Edition 50 (Nov 2016)

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Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance. 

From Little Things Big Things Grow”

By David Barracosa (PSY0001733584)

[For Podcast (audio) version click here]

In every sport there is a significant number of variables and factors that ultimately effect our performance. If you’ve been a reader of previous digests you would know that at Condor Performance we’re particularly interested in understanding which of these we have the most control over, and using that information to our benefit. By doing so we keep performance manageable and allow ourselves to make changes where necessary to keep us on path to our goals.

One of the variables I encourage the athletes and coaches I work with to focus on throughout performance is the present moment. It is here where we have the best opportunity to make changes to our actions and efforts to hopefully result in positive change moving forward. What I tend to notice when discussing this with people is that the old cliche of performance being “one step/shot/swing/etc. at a time” is commonly thought of. However, without any commitment to a change in behaviour this belief merely acts as a “bumper sticker” mental skill. It is this point I want to focus on for this edition of the digest and identify further strategies to help you remain in the present so that you have the best possible influence on your performances.

Before I go further, I want to acknowledge a view that I’ve heard that some of the more stop-start sports such as golf, tennis, cricket and volleyball, are better for staying in the present because the sport is naturally broken down into smaller events (single point or shot). During the period between these events athletes are able to apply strategies such as pre-performances routines to ensure they are in the best position to achieve optimal performance. However, I believe this doesn’t paint the complete picture of resetting and staying in the moment. With some creativity and thought the ability to do this is both applicable and extremely valuable in all sports.

It has such a high value because it can benefit us in a number of different ways regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. Being able to bring ourselves back to the present moment by finding opportunities to break the match/game/race down into smaller events can act as the mental reset button we long for when things aren’t going our way. It allows us to stop stress or nerves from continuously building as we aren’t getting overwhelmed by what’s to come as our mind is focused on achieving technical and tactical excellence in the relative short term. By doing so, it can increase our confidence as there is a greater ability to manage these short-term targets, giving us the chance to correct any errors and halt negative momentum from developing. It also allows us to move on from a mistake and not get caught ruminating or hesitating due to disappointment from past actions.

On the other hand, it can also be useful in maintaining positive momentum as it keeps our mind focussed and reduces the chance of complacency in our performance. We remain in the driver’s seat because we are actively searching for opportunities to push ourselves and play with high quality throughout our sporting contest. So essentially, it can be used as both a corrective skill when things are not going our way as well as a preventative skill to provide us with the best chance of optimal performance.

Now, you may be thinking this sounds great, but how do you practically apply this skill? I have already referred to one one of breaking down performance and that is through the use of pre-performance routines, which you can read about in detail in the 35th Edition of the Mental Toughness Digest. However, for sports where these opportunities are harder to come by there are still ways of making it happen.

All sports have natural points of change or checkpoints that lend themselves to being associated with breaking sport down and applying a mental skill at these times. In basketball, this could be crossing half court when possession changes, in football (soccer) when there is a free kick or throw in, in rugby codes when possession changes hands and you are lining up offensively or defensively, or even in swimming when you push off the wall to start the next lap. As you can see, these moments don’t have to be significantly long because the skills we want to apply are designed to be simple and effective. We don’t want to create more issues by overthinking or feeling pressure to work through a checklist of items each time this occurs. What we do want is a phrase or word that reflects the effort or application we want to have during the next portion of our performance, which is controllable and therefore increases the likelihood that it’s going to happen. Some examples for these thoughts could be: saying “post up aggressively” in basketball when transitioning to offence, in swimming it could be “pull through the water”, or in football “make yourself available”. These thoughts reset our focus to something that aids performance and reminds us of how we intend to play based on our preparations. They will be different for each person, but are common in that they are solutions based and reflect the style we want to perform with.

If we are able to create the opportunities to bring this mental skill into our performances it provides us with the opportunities to be consistent and fulfil our expectations. We would love to have the opportunity to discuss this with you and explore how it could work in your sport and/or performance field, so please get in touch by via our Contact Us page.

Author: Condor Performance

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