Training and practice are 90% physical, 10% mental. But during a performance or game-time when it really counts, that ratio gets flipped, and 90% of your success depends on your mental strength and concentration.
What does this mean?
To become a champion you must train like one. Of course that means doing whatever it takes physically to get yourself to the next level. You have to be willing to “pay your physical dues” and there is no substitute for consistent, honest, hard work.
However, once you get to a race/match/performance situation, the physical side of your training becomes much less important. At that point you are not building strength or practicing, instead you are applying all of your skills in the best possible ways, and that is primarily done in your head, not your body.
When the pressure is really ON, what goes on “upstairs” determines whether you soar with the eagles or gobble with the turkeys. Your ability to focus, handle pressure, rebound from mistakes and tough breaks, self-confidence, and mental toughness determine whether your hard work and consistent training will pay off.
In other words, without having a “good head” on your shoulders, you’ll consistently fall short of your goals.
If you go into your big performances HOPING that you’ll run/swim/play fast, then you’re setting yourself up for some heartache and disappointment. If you go into your best event worried about a competitor, dwelling on a previous bad performance, distracted by a poor warm-up or just plain doubting yourself, then you will never rise to your potential.
Do NOT waste all your hard work and training! Do NOT leave your mental toughness to chance. No serious athlete would ever leave his/her physical training to chance. That would be totally foolhardy. So why leave such an equally important component, the mental dimension out of the equation?
In order for you to perform your best when it counts the most you must first develop AWARENESS of what you are currently doing mentally that may very well be slowing you down. Remember, without an awareness of your mental mistakes, you’ll never be able to begin to build mental toughness. AWARENESS IS YOUR KEY TO CHANGE.
The very first thing you should focus on when developing more awareness is your SELF-TALK, or what I call your “INNER COACH”,
Self-talk and inner coaching
Your awareness of the differences in self-talk between your best and worst performances forms a critical first step in being able to “retrain” your “inner coach.” For example, if you know the typical self-talk that always seems to accompany failure, as well as the self-talk that goes with success, then you are in a position to begin to turn the negative around before it leads to another bad performance. Without this awareness, you are doomed to continue to sabotage yourself into not doing your best.
Take a moment now to carefully review your pre- and during race/game self-talk for all your bad performances. These represent the WRONG things to be thinking about. For example, “I have to drop time in this event!” “What if he beats me?” “I had such a terrible warm up.” “I NEVER do well in bad weather.” “What if I don’t make the finals?” are all thoughts that will set you up for failure.
Why? Because these thoughts make you NERVOUS! And nervousness doesn’t just stay in your head, it will tighten your muscles, shallow your breathing, divert blood flow away from your hands and feet, and increase your heart rate and blood pressure, among having other effects, all of which add up to directly affecting your physical performance.
And then what? You guessed it, you can no longer move your body as quickly as you could without the effect of nervousness.
So what can you do to turn this around and eliminate negative self-talk from your mental vocabulary? Well, first, it’s important to know that some amount of nervousness is perfectly normal and can actually be beneficial. Next, you can employ all or some of these tactics:
#1 – keep a negativity log and notice when these unhelpful thoughts creep in. Don’t try to change them into something positive right away, just become more aware of how often they come up, when it happens, and what they are saying. Awareness is the first step.
#2 – start a victory log to balance the negativity. Each time you have a good practice, reach a small milestone, or feel good about your performance or abilities, jot that down and become more aware of how it makes you feel.
#3 – eliminate the “c” word from your mind. I’m talking about COMPARISON. It really doesn’t matter what your competitors or teammates are doing better than you, if you’re processing that as a reason to put yourself down rather than propel you to learn and train more, it’s only hurting you in the end. Focus on what YOU’RE doing instead.
#4 – make “lemonade”. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Challenges and mistakes are going to happen, it’s just part of the process, so when they come up, use them to reframe the situation into something that will uplift you rather than push you down.
When you get in the habit of looking for the solution in the problem, you’ll discover that you get much further as an athlete and individual. Dwelling on problems will always keep you stuck. Reframing these same problems by looking for solutions will get you back into the fast lane again. Examples of reframes:
You are in the middle of a race and starting to hurt big time. Reframe = My body is working perfectly and I’m going fast…keep it up.
The weather is too cold/windy to perform my best. Reframe = Cold water is going to bother my competition more than it does me.
A “big dog” is trying to intimidate you. Reframe = I have a great opportunity to challenge myself now.
You had a disappointing competition. Reframe = I can learn what I did wrong and improve it in the next game/match or race.
#5 – pre-sleep affirmations. An effective way to get more positive thinking engrained into your subconscious is by mentally repeating positive affirmations as you’re falling asleep. Choose one affirmation and repeat it 15-20 times in your head every night – it only works if you do it regularly! An example could be “when I feel the pain, I start to gain” and you can visualize yourself pushing through pain and fatigue and reaching the finish line with great time.
Have you consciously employed more positive self-talk in your mental toughness training? How has it impacted your performance?
Please share in the comments below.