (what if I choke?, fall apart,? lose?, etc.).”
The bottom line is that athletes regularly tend to over-think. This over thinking is one of the primary factors that generates a ton of performance-disrupting anxiety and stress. The athlete who chokes a lot is the athlete who over-thinks.
So, what to do about all of this noise in your head?
First off, you need to understand that you can’t just stop yourself from thinking. Telling yourself that you’re over-thinking and that you need to just “stop it!” is impossible and simply more thinking. Fighting with yourself over the thoughts is also another form of thinking too much. For example, trying to “be positive” and to crowd out all of the worries and negatives with positives is a futile exercise in over-thinking.
Instead, what you need to learn to do when you find yourself thinking is just calmly observe the thoughts, what I call “the story in your head,” and quickly return your focus to what you are DOING in the MOMENT and what you are SENSING/FEELING in your body as you perform, (This does NOT refer to your emotions).
Do not waste your precious energy engaging in “the story.” Label this as simply “thinking” and then refocus on the task at hand, regardless of how many times you might need to do this. Understand that whenever you are performing or about to perform, there is no place for “the story,” (the thoughts). Thinking is totally irrelevant to peak performance and a very common distraction for athletes. When it’s competition time, your muscle memory has been trained to do its job automatically and this is what you want to trust and go with! So when you notice you’re thinking, try not to engage the thoughts in any way. Instead, calmly and quickly shift your concentration to what you are doing in the NOW.
By training yourself to do this, you will find that you have a much easier time staying cool and calm in the clutch.