Developing the Mental Side of Athletic/Competitive Preparation
Posted: Nov 06 2015
We’ve previously emphasized the importance in previous articles of using your off-season time to your advantage in order to allow yourself to be as physically fit and ready come competition or race time. There’s no underestimating the importance of periodization, as we’ve previously detailed, in terms of varying or tailoring your workouts to allow you to be physically ready to “crush it” in competition. This is something that we give considerable attention to. However, mentally training your brain to be ready for whatever obstacles, anticipated or otherwise, that can come your way on game day/competition, is something that is often overlooked or dismissed in terms of getting aspiring athletes prepared for their first true competitive tests
An integral part of mental preparation for athletes is getting proper rest. Rest, as we define it here, is actually taking time away from your physical and competitive pursuits in order to disengage with the aim of coming back with greater focus. If you ensure that proper and sufficient rest is part of your preparation, then you’re ahead of at least 90% of your completion. Most athletes forget that resting is an essential part of that equation, and often attempt to seamlessly go from their last game/competition straight back into the weight room or to their training routine.
However, over and above dedicating time in your offseason to getting complete and total rest, the offseason is a perfect time to work on your overall mental game. This would allow you to better prepare for the inevitable ups and downs of the long and intense season ahead of you. Training your brain is just like training your muscles in the weight room: you can’t expect to get stronger unless you work it. In order to work on developing this practice, we suggest taking 10-20 minutes a day to meditate, practice proper breathing, or to improve your visualization skills so that the techniques you’ve been working hard on will transfer into action next season.
In addition to practicing proper breathing, one of the best practices you can put into place is that of engaging in positive visualization. Something that is often recommended or suggested is taking 5 minutes in the morning to visualize winning the upcoming championship and celebrating with your teammates. Or completing your first half marathon in less time you had trained for and anticipated. Create and consider as much detail as possible in your mind. Envision teammates and coaches jumping around after ‘the win’, imagine what the stadium sounds like, what it feels like. Picture yourself hugging your teammates, coaches, friends, significant others, family etc. Fiinaly, picture yourself standing atop the highest podium, trophy in hand, knowing all the hard work and dedication you’re about to put in has in fact paid off. Now isn’t that invigorating?!
However, there are many aspects of mental preparation that go well beyond visualizing one’s own success, whether in an individual or team setting. In fact, according to the latest research in sport psychology, there are 9 mental skills that successful athletes master in order to achieve success in their chosen sport. These are all skills that we believe that all individuals can master over time through preparation, repetition and exposure to challenging situations (aka, competitive/life experience). We will detail these in our next post.