Mental Strategies for Improving Sporting Performance
All exceptional athletes and Olympic champions use mental strategies to channel their energy and focus for the big day, but you don’t have to be a professional to reap the benefits of mental strategies. Every single decision we make in sport is processed by our brain, so it’s crucial to acknowledge that the brain is the hub of everything we do. Here are 4 mental strategies that may help you to maintain focus on event day itself, or even just to keep motivation high throughout the year!
To start things off, you must realise that attitude is a choice. You can choose to view things positively or negatively, it’s up to you. So, make sure you choose and maintain an attitude that is predominantly positive. A superior trait of real winners is their resilience to bad results or criticisms; they manage to maintain an unwavering belief that success will come with time, patience and effort. Nobody’s perfect, and no one can become perfect, so pursue excellence instead of perfection! And remember, always keep a balance and perspective between your sport and the rest of your lives.
Goals and Commitment
Set yourself goals that are realistic, measurable, and time-oriented, and make sure that you give yourself short term goals in addition to your ultimate, long-term goal. For instance, if your ultimate goal is to run a marathon, or complete an ironman, then you need much more immediate goals to focus on from day to day. Perhaps concentrate on improving your speed or stamina over a week or two-week period. Most importantly, adhere to the training plan you have created. This way you’ll achieve your short-term goals and keep motivation high!
Separating self-image from performance
Whatever sport you may be training for, it most likely plays a major role in your life. It’s great to have something to focus on, but when your self-image is tied too strongly to that role (as a cyclist, or a runner, or a tennis player for instance), it often translates to an overwhelming need to perform perfectly every time, in order to prove your worth in that role and thus, as a person. Such pressure on yourself can be stifling and become a hindrance rather than a motivator. It’s crucial therefore, to detach your self-image from your sporting performance, to decrease the pressure you put on yourself and most importantly, to allow you to enjoy your sport regardless of the outcome.
Focus on the Process
Successful athletes know when they need to focus, and have learned how to maintain focus by resisting distractions, whether these distractions come from the environment or from within themselves. In endurance sports in particular, it’s easy to want to distract yourself from the pain and discomfort by thinking of your favourite song or focusing on the surrounding scenery. Dissociative thoughts are often unproductive and unsuccessful; instead of thinking how much you still have ahead of you, and for that reason trying to distract yourself, focus your mind and body on regulating your pace and keeping performance strong. Concentrate on your stride length, your heart-rate, or your breathing. Focusing on the process rather than the outcome will lead you to hit your goals.
The mental game is what distinguishes the top athletes from the ordinary athletes. Make sure you train hard, stretch your comfort zone, surround yourself with positive people, and most importantly, train your mind. With all these aspects combined, you’ll be sure to see some personal best’s coming out this season!