Performance Consistency

Performance Psychologist Chris Pomfret argues that ‘Performance Consistency’ should be the most highly valued goal for all elite athletes and performers.

Performance Consistency Is The Holy Grail of Competitive Sport

Of all Usain Bolt's many achievements, maybe the most impressive was how consistent he was in major competitions.
Very few people understand what Usain Bolt needed to do to get to the top.

With a few notable exceptions there seems to be a ‘HOT or NOT’ element to many sporting performances. Across all sports and levels it is common for great performances to be followed by relatively poor ones. This has generally left participants and onlookers perplexed and asking why and how questions for the rest of the week. How is is possible for these players to play so well one week, then so poorly the next? Why am I only excellent some of the time?

This short article will explore some of the reasons behind Performance Consistency and Inconsistency. I will conclude with a few tips on how to attempt a move towards The Holy Grail of Competitive Sport; Performance Consistency.

The Holy Grail

We call Performance Consistency the Holy Grail because it’s the ultimate sport and performance outcome goal. For non-Monty Python fans the Holy Grail was the cup Christ used at the Last Supper which has been the quest by various pilgrims for centuries.

The Real Holy Grail
The Real Holy Grail

Every athlete knows what it’s like to hit that ‘purple patch’ where everything just seems to click into place. This, of course, is not Performance Consistency as it always comes to end (often a sudden and ugly one). Performance Consistency occurs when you can extend this purple patch to a few weeks, a whole season, or even an entire career.

What Causes Performance Inconsistency?

I would suggest the number one cause of Performance Inconsistency is the overuse or misuse of performance reviews. In particular, athletes and coaches misunderstanding the amount of influence they have on their performance results (outcomes). In its simplest form ‘a performance’ is the consequence of about 25 to 30 areas of effort. One such area of effort might be (should be) Mental Toughness. On top of these areas of effort we also have many less influenceable elements aspects such as genetics.

After a particular performance it’s very common for the performer to ‘assign’ reasons for the result. For example, “I played really well because I have a new coach.” Or “I played poorly because I have been out injured.” This then often leads to doing more of the things that you thought caused the ‘good performance’. You might also do less of that which you believed caused the performance decline. And so begins the Performance Rollercoaster – the very opposite of Performance Consistency. Effort becomes reactive (emotional) rather than premeditated (rational) and up and down you go like a Yo-Yo.

The reality is, you will never know exactly what ingredients went into making up a performance. At best you might be able to develop a hunch that links some elements of effort to some variations in results, with a whole heap of unknowns leftover. Thoughts and beliefs are just that – thoughts and beliefs – and although they can feel incredibly reliable the truth is they are perceptions, not facts. So when you say “the reason why my performance was so great was due to X, Y or Z,” ask yourself if this is a fact or a thought that seems factual. They are very different.

Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail

Instead, plan your effort without factoring in results. Just consider what you believe might be worth spending time on. Spare yourself the distraction of strengths and weaknesses or good and bad. Second, ensure the effort is broken down into very clear categories. Try not to end up with too many of them nor too few. Finally, make sure you ‘buy into’ the 4 laws of effort below.

  • Improvement is never ending. You will never reach a point of mastery and be ‘good enough’ to then move on to something else.
  • The number of ways to improve is unlimited. But the time and resources we have in order to get better are very limited.
  • Improvement is best achieved through the focus on training and practice. This basically boils down to EFFORT.
  • Effort is fundamentally a combination of Quality and Quantity into the areas you are targeting for improvement.

The above article was written by performance psychologist Chris Pomfret in 2019 and updated in 2020. The below article, on the same general topic of Performance Consistency, was written by his colleague David Barracosa. Both psychologists have worked for Condor Performance for almost 10 years and can be contacted by email at info@condorperformance.com.

What Is Performance, Really?

I love jumping online and examining statistics and reading about new ways to understand and analyse the sports we love. There are endless amounts of data available, which are used to evaluate an individual or team’s performances. These statistics are often seen to be of high importance. They are considered factual because they are quantifiable measurements of performance. Comments such as “it’s hard to argue with the numbers” may help me make my point here. Despite my interest in statistics, I intend to challenge these notions from a sport psychology perspective.

In the current sporting climate statistics are used by people involved at all levels. From front office personnel to coaches, players, fans and especially commentators during broadcasts. Due to this saturation of statistical information it becomes difficult for performers to ignore these numbers. This is particularly the case when they are not trending in a direction they are happy with. But what if statistics only painted a narrow view of the story? What if they didn’t portray the bigger picture when it comes to performance?

A Common Mental Conflict

One of the conflicts I have noticed for clients during my time with Condor Performance is the battle between statistics and strategies. Motivated athletes and coaches are keen to monitor their progress in both skill acquisition and skill maintenance. As performance psychologists we encourage this through our version of goal setting and goal getting principles. We are always cautious of being entirely dependant on statistics for feedback. Results (another word for statistics) are only influenceable after all. This means lots of other variables and factors can impact the result or outcome of your performance. Many of these are outside your bubble of responsibility.

When we begin working with our athletes and coaches we often enquire about their goals and expectations. One of the things I notice in these early conversations is that many of the shorter term expectations are based around statistics. Soccer players will talk about scoring a goal or how many chances they create. Basketball players will discuss points, rebounds and assists. Swimmers and runners can put a lot of focus towards completing their race under a certain time. Sporting officials will often determine a game’s quality by the number of errors they made.

Now before I go any further I want to say that goals are important and we are always in favour of people having them. But sporting success is a little like cooking.

Hmmm, Something Smells Good

The goal of cooking is usually to produce a tasty mean or dish. The goal of high performance sport is to produce consistency good performances. The best chefs and home cooks know the key is to focus on the process and high quality ingredients. The best athletes and coaches do exactly the same.

When we become reliant on statistics to measure our performances it can also significantly impact our mental toughness. The uncertain nature of statistics means areas such as our confidence and emotional state can go up and down like a yo-yo. Think of a cricket batter who has recent scores of 24, 4, 14, 1, 43, 3. Or a tennis player who is knocked out in the early rounds of three tournaments in a row. What about a goalkeeper in soccer for a team on a losing streak. Statistics alone paint a certain picture about their performances. However we need to understand more than just the numbers in order to properly evaluate these individuals.

The Problem with Privilege

Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole argues that athletes from less developed nations might have higher levels of organic mental toughness.

One of the greatest aspects of sport is that with a little imagination it can be done for free.
One of the greatest aspects of sport is that with a little imagination it can be done for free

This article, The Problem with Privilege, was first written in 2018 and then updated in 2020.

Given the nature of the internet, I have no idea which country you’re from if you’re reading this article. But, given you can afford a device to access the World Wide Web then it’s reasonable to assume you are not currently below the poverty line.

So I suspect you have probably never considered there to be any downside of being privileged. Well from a Mental Toughness point of view, there can be.

The problem with privilege, especially in younger athletes, is there is less “organic” mental conditioning taking place. By organic I mean the natural way a place produces challenges thus forcing locals to “find a way” to overcome them.

Examples

Many of the best long distance runners of the past fifty years have come from Central or Northern Africa. The simple theory is that as young school kids from Kenya and Ethiopia they had to travel long distances to and from school without any form of transport. So they started running there and back from a young age. Obviously there are tremendous physical benefits to this. But what about the psychological gains due to doing something so hard from such a young age? All of a sudden, a 5000 meter Olympic final isn’t that big a deal. Just another 5 km stretch to be completed as fast as possible!

Mentally Harder Practice

At Condor Performance one of the ways in which we try to overcome this is via what we call Mentally Harder Practice (MHP). If done correctly this mental method can be very effective at boosting mental aspects of performance. No studies yet exist comparing MHP with growing up in a harsh environment. But my guess is that it would reduce the organic mental toughness gap between the first and the third world.

Mentally Harder Practice (MHP) is about doing anything that makes practice psychologically more challenging. I empathise mentally harder as it’s easy to incorrectly assume that physically harder means mentally harder. I recall once asking a high profile Rugby League coach what he did to make practice mental harder. He replied “to make the guys run up sand dunes in 35 degree heat”. I later asked his players about these sand dune drills and more than half said they loved them. If you love it, it’s not mentally harder. In other words MHP is basically manipulating your daily training environment to be less comfortable. On purpose, for your own benefit.

Ideas

One easy way to do some MHP is to play with the thermostat in training. In hot places, instead of cooling down the facility either do nothing or heat it up. Or when it’s freezing cold just let it be that way or cool it down even more!

There are three huge benefits to this type of mental training. I will use the above temperature example to explain. First, it varies training. We know the fastest way to demotivate an athlete is by having the same kind of training week after week. Second, if during an actual competition it was to become much hotter or colder than expected – this mental method will lessen the impact. Finally, MHP helps with two of the five aspects of mental toughness; [handling] emotions and [improving] focus. It helps with emotions as it makes training more emotional. This way you can really put your mental skills (like Mindfulness) to the test. Mentally Harder Practice helps to improve focus in the same way. It is much harder to focus when you’re too hot so you will get a genuine mental work out.

Word Of Warning

A double word of warning before you get too excited and ask your coach to start throwing rotten eggs at you. First, make sure that none of your MHP ideas put you in physical danger and/or increase the risk of injury. Using the example of practising in the cold on purpose. It would be essential to properly warm up your body before such a training session. Second, make sure your ideas don’t put you in psychological danger either. By psychological danger, I mean creating an environment that is so hard it actually causes some kind of long term mental scarring to take place. The safest way to do this is by only adding small mental demands to training. Not dissimilar to increasing the overall weight of a dumbbell slowly in certain physical training exercises to reduce the risk of tearing a muscle.

Reduced Consulting Rates For The Less Privileged

Speaking of privilege – did you know that at Condor Performance we charge less to work 1-on-1 with those from less wealthy countries. Yes, that is correct. Despite the fact that all of our sport psychologists and performance psychologists are from Australia are fees are one third less for certain clients. We use The Big Mac Index each year to work out the 15 most prosperous nations in the world. Sporting and non-sporting clients from these countries pay full rate. For all other clients from the rest of the world we offer a 33% discount.

This has allowed us to work with hundreds of athletes from around the world who would not have been able to afford our full rates. But one country has and is really taking advantage of this like no other; India. That’s right, we work 1-on-1 with more Indian performers than almost any other country. Why? For a start there are 1.3 billions of Indian. Think about that for a second. How many table tennis players in India compared with New Zealand? Next, culturally Indian regard psychology as an essential building blocks to success and happiness. Furthermore, there appears to be very, very few qualified sport psychologists in India. So it should come as no surprise that they look beyond India to work with a performance psychology expert.

The Problem with Privilege was written by legendary sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole. Gareth is one of the psychologists who works for Condor Performance. He can be contacted directly via his email which is gareth@condorperformance.com.

Positive Psychology in Sport and Performance

Are sporting coaches and competitive athletes amongst the more likely to benefit from the principles of positive psychology?

The Positive Psychology Movement is about building on existing strengths

Recently I was cleaning out my filing cabinet and I came across an email from a previous coach of mine. The message contained some feedback on what he felt I needed to improve on after a recent tournament. I scanned through the email and felt a heaviness settle in my stomach.  The emotions came back from the time I first received the email many years ago. The feedback was all negative but phrased as ‘the areas I needed to improve on’.  Comments like ‘you need to do this more’, and ‘in this situation, you need to be doing this’. No traces of Positive Psychology anywhere.

None of the feedback was given to me during the tournament itself. It was all put in an email and sent when we got back and with no follow-up. What I noticed most was that there was no positive feedback at all. After reading his email, I felt unmotivated and deflated. I’m sure this is not what he intended but it’s what happened. Is this type of feedback going to make for better athletes and competitors?

Performance Psychology meets Positive Psychology

A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend the Happiness and Its Causes conference in Perth. I was curious, engaged, and fascinated by the content and the vibe of the conference. During the even I was introduced to Positive Psychology, the science of flourishing. Dr Martin Seligman, one of the main researchers in this branch of psychology, believes that psychological practise should be as concerned with people’s strengths as their weaknesses. Positive psychology asks ‘what’s good in our lives’ compared to the traditional psychology approach which can focus more on ‘what’s wrong with us and how can we fix it’. 

As a performance psychologist, I have always had a passion for helping people thrive in their work and life. So this theory sat well with me and aligned with my values. I started introducing positive psychology initiatives into my work in organisations. Later as my sporting clients grew I felt that they too would gain a lot from some simple positive psychology principles.

Too Much Deficit-Based Coaching

Sport is also often focused on ‘fixing weaknesses and problems’, called deficit-based coaching. How often do you come off the field at half time and a coach says “this is what we need to change because we’re not doing it right.” Strengths-based coaching, on the other hand, is about identifying, enhancing and exploiting athletes’ and teams’ strengths and focusing on what we do well.

Athletes, coaches and sporting organisations generally have the goal of excellence, both on and off the field. By using positive psychology strategies, performance psychologists are able to support athletes, staff and families develop resilience and coping skills in order to deal with setbacks, focus on strengths to achieve their goals. These mental skills are just as vital to success as being able to hit a hockey ball or shoot a basket.  Talent and technical ability is not enough. Whilst important we all can name truly gifted athletes that never make it. 

What sets most athletes apart is their mental toughness. It’s their character, their grit, their positive mindset and the belief that their ability can be developed through dedication and hard work. So what are the key factors of positive psychology that can be applied to sport?

Strengths Focus

Research has demonstrated that it is easier to promote a strength than it is to improve weaknesses and that our areas of greatest potential are our greatest strengths. This is not to say don’t focus on your weaknesses, but the best results will come when you are also working on your strengths.  Research shows that those who use their strengths are more likely to have higher levels of confidence, vitality and energy, are likely to be more resilient, have higher self-esteem, and to perform better. Coaches and athletes are encouraged to know their strengths and the focus of development should be around their strengths. Many coaches have a negativity bias and need to train their brains to focus on the good things their athletes are doing.

The two key elements of a strength-approach are “delivering a high level of performance and experiencing a sense of energy when you are doing it” (Linley, Willars, et al., 2010). Spotting the energy is crucial to distinguish the real strengths from learned behaviours.  So how do you know what your strengths are?  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you love about your sport?
  • What’s your favourite role?
  • Which aspects do you get complimented on?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • How can I harness my strengths?

Growth Mindset and Positive Psychology

In 2006, Carol Dweck introduced us to the notion of growth and fixed mindset. Those with a growth mindset are more comfortable with failure as they see it as a learning opportunity in comparison to those with a fixed mindset who believe their success is based on innate ability and talent. Athletes with a growth mindset are more likely to see challenges as opportunities rather than barriers and believe that they can improve, learn and get better with practice and effort. 

The good news is, we can choose which mindset we want – we can choose to view our mistakes and setbacks as learning opportunities, or we can view them as limiting obstacles. Those choosing a growth mindset are more likely to persist in difficult times than those with fixed mindsets. And athletes know better than anyone, that if you want to achieve success, there are always barriers and obstacles in the way, including poor form, injury and confidence issues.

Positive Emotions

Sport is emotional – for athletes, coaches, and spectators.  Many emotions are felt from elation, excitement and nervousness to fear, sadness, anger and disappointment. Emotions drive behaviour and often dictate how you perform as an athlete in competition. To become a high performing athlete, you need to understand and manage your emotions so they help rather than hinder your performances.

Many people falsely believe that positive psychology only recognises positive aspects of people and their performances, and ignores the negative.  When viewing emotions, both positive and negative are considered, and the impact both these have on an athlete’s performances. Negative emotions like anxiety and anger can trigger our body’s “Fight or Flight” response to threat and these emotions affect our bodies physically. These physical effects can include increased heart rate, nausea, muscle tension, stomach aches, weakened focus, and physically drained. Positive emotions, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. Happiness can relieve tension, lower your heart and blood pressure, strengthen your immune system and help to combat stress. Staying calm, focused and positive can help you attend to what you need to minimise distractions, keeping you relaxed, and increasing your confidence. It also has the added benefit of being a pleasant person to be around!

Grit Theory

Recent research has shown that one of the key factors in success is what is termed as ‘Grit’, defined as passion and perseverance in working toward significant long-term goals. Elite athletes across many sports are grittier compared with non-elite athletes. They also commit to their sports for a longer period of time. This concept pioneered by Dr Angela Duckworth (2007), explains why some people achieve success without being gifted with unique intelligence or talent. So, if you are an athlete or coach who feels like you missed the talent boat, then there is hope for you. How many of you can credit your successes to your passion, commitment, resilience and perseverance? The good news is that you can develop your grit to become grittier. 

Ways To Do This Include:

  • Develop your passion – find what you love doing, and it will be easier to stick to it.  Not many people stick to things they are not passionate about.  Ask yourself, what do I like to think about?  Where does my attention wander?  What do I really care about?
  • Practice deliberately – don’t waste your time at training, practice deliberately.  Set stretch goals, practice with full concentration and effort, seek feedback and reflect on what went well and what didn’t to refine for next time.
  • Consider your purpose – why are you doing what you do?  In life and sport, there are bound to be setbacks and challenges along the way.  If you have a purpose for what you are doing, then you are more likely to persevere and stay committed.  When times are tough, always go back to your ‘why’.
  • Adopt a ‘growth’ mindset – athletes with a growth mindset know their abilities develop through hard work and effort rather than natural talent.  Those with growth mindsets are much better at dealing with setbacks as they view them as learning experiences, rather than being directly related to their ability. 

Grit in Practice

Is it not possible to developed Grit overnight; it is an ongoing process. What we do know is that it’s worth developing – the gritty athlete is not only successful, s/he is also more likely to be happier and more satisfied with his/her ability than other athletes.

The adoption and implementation of positive psychology hs a significant impact on sports performances by shifting the focus from negative (what’s wrong with you) to positive (what’s right with you). 

Understanding your strengths and how to use them, adopting a growth mindset, using your emotions strategically and developing grit all contribute to building mental toughness, optimism, motivation and resilience. I know from firsthand experience how focusing on the positive can have a much greater impact on an athlete and bring out the best in us. 

If you’d like more information about working with me on some of these ideas then get in touch by completing our Contact Us Form here and mention my name (“Mindy”) somewhere in the comments sections and I will call you back.

Positive Psychology Is Not Positive Thinking

The below is an old post from 2014 written by one of the interns at the time (sorry, can’t call which one). It was called The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking. Note, the below was not written by Mindy but it feels like this is the best place to add it.

The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking

It goes without saying that negative thinking can be unhelpful, particularly from a performance perspective. But have you ever considered that the opposite of negative thinking may also be unhelpful? Or even that trying to change how we think in the first place is where the problems lie?

How often do we hear people say that to overcome difficult situations we just need to think positively? Let’s start with a story about how our thoughts influence the way we feel and act.

Three Soccer Players

Imagine three soccer players each taking a penalty kick in a shoot out. They all miss the goal. The first player thinks: “I’ve let the whole team down. I’ll never get selected again.” She gets upset and feels really sad about missing the goal. The second player thinks: “It’s not fair that we had to go to a penalty shoot out! This is all because the referee disallowed our goal in the 88th minute!” This player kicks the ground on their way back to the team and feels angry about missing the goal. The third player thinks: “Well, that didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but overall I had a pretty good game today. I’ll have to practice those spot kicks a bit more in training.” She remains calm on her way back to the team, and even though they feel a bit disappointed about missing the goal.

So why did three people who were in the same situation experience such different cognitive reactions? They all missed the goal, but only the third player coped effectively with this stressful situation. As you may have noticed, these three players all had different thoughts going through their minds after they missed the goal. Their thoughts influenced their emotions (i.e. how they felt) and their behaviour (i.e. how they acted). This story highlights two important points for athletes and coaches to understand:

  1. Our thoughts influence how we feel and act; and
  2. We can’t change the outcome of our performance once it’s in the past, but we can certainly control how we react to this outcome.

Thoughts Influence How We Feel and Act

Over time our thoughts become more consistent and habitual. We develop our own unique way of making sense of situations. This is called our thinking style. There are three distinct styles of thinking. Negative and positive thinking sit at either end of a continuum. They are both extremes, like the colours black and white. Both of these extreme thinking styles have the potential to be unhelpful when it comes to coping with stressful situations. Negative thinking can lead to self-doubt, being hyper critical, blaming others and feeling guilty. Likewise, positive thinking (not grounded in reality) can be equally unhelpful and lead to over-confidence and under-preparation in some athletes and coaches.

This leaves us with the third (and most helpful) thinking style. Realistic Thinking is characterised by the shades of grey that fall between the extremes of negative and positive thinking. As the name suggests, realistic thinking is based on real life – and for most people, life consists of ups and downs rather than “all good” or “all bad” situations. Realistic thinking is a balanced way of thinking that acknowledges limitations or setbacks whilst developing and maximising strengths. Here are a few tips to help you develop a more realistic thinking style:

7 Quick Wins

  1. Evaluate the validity of your thoughts. Don’t just treat them as facts. Try to find supporting evidence for thoughts that enhance your confidence and motivation and refuting evidence for thoughts that undermine your confidence and motivation.
  2. Be careful not to over-generalise after a setback. Just because one shot, tackle, or game wasn’t your best, doesn’t mean that every performance in the future will be the same.
  3. Focus on the controllables – What you are thinking and doing in the present moment. You can’t change the past, and the only way you can influence your future is by how you manage the present.
  4. If your mind starts focusing on a worst case scenario, ask yourself “How likely is it that this scenario will actually come true?” and “Will the consequences be as bad as I’m predicting?”
  5. Try not to use extreme words in your thinking, such as “should,” “must,” “always,” and “never.” These words lead to athletes and coaches putting unnecessary pressure on themselves. Think about what is reasonable rather than ideal.
  6. Work with supportive people around you (i.e. coach, family, team mates, psychologist) to develop realistic performance goals. Expectations need to be in line with capabilities and logistics in order for goals to be achievable.
  7. Accept that things sometimes don’t go according to plan and sport can be unpredictable and unfair. Use these stressful experiences as an opportunity to learn and build resilience for the future.

Sport Psychology for Soccer

Sport Psychology for Soccer (Association Football) is an insightful blog post by sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole from Condor Performance

Sport Psychology for Soccer
Sport Psychology for Soccer

Before jumping head first into some of the many aspects that could come under the banner ‘Sport Psychology for Soccer‘ let’s first establish some facts. First of all soccer is also known as football, the preferred term outside of the USA. This paragraph from Quora explains it best:

The correct full name of the sport still is Association FootballSoccer is a nickname and is seldom used outside of the US. Neither is wrong, but Football (or Fútbol, or Futebol, or all the other forms of the word) is the world-wide popular name of the sport.

Actually, as a former goalkeeper, I prefer the term Soccer. In my playing days, the “ball” rarely came into contact with my “foot”. To pass the ball to my teammates I would almost always throw the ball out.

The term soccer, therefore, doesn’t discriminate against goalies in the same way that the name football does. It also makes a lot of sense to have a label that can’t be confused with other sports. Here in Australia, for example, the term football can refer to one of four totally different team sports. But if you tell someone you’re a, say, soccer referee, there is no chance they’ll think you officiate rugby league games.

The second fact is how dominate soccer is as the world’s most popular sport. At last count, there were 265 million registered players worldwide. No other sport comes close to this, see PDF below by Fifa.

Sport Psychology is Not Mental Health For Sport

As current and past clients of ours will know when we use the term sport psychology we really mean it. By this I mean we are referring to the psychology of sports. The mental aspects involved in both training for that sport and competing as well. So in simple terms sport psychology for soccer (or soccer psychology) is mainly about the psychological aspects of training for and the competing in competitive soccer matches.

This is not to imply that mental health is not linked with optimal performance in soccer or any other sport for that matter. Quite the opposite in fact. As sport psychologists and performance psychologists we do a lot of work assisting our sporting clients with their mental health. We do this because a) we can as registered psychologists and b) we know that it assists with both off-field and field areas. But when we’re assisting a soccer player with clinical depression (for example) this is more counseling that pure sport psychology.

Sport Psychology for Soccer – Training

As is very clearly explained in our online, self guided Mental Toughness Training course (Metuf) we want to have contrasting mindset for soccer practice versus actual matches. For training, we want our minds to be on the concept of constant improvement through high-quality effort. Actually, through the right amount of high-quality effort to be more precise. Furthermore, we want our training to be spread across four different areas – two below the neck and two above the neck.

Sport Psychology for Soccer – Match Day

Unlike in training when it’s normal to be trying our hardest, for matches we are better off just being as relaxed as possible. Having a Relaxed Competition Mindset is one of the key aspects of match day mental toughness. One of the best ways to actually develop a Relaxed Competition Mindset is by targeting the hour or three before you start the whistle. This blog post from 2019 goes into a lot more detail about how you can develop a Pre Game Routine.


If you’d like our help with any mental aspects of what you do then below are few ways to contact us:


Post Sporting Career Depression (PSCD)

Post Sporting Career Depression (PSCD) is common and it’s not going away. Performance psychologist David Barracosa looks into this issue.

Post Sporting Career Depression is very common
Post Sporting Career Depression is very common amongst elite athletes

The processes and challenges of adjusting to life after sport for elite athletes is starting to get some limelight. These issues were highlighted in a 2017 episode of 4 Corners called After The Game that is really worth watching. The episode made it clear that vast improvements are needed in this space. Not only during the period after retirement, but also with athletes during their career in order to prepare them for the inevitable. Yes, that’s right all sporting careers will come to an end. But not all athletes will suffer from what we call Post Sporting Career Depression (PSCD). Unlike other depressions that can follow events such as birth (Post Natal Depression) PSCD is yet to be officially recognised.

Juggling Life and Sporting Goals

Elite athletes often struggle with the juggling act between their sport and their life. How much time and energy for sporting goals versus the years following “the glory days”. This is a common concern for anyone chasing a significant and challenging goal, not just athletes. Think about the young medical intern who also has small children at home.

As sport and performance psychologists we often assist our client with this very delicate balancing act.

When setting goals it can be a good idea to make them more holistic rather than just focusing on sport. So, instead of “to sign a professional contract with an EPL club” it might be more meaningful to target “life satisfaction” for example. After all it’s likely that these sporting goals are being targeted as a means to be happy.

Sporting Successful Without Happiness is Not A Win

We are in no way ignoring the importance of an individual’s sporting goals. But maybe these achievements are better “KPIs” to be reviewed. To ensure that progress is made and is leading towards life satisfaction or happiness. This is a valuable adjustment because it acknowledges that sport is a key contributor to your overall well being. But it also asks the question of what else contributes to this experience. Examples of other KPIs might be improving health, building stronger relationships. Or even the concept of TOTIWBEA.

The Other Thing I Want to Be Excellent At

TOTIWBEA stands for The Other Thing I Want to Be Excellent At and it can be anything you want it to be. It can be another sport, an alternate career, pathway of education, relationship, or anything else you can come up with. The reason it’s so important is that it prevents an athlete or coach from being defined solely by their sport. This is dangerous because when the sport is gone, so to is an individual’s identity unless they have other meaningful areas in their life.

To use an old cliche, we simply don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.

Unknown

The balance that can be created through a pursuit of TOTIWBEA can be critical to on-field performance. People who have multiple passions and gain meaning from different areas are less likely to be significantly impacted by pressures from one of these areas.

Think about it for a second. If you are a cricketer who only has cricket in your life how will you feel during a ‘form slump’ compared with a more balanced teammate going through the same?

Or you are struck down by injury or are on the cusp of being dropped from the first team? And sport is the sole focus and contributor to your well being? The stress of this is going to have a more significant impact than on an individual who places importance on building relationships or their pursuit of education.

These other areas can provide support and structure for you to manage the stress while still moving in a positive direction in your life. A lot of people do have these other areas but if they aren’t given the recognition or highlighted as important then their benefits can be missed.

Off Field Areas Impacting On Field Performances

Another factor linked to on-field performance is stress. Stress experienced through a lack of balance can impact on an athlete’s quality and quantity of effort. What we tend to notice in individuals is that when their stress becomes significant their training output drops. When this happens they start to increase the quantity that they are putting in to make up the difference. This unfortunately leaves less time for the other areas of their life. This creates further imbalance and makes it more difficult to achieve satisfaction in these other meaningful domains. It’s a classic viscous cycle.

The final suggestion about managing this important area of an athlete’s performance is not for them but actually for coaches, administrators and potentially other psychologists. While our role is to help athletes work towards creating the best opportunities to achieve their sporting goals, we can’t ignore the fact that it is not forever. In a lot of sports, playing professionally at 40 years of age is an anomaly. There a lot of years post-retirement for an athlete to continue to have a meaningful life. We need to have honest conversations and point out the importance of balance because this may be lost for an athlete in their pursuit of excellence. They aren’t easy conversations, but they may prove to be the most important.

If you’d like to email me personally regarding any of the above or any other performance psychology topic then feel free to do so at david@condorperformance.com and I will try to reply as quickly as possible. Cheers, David.

Please note that this post was originally published in 2017 but was recently updated and improved. Since then an amazing book called Range by David Epstein has been published which I’d highly recommend.

Time Management for Elite Athletes

Time management is one of the most useful starting points for athletes and coaches looking to take their performance to the next level.

Time management
Time management – A Key Mental Skill for All Performers

Time Management 101

Try to answer all these time management questions as quickly as possible. How many hours in a day? How many days in a week? Now, how many days in a year? And how many weeks in a year? Finally, how many hours in a week?

I suspect you were going along fine until the final question, correct? Most people instinctively know the answer to the first four questions but have to work out the answer to the final question.

Yet, I am of the view it’s the most useful number from a time management point of view. The answer of course, is 168. 168 is the number of hours in a week (24 multiplied by 7). Last week, this week and next week will all have this in common. Your week and my week contain exactly this number of hours each. We all have this number in common and it acts as a great leveller in the pursuit of constant improvement.

The most successful athletes and the ones trying to knock them off their perch all are blessed with 168 hours per calendar week. When helping my sporting clients with their time management I almost always start with an analysis of their 168 hours.

168 Hours A Week – Start From There

To start with, what you’re probably most interested in – improving your results – is only something you can influence. You can not control (guarantee) your outcomes and achievements. Nor can anyone else.

To increase the chances of reaching our goals we’d want to shift our attention towards highly influenceable stuff. For example, how we might use our time in the coming day, week or month.

Past effort and actions (for example, how hard we tried during this morning’s gym session) are results. They have become outcomes that can’t be changed unless you are the owner of a time machine. Furthermore, future effort and actions (for example, what you plan to do by way of meditation when the season starts next month) are only a little influenceable. In other words, you can plan, research and practice now but this doesn’t guarantee anything for later.

In other words how you decide to use your 168 hours each week is one of the most influenceable aspects you’ll ever come across.

Record Your Baseline

One of the best places to start from a time management point of view is to spend a whole week simply recording your actions. A basic 24 x 7 table is just fine. Ideally, leave judgment words off the page (or file) so that it purely states what you were doing during that time. For example, rather than recording the word ‘nothing’ during the time you were chilling out over the weekend you’d write ‘relaxing’ or ‘reading’ or whatever the observable action was. Also, try and record the start and end times of the actions and do so as you go rather than at the end of each day where your memory will limit you.

This exercise typically has a major benefit right off the bat. It will increase your awareness and therefore start to help you in becoming more purposeful. Being more aware and purposeful are two of the more underrated mindsets of performance excellence.

But you can use this data for a lot more than simply increasing the awareness and intentionality of your current time. You can use it to influence your future time too.

Quantity And Quality are Different

The best way to do this is via an analysis of the quantity and quality of your current time – the time you recorded. It is essential that you consider quantity and quality as separate – because they are. Start with quantity as it’s simpler. Using categories such as sleeping, physical preparation, mental preparation, for example, calculate the amount of time you spent on each according to your data collection (not memory).

If you do this properly then the total of this calculation will be exactly 168 hours. When the number comes out to less than 168 hours you have missed something. If it’s more than 168 hours then let me know as you’ve increased the amount of time available in a week and we’ll make a billion dollars together!

Some of my sporting clients when I have asked them to do this have enjoyed converting these time tallies into percentages by dividing the number of hours by 1.68. For example, if there was a total of 52 hours of sleep across the seven days then this means that 31% of that week was spent asleep.

Next, it’s the turn of quality. The simplest way to question the quality of time is by considering how many things you were trying to do as once with one being the ideal (more than one being the biggest indicator of poor quality time).

Multitasking Is Overrated

Multitasking (or being a multitasker) is seriously overrated. The science is clear now, the best way to do a poor job of a task is to combine it with another task (or tasks). You can also have a think about how present you were during the activities. The more present and engaged the higher the quality is likely to be.

Multitasking (or being a multitasker) is seriously overrated.

Every parent will know this full and well. Being with your kids whilst also trying to reply to some emails is just never going to have the same quality as really being with them (with the laptop closed and out the way).

Finally, consider if the blocks of time were on purpose or by accident. For example, watching some television intentionally would be regarded as a much higher quality activity compared with doing the same thing by accident – because there was nothing else to do.

The final part is to really ask the hard question. Do I want my time moving forward to be the same as it is at the moment in terms of quality and quantity?

Failure To Plan is Planning to Fail

And if not, try and adjust accordingly. For example, if you regard becoming mentally stronger as an important part of your goals and yet your mental preparation is only 1% of your time at the moment then you might like to try and see if you can boost this to 5% for future weeks.

For many of my clients and myself included the future plan is enough. I don’t actually tally the time moving forward I just try to stick to the new regime as best I can. This typically prevents the ugly side of time management taking place whereby the plan becomes a major source of guilt and frustration.

If you’re part of a team and looking for some group Time Managment a grab website is TeamUp.

Would Your Like Some Help?

All of the psychologists who work for Condor Performance use time management techniques on themselves. Furthermore, we are very experienced at showing others how to improve their time management abilities. If you’d like help with this or any other mental aspect please reach out via our contact us form here.

Sport Psychology Tips

Some Free Sport Psychology Tips to help you perform better by leading performance psychologist David Barracosa of Condor Performance

26 Free Sport Psychology Ideas

An A to Z Guide To SportsPsychology

Although sport psychology can be a complex and quickly evolving field it can still allow for some “quick wins”. With this in mind please enjoy these Sport Psychology Tips and don’t forget to add your comments below!

A is for Attitude

It may be surprising but in our work, as sport and performance psychologists we actually don’t refer to attitude much. Attitude is just one of many type of human cognition. When a coach refers to an athlete as having ‘the right attitude’ he or she is probably suggesting that this athlete’s values and beliefs are in line with their own.

For example, both might regard sporting results as important but not as important as hard work and effort. The most interesting aspect of attitude is it is often assessed via observations (a coach watching an athlete in training). Due to this it is probably body language that is actually being appraised. Attitude, if we take the term literally, is not directly observable as it’s occurring inside the mind.

B is for Body Language

Body language is a fascinating area of performance psychology. Research suggests that it dominates how we communicate compared with the actual words we use. In sporting contexts, this makes even more sense as it is quite normal for there to be little or no verbal communication. With maybe the exception of the captains or leaders of sporting teams, most athletes of most sports don’t say very much during both training and whilst competing.

For this majority, communicating with either teammates or opponents is taking place via the body. By the body, we mean entire body from facial expressions to posture to hand gestures and everything in between. How do you improve body language? I would suggest starting out by filming yourself in a variety of situations and then watch it back with the sound off.

C is for Consistency

Sometimes we refer to consistency as ‘the holy grail’ of competitive sport. As can be read in this extensive blog by our colleague Chris Pomfret improved consistency is really just the consequence of taking the mental side of your sport seriously.

D is for Determination

Determination is very similar to the mental concept as motivation without being a synonym. Motivation, at least as defined by our coaching philosophy Metuf, is more about enthusiasm, enjoyment, desire and dreams. Determination might be a good word to refer to the actions we continue with during times in which the enthusiasm for our sport is not there. One of the most common examples of this is when the scoreboard is not in your favour (no way to win with time remaining). Yet, despite this you decide to preservative anyway. This is a great example of sporting determination.

E is for Enjoyment

The enjoyment we’re referring to in this instance is the kind that most kids tend to have towards their sport before it becomes ‘serious’. The fun of chasing the ball more than getting to it first. The issue is, this enjoyment tends to dissipate once the stakes increase. Far too many sporting coaches become far too intense during competitions due to a lack of sport psychology training during their accreditation. This is one of the many reasons why we have always wanted to work 1-on-1 with sporting coaches.

F is for Focus 

Learning to improve focus is actually one of the easier mental skills. It really boils down to knowing when and how to switch on – and then practising this like any other skill. There are many great examples of how to do this but amongst the most effective are the short performance routines that I wrote about in our last blog article. I say easier in comparison to various other mental skills which although very effective can be somewhat critic in nature.

There is no getting away from the fact that training the mind is always going to be a trickier mountain to climb due to the investable nature of what we’re targeting for improvement. For example, areas such as focus.

G is for Grit 

Grit is a term which has gained a lot of momentum recently due mainly to the works of Angela Duckworth (see YouTube video below). Grit is defined via it’s Wikipedia page as a “…non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective). This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie on the path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realisation. Distinct but commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include “perseverance”, “hardiness“, “resilience“, “ambition”, “need for achievement” and “conscientiousness“.

Our monthly clients, as well as long-time readers of the Mental Toughness Digest, will rightly feel that many of these words – perseverance, effort, ambition are very familiar to them as they are cornerstone concepts of Metuf.

H is for Hard Work

There is simply no substitute for hard work. 

I is for Influence

Knowing the amount of influence you have on some of the more common aspects of your sport (or performance areas) is mighty useful. A great little exercise you can do is to start a simple three-column table. The heading of the first column is ‘Lots of Influence’, for the second write “Some Influence” and for the final one label it “Little Influence”.

Now start to fill in the table with whatever comes to mind. For example, you might be spending a lot of time thinking about an upcoming competition combined with memories of how you did at the same venue last year. So you might decide to put the Future in the middle column and the Past in the right-hand column – for instance.

J is for Junior Sport

If I were in charge of sport in a particular state or country I would flip funding so that the vast majority of recourses went into the junior or developmental side of sports. In other words, the best coaches, equipment and facilities normally only accessible to the top 0.1% of athletes would be diverted to athletes under the age of 16.

For example, those regarded as the very best coaches – like Wayne Bennett in rugby league – would be invited to coach junior rugby league players instead. I would make sure that whatever position was created for this had the same or greater salary as top-flight professional coaches.

K is for Keeping Going

Maybe the most powerful cue words in sport. Your mind will virtually always quit on you before your body does. Tell it to Keep Going and see what happens.

L is for Learning

There is a reason why some of the very best sporting coaches of all time – for example, Jake White – are formers teachers. They treat the process of performance enhancement as one long learning experience for both themselves and their players. The most appealing aspect of this angle is that poor performances are used as learning opportunities. Errors, for example, are considered as invaluable elements of feedback – data that can be used to inform better choices moving forward. 

M is for Monitoring

If you are not monitoring at least one aspect of your endeavours you’re missing out. At Condor Performance we encourage our sporting and non-sporting clients to record one or more “monthly checks”. As can be read in detail from this recent blog post these monthly checks are like our key performance indicators. As long as you know the right number of monthly checks to monitor (not too many) and the amount of influence you have on each of these results (not as much as you think) there is zero downsides to this kind of self-monitoring and plenty of upsides.


N is for Numbers

Whether you like it or not competitive sport – especially at the elite level – is full of numbers. In fact certain sports, like cricket and baseball are so mathematical in nature that the coaches of these sports would be forgiven for thinking of themselves more like statisticians from time to time. This is one of the reasons why we encourage our monthly clients to monitor their own progress – to allow them to function, even thrive in a results-oriented world. The other reasons have already been mentioned above in the M for monitoring.

O is for Objectivity

Both the M and the N above help with objectively but alone might not be enough. Objectively is roughly the opposite of subjectively with the latter being heavy on opinions with the former much more based on facts. For example, it’s quite normal for athletes and coaches to assess past performances based mostly (or only) on memory or even worse, based on the final result. This is highly subjective and a bit like any human pursuit we’d want to be careful about how much of our analysis is subjective. Objective analysis – for example, the number of missed tackles –  will be more valuable as the numbers don’t lie.

Actually, this is not true – numbers can lie but are less likely to do so than opinions.

P is for Pressure

‘Pressure’ is one of the most fascinating aspects of sports psychology. For a start, it’s 100% internal – it’s a feeling with very real physiological sensations – a little bit like hunger. Because it’s going on inside it’s less tangible and therefore harder to manage. To start with, it’s really important not to consider pressure as being good or bad. Let me use hunger to explain. Hunger, for most of us, is simply a signal for us to go an eat something. Once we do, the hunger goes away. The food that alleviates the hunger that is pressure is practice. That’s right, high-quality practice is like a pile of organic veggies.

Of course, there is also a benefit to learning to deal with hunger/pressure in case there is no food/practice available. By far the best way to do this – in my opinion – is to work with a qualified sport/performance psychologist like one of the members of our team.

Q is for Quantity and Quality

This is how we break down practice or effort. Quantity is ‘how much’ and wants to be in the right amount. Quality is how good and wants to be as high as possible. We often find it useful to multiply these together. For example, if the highest score for each is 10 then combined the highest score is 100.

What number did your last training session get?

R is for Routines

See my recent blog post for a full break down on routines.

S is for Stigma

There are still a huge number of people out there whose beliefs about what sports psychologists or performance psychologists do get in the way of us being able to help them. The stigma comes from the word ‘psychologist’ which too many people still associate with having some kind of mental problem. The general premise of working with a psychologist being a sign of weakness needs to be broken. A band-aid solution to this is to refer to ourselves as a coach or performance coaches or mental skills trainers instead. The issue with this is it doesn’t help to remove the stigma. Also, it seems a pity not to be able to use the title psychologist that took us seven or so years to earn.

T is for Time Management

Being able to manage your own time, your needs and your wants is one of the most underrated of all mental skills. I work with a LOT of young elite athletes (teenagers on track to be the world’s best in their chosen sport) and on the whole, they come to me with either poor or non-existent time management skills. Sometimes, a simple suggestion like buying a $5 diary to start recording upcoming commitments can do wonders in terms of accountability, planning, knowing when to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to invitations and moving their mindset more towards effort and further from results. For more on Time Managment see this separate post.

U is for Unity

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve the team unity of your team then watch the Unity video from the Metuf online program by clicking here.

V is for Values and W is for Why

Our values and beliefs guide our thoughts so if you’d like to update your daily thought processes then it can be a good idea to think about your values. By values, we really mean what you consider to be valuable or important. A nice little exercise to get the ball rolling is to simply list everything you consider to be important in your life and why. For example, you might write ‘8 hours of sleep a night’ and follow that with ‘because it helps me get the most of various training sessions the following day’. The ‘why’ part is very important as this links our endeavours to our internal motivation.

X is for eXcellence

Are you striving for excellence? Do you want to become excellent at what you do? How would you define and measure excellence? Is your training excellence? Do you know how to increase your chances of becoming the best possible athlete or coach you can be? If not get in touch and we’ll lend you a hand.

Y is for Yourself

One of the best ways of helping others is to look after yourself first.

Z is for Zest

Zest is one of the traits that we look for when we are interviewing psychologists looking to join our team of sport and performance psychologists. Do they have a passion for sports and helping athletes and coaches become better versions of themselves? If not, getting up at 5 am to deliver a Skype session to a monthly client from another country might just prove to be too hard.

Decision Making In Sport

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole looks at the often overlooked role that decision making plays in the outcome of sporting contests.

Decision Making in Sport
Decision Making in Sport

One of the core concepts of our Metuf model is that we break “performance preparation” down into five parts. There is some debate about the pros and cons of separating performance like this. After all, they’re all related to one another. For example it takes a certain level of motivation – a mental state – to improve muscle strength – a physical component. Our argument is that if you focus on each part as a separate entity then any “crossover” benefit that rubs off onto another area is a bonus to your improvement. Whereas lumping them all together can result in incorrectly assuming you’re doing more than you are. Decision making in sport is a great example of this. In my experience ‘in the trenches’ as a sport psychologist for the last 15 years decision making is rarely targeted by itself.

Specificity is Special

I often tell the anecdote of the coach who once told me he used to get his players to run up sand dunes in extreme temperatures in order (in his mind) to improve their mental toughness. Risky, risky, risky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some nice mental benefits of doing this (the most obvious to come to mind is an improvement in the confidence of being able to ensure extreme conditions while exhausted) but that’s a very, very small part of good mental performance.

Those familiar with our Metuf model will know that we use an analogy of the competitive athlete being like a 4 engines aeroplane. In this analogy, the actual main body of the plane is like health and wellbeing. Attached to this are the four engines. Each of which is a key aspects of sports performance. The two on the left wing are ‘below the neck’ in Technical Wisdom and Physical Capabilities. To two on the right wing are ‘above the neck’. They are Mental Toughness and Tactical Wisdom.

Tactical Wisdom is Decision Making in Sport Contexts

Recently a number of our 1-on-1 clients have been asking us for more and more input into their Tactical Wisdom. ‘TW’ is very tricky as in theory it’s entirely mental yet the coaching of these “in the moment” decisions is, and always wants to be, the domain of sporting coaches not a sport psychologists. This is one of the many reasons why it makes so much sense for us to work more directly with coaches.

I’m going to use two examples from different sports here to emphasise my point. First, the decision faced by a golfer whether to “lay up” short of a creek located just before the green or “go for it” by attempting to hit the ball directly over the creek onto the green. Second, the decision by a striker in football (soccer) when near the penalty area to “have a shot” or pass the ball to a teammate.

Risk Versus Reward

Both of these scenarios have what we call a “risk and reward” assessment to them. None of the four options mentioned are obviously terrible and therefore the goal is to train your mind to “make the best decision according to the specifics competitive situation”. Most decision making errors take place when the emotion of the moment trumps the competition situation. Here’s a clue about how to not let that happen (and yes, it requires a bit of hard work).

First, you’re much more likely to make an unemotional decision if it’s a scenario that’s been “mapped out” already. The more often it’s been mentally rehearsed beforehand, the better. This is best done by what we call the “If Blank Then Blank” exercise. Let’s go back to our two examples above.

Although there might seem like an overwhelming number of scenarios, if you really think about it there are probably only half a dozen or so. For example:

“If stroke play then lay up”.

“If match play then go for green”.

But maybe that’s too simple so these might be better:

If stroke play and a par 5 then lay up”.

If stroke play and windy then lay up”.

If stroke play and leading then lay up”.

If stroke play and less than 3 shots within the lead then lay up”.

If any another situation then go for the green”.

And for the other example, the footballer:

“If ball is on / near my right foot with no defender near then shoot”.

“If any other scenario then pass”

If Blank Then Blank”

Human brains are remarkable at learning these “If Blank Then Blank” right from when we’re newborns. Think about it; “If hungry then cry”. And it carries on all the way to adulthood. “If red or amber light then slow down and stop”. Certain commentators have and continue to object to the fact that this exercise appears to bring “thinking” into what really want to be instinctive actions.

Our answer to this is simple. There’s no escaping the fact that certain moments in certain sports require a lot of decision making. The “If Blank Then Blank” exercise simply decreases the chances of a brain explosion while under pressure. In our experience, the greatest benefit of this is the reduction of one of performance excellence’s biggest threats – indecision.

I’m not sure if I’m taking the word too literally but indecision means a slowing of a decision due to being “in the decision”. Basically the decision making process (risk versus reward) is taking longer as it’s new.

In fact, indecision is so damaging to performance it would be fair to say that you’re better off making the wrong decision quickly and with confidence rather than the right one slowly and full of self-doubt.

Gareth J. Mole (sport psychologist)

If you’d some help to improve the decision making aspects of what you do please contact us by filling in this form. We typically reply in less than 24 hours.

Getting Into The Zone

Getting Into The Zone is something that sport psychologists have been helping athletes with for more than 50 years now

What, Or Where, Is The Zone?

Competing in sport, or even coaching it, brings with it a variety of emotions and mental experiences. Rightly or wrongly the positive ones have often been referred to as ‘the zone’. It’s not uncommon for athletes to say “I was in the zone today”. One of the more common requests we get is “can you help me get into the zone”?

The Zone and its cousin Flow are both describing a kind of effortless optimal performance. For both our internal process are not getting in the way of us being able to execute our skills to the best of our abilities.

These same internal experiences more commonly create barriers to effective performance. They can test an individual’s mental toughness by challenging their ability to self-regulate and manage these experiences constructively. Note the idea of “self-regulation” because we want our clients to develop the skills to do this on their own. Relying on others (which includes us as their performance psychologist) for this is a short term solution only.

Self Regulation is Psychbabble for Managing Your Emotions Yourself

The widely used Yerkes-Dodson Inverted U Stress Curve used to suggest that we should try and always be somewhat aroused. In other words, some nerves are better than no nerves before or during pressure situations.

This theory has two major flaws. Firstly, it overplays the role that emotions play in optimal performance. It incorrectly implies that athletes need to be feeling a certain way to perform at their best. We know this not to be true now. Both scientific and anecdotal evidence confirms that humans are quite capable of being excellent across a huge range of emotions. Secondly, the Yerkes-Dodson model suggests it’s bad to be too relaxed before you compete. This is BS. Unless you’re asleep and miss the opening whistle there is no downside to being very relaxed. In fact, if you decide to work 1-on-1 with one of our sport psychologists or performance psychologists then it’s likely they’ll introduce you to what we called the Relaxed Competition Mindset.

The Relaxed Competition Mindset

One way to begin to develop a Relaxed Competition Mindset is to understand the Zones of Awareness. These zones suggest that we can attend to information through three different zones. Zone One is an inner zone (physiological sensations). Zone Two is the middle zone (thoughts) and Zone Three is the outer zone (the five senses). When we are functioning well and coping with our situation, our awareness across these zones is balanced. This allows us to respond very effectively and efficiently. This is mighty useful in high-pressure situations because maintaining a balanced awareness means we can respond quickly to stimuli. In other words, we can maintain good levels of focus during perceived chaos.

When we find ourselves getting too caught up in one of the zones we can lose this balance. With this, our abilities can be impaired and we can experience distress, reducing the opportunity for optimal performance.

Being Outside Of The Zone

While each person is different, the way we respond to adversity can actually be quite universal. In such situations, people tend to become much more aware of their self-talk as well as their physiological state. “Oh my, I can actually feel my heart racing” for example.

When we first notice our thinking or physiology shifting in an unhelpful manner, using strategies such as mindfulness can prove effective.

When these experiences become too intense, trying to challenge our thoughts or become more aware of our body can be like we are putting fuel on an already burning fire. This is where the third zone (the outer zone) can become useful in helping us to manage.

The Five Senses

For touch, individuals competing outdoors might consider pulling out some of the grass from the field. Or tightly gripping a towel and noticing the feeling. What about taste? Eating as part of a pre-match routine can help but instead of quickly consuming the food, notice the flavours more. For each mouthful or while chewing gum, try to notice the release of flavour with each bite. With the sense of smell, noticing any smells in our environment such as muscle rub creams. For sight, individuals may ask themselves how many colours can they notice around them. Or how many people can they count wearing hats? For hearing, listening to music as part of a pre-match routine can really help get your head out of the way.

It’s Also A Matter of Timing

It should be noted that we don’t want to be considering these things while trying to execute skills. In other words, the majority of the Relaxed Competition Mindset work is down before we start competing.

Ultimately, that’s the key. We want to be able to shift our attention and focus where necessary to restore balance and composure to your internal state. In doing so, we remove some internal barriers to performance, which puts us in a position to meet our performance potential.


If you’d like our help Getting Into The Zone then below are few ways to contact us:

Tennis Psychology

Tennis Psychology refers to tennis-specific motivation, emotions, thoughts and focus as well as tactics and on-court decision making.

Tennis Psychology
Tennis Psychology – The Great Ones Take It Very Seriously

We are slowly moving towards a set of values that basically replaces sports psychology with the sport-specific versions. In other words, golf psychology, tennis psychology, ballet psychology etc replacing sport and performance psychology.

In doing so we’re not treating sports as being psychologically all the same, or even that similar to be honest. If you’re a traditionalist reading this then a) relax – read one b) excellent, our SEO endeavours must be working and c) we are not talking about mental health in the context of the sport here we’re referring only the psychological aspects of playing or competing in that sport. 

Tennis Psychology Is Not Wellbeing Within The Tennis Community

So tennis psychology is not the discipline applicable when working with a tennis player who has crippling bipolar disorder. Rather the field of tennis psychology is what helps tennis players and coaches improve mental aspects directly related to tennis.

Plug Alert: Of course the psychologists who consult for Condor Performance can and do assist with both of the above. In other words we help with wellbeing as well as sporting mental toughness. For more on why it’s useful to keep these two “mentals” apart then read this blog post here.

Tennis is, of course, most commonly played one versus one. Therefore the M, E, T and the F from Metuf are all essential parts of tennis psychology. But the U – which stands for Unity – is not irrelevant either due to the fact that many tennis players play doubles and/or team-based competitions (such as the Fed Cup and David Cup).

In fact, it’s interesting to observe the tennis career of Australia’s Sam Stosur who despite having a reputation for being a little mentally vulnerable as a singles players is one of the world’s best doubles and team players. If you factor in the U as being a part of the best definition of mental toughness is would be hard to say that SS doesn’t have a strong mental game.

The Big Four of Tennis Psychology

But the real clues when it comes to being mentally the best on court relate to The Big Four mental aspects of sports:

  • Motivation; In many ways the core of mental toughness and overall performance. When you improve your enthusiasm, passion, desire every aspect of your tennis benefits.
  • Emotions; John McEnroe would have won a lot more than seven Grand Slams has he worked on managing his emotions.
  • Thoughts; Learning to think more about the areas that you have a lot of influence over will have a huge impact on your tennis psychology.
  • Focus; Do you have a pre-point routine that allows you to refocus before the start of each point? If not then get in touch and we’ll show you how.

Tennis Psychology Includes Tactics

And let’s not forget decision making here. Very few sports have the same amount of decision-making requirements compared with tennis.

So when we refer to someone like RF as being the best of all time what we’re actually saying is he’s worked out a way to become really, really good at the above. Sure, he’s technically great and physically good enough but it’s his tennis psychology that makes him a legend.

A quick on-court tennis psychology video is currently being produced and will be placed here when ready.