Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance.
Time of Year Psychology; Pre-Season vs. Regular Season
By David Barracosa (PSY0001733584)
The start of any season is an interesting time for players, coaches and others involved with a team or squad. This time of year is marked by nervous anticipation as each individual waits to see if the work executed during the pre-season has allowed them to improve various aspects of their performance. The months prior to kick off, first pitch, opening bounce, etc. are recognised as pivotal in shaping the team’s performance and results throughout a regular season, particularly in the opening rounds. As a result, the incorporation of mental toughness strategies assists players and teams to transition from the pre-season to regular season as they can either bring about improvements or further strengthen those already made.
Performance is often simply seen as how individuals execute their skills during competition. However, this leaves out a significant part of the performance picture – the preparation for the actual competition. In combining these two elements it creates a more accurate picture of performance, which is emphasised when examining the things we can control.
At Condor Performance, there is one factor of performance we stand by as being 100% in our control – effort. From an effort perspective, there is no difference between preparation and competition because individuals are able to give 100% in either context and not doing so is a choice they make.
Now, what 100% effort looks like can vary depending on context. Giving 100% when walking to the shops for milk is different to giving 100% when running a 400m race. The same can be said for when individuals are learning a play for the first time versus executing it in Round 1. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure we are not confusing effort and results. Results are quantitative measures of performance, such as time taken, repetitions achieved and errors made, but do not necessarily indicate effort exerted. When looking at the pre-season, individuals and squads will establish pre-season goals that can, at times, focus more on the results than the effort exerted to achieve them. For individuals and squads to grow it is beneficial to re-evaluate these goals and focus more on the notion of effort. Rather than having a goal that a fitness course needs to be completed in 10 minutes, challenge individuals to give 100% and incorporate other areas of mental toughness, such as thought challenging or mindfulness to create a greater opportunity for success.
The transition from preparation to competition is a process that begins from the moment that an individual or team shifts their focus to the upcoming season, which can be months away from the opening match or round. As a result, being able to effectively measure progress and provide appropriate feedback becomes a mental skill that can not only assist in skill development, but also mental development, specifically in areas such as motivation and confidence. One way of doing this is through the incorporation of monthly checks into any associated goal setting. These monthly checks are quantitative in nature and require people to consider measureable elements of performance that confirm whether the effort they are exerting within each training session is converting into positive change. Within a pre-season, individuals will often have three or four monthly checks prior to their first competitive match. If it is clear that the effort goals are resulting in positive change, this provides reinforcement and encouragement to keep working. If the monthly checks do not reveal satisfying change, then an individual can adjust their effort in order to improve prior to the regular season commencing. This process of monitoring change and ensuring optimal effort can ensure the pre-season is as mentally tough, if not tougher, than the regular season.
The pre-season provides individuals and squads an opportunity to further establish positive performance change leading into competition. It is important to recognise that in order for this opportunity to become a reality, individuals need to consider the ideas of effort and expectations/goal setting outlined in this digest. More often than not, the challenge of making this transition is mental rather than physical, and people create their own barriers when it comes to down to this.