Competing in sport from a young age allows us to become prepared for life itself by continually setting situations that challenge our personality.
As we all know, sport has its moments of glory and of course those days that just seem catastrophic. To compete at a top level in sport it is imperative that the mind become our ally and not a hindrance in the pursuit of gold. In my last column I left you with a basic sports formula, level of skill + physical prep + mental prep = sports performance.
All to often sports coaches concentrate heavily on skills training and physical conditioning which the athletes/players cannot do without, but a huge percentage of them neglect the mental skills portion of the equation.
It’s all to amazing that they seek excellence, but neglect the body’s super computer, the very part of the body that controls every movement, judgement and thought pattern.
Mental skills training is often referred to as psychological skills training, (PST), but regardless of what it is called the objective is the same.
Common questions that would be asked are the following:
What mental skill can I use to improve my performance? How do I cope with the pressure during an important match? How do I “psych out my opponent” during a match and gain a psychological edge?
Further to this how does one relax and deal with the emotions?
Well, as you can imagine, there is no easy answer to any of those questions, but here is a bit of information to assist you in your quest for top honours.
Strangely we use psychological skills in every day life in one way or another and examples of this include simple tasks this like watching television – self hypnosis and taking a bath – autogenic training (relaxation), bearing this in mind the PST concept then becomes a valid one.
PST can be defined as the systemic attempt to apply well-validated mental techniques and approaches to improve levels of performance in sport.
Our thoughts and actions will precede the result in most cases and in applying the ABC formula, A= preceding consequence….B= behaviour….C= consequence/result, we get a little closer to our goal.
In applying this formula we realise that negative thoughts preceding an action will result in a negative result. Therefore:- Positive thoughts preceding an action would result in a positive outcome on a more regular basis.
It is important to use what is known as the best approach, best standing for:-
B= baseline: assess current concentration and consider changes to improve
E=examine: look at the situations and cues that interfere with concentration and improve them.
S-substitute: make the changes needed and evaluate what the effect actually is.
T-test: test the effectiveness of the changes and do they really make a difference.
Peak performance is associated with achieving the “flow” state where everything comes naturally. One needs to be mentally and physically relaxed, feeling confident, focused on the present, energised and very aware. It is important to feel in control and to become detached from external distractions.
Get your state of arousal at the correct level, being under aroused will leave you in a state of apathy and no drive, over arousal can do the opposite and have you so psyched that you make errors of judgement that can result in the opposition gaining an advantage, the correct level of arousal will allow you to be in control, focused and at your most effective.
Your PST approach is personal and to non competitive people, it would probably seem a bit over the top, but I assure you that it is what is required for sporting excellence, so here is an example of ideas that a PST programme could contain.
- Personality-Positive Self Talk
Use cognitive methods constantly in order to maintain a positive mindset, employing the use of constructive affirmations. Keep saying things to yourself like ” I have the power” and “success is mine” etc.
Visualise yourself executing perfect form, exhibiting grace, balance, power and a flawless performance. Do this for training sessions as well as competition. Be sure to make full use of visuo-motor-behaviour rehearsal(VMBR).
- Energy control
Your thoughts affect your body. Positive thoughts will equal positive psychological responses. Avoid getting stressed and learn to employ negative thought stopping techniques. Your training will then develop positive energy. Make full use of music, books and dvd’s to energise yourself via your emotions. Helen Keller defined attitude as follows “keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows”.
Top Level Sport requires being able to gain the edge and where better, than through self-hypnosis. Master the ability of living in the here and now, with your mind being like a wide angle lens that can zoom in, focusing on your task at hand at the correct moment and time. Absolute focus should be your goal. Become centred.
- Stress management
Concentrate on a balance between arousal and relaxation by controlling stress in the way of focusing on positive emotion by going into natural settings like the bush/beach (wildlife), music, positive reading and training.
Create harmony in the mind-body, inducing a somatic state that is positive and conducive to performance. Your cognitive state should be emotionally and positively sound in order to build synergy with your body for heightened levels of performance. Strive to keep your behavioural habits in harmony with the somatic and cognitive factors as much as humanly possible.
Your PST approach should be structured, flexible and consistent. Problems should be diagnosed and dealt with by finding solutions with the following ratio applying – 5% on the problem and 95% on the solution. A scattered mind will only result in scattered results. A focused mind is your only chance to yield a positive outcome.