It is competition season. Working mainly with athletes in individual summer sports means everyone is currently slap bang in the middle of their seasons. While the sports call for very different physical skills many of the issues the athletes are dealing with come down to the same fundamentals prompting me to reflect on some universal tactics used by athletes performing at their very best.
- 80: 20 Training: 80% of your training sessions should feel doable and shouldn’t stretch you too much. They are building fitness and skills. 20% of your training should be pushing you into places you are not sure you can go. These are the adversity sessions which physiologically build your top end performance but most importantly from a psychologist perspective help develop your mental toughness.
- Build lots of little successes: We get our most robust confidence from two areas: knowing we have the skills we need and seeing the evidence of when we have done well before. So in your training find lots of small wins, lots of little things that you can tick off and feel confident you are getting closer towards your goal. That usually means breaking down your goal into the smallest elements possible and achieving each part bit by bit.
- Make as much as possible feel familiar: To reduce our anxieties we need to make the environment we are going into when we perform seem as familiar and welcoming as possible. So training on the course we are going to race on, or practicing at the club our next match is on helps. If crowds make you nervous get some friends and family down to watch a training session. While uncomfortable at that time it will make everything feel much easier come competition day.
- No black and white: If competitions become seen as a win or a fail you will have a miserable time. If you see each competition as an opportunity to learn you can extract far more from each competition, find far more benefits and possibly win along the way.
- Find your motivation first, then support: Having everyone else tell you how good you are is lovely – but it doesn’t give you the intrinsic motivation that is so important to mobilizing your drive to perform. So start with that drive, understand what it is that makes you love your sport, then go out and find others who share that passion to help you improve.
- Control the controllables: There is so much in competition you have no control of. And worrying about those things just wastes the energy you should be putting into your sport. But lots of elements you can control and worrying about those things, and doing something about them, is often what makes your competition successful. Winging it may give you a neat excuse for not doing well but it rarely creates the ideal environment for a successful performance. Instead, meticulous planning so no kit is forgotten, knowledge and having trained specifically for the course ahead and self-awareness to design the right mental strategies will all be beneficial and improve your chances of success.
- Stop focusing on winning: You can rarely control an exact outcome, there are too many variables involved. But you can control the processes you need to follow to be in with the best chance of winning. So focus on the processes, the day to day elements of your sport you will have been working on for years. This keeps you focused, stops you freezing when you realise the big picture of what is at stake and keeps you grounded in good, strong technique. If you get this right the results will follow.