to train your mind to increase your physical performance
When physical skills
are evenly matched, it is often the competitor with the stronger mental
approach, who can control his or her mind before and during events, who
However, many athletes wrongly assume that mental aspects of performance
are innate and unchangeable when, in reality, systematic mental
training can have a similar impact on performance as physical workouts.
on for effective mental training techniques that will improve your
Plus, where does
the will to win come from? You don’t have to accept your lot here
on for nine top tips to increase your will power…
Also, what makes a
on to discover England football team coach Sven-Goran Eriksson’s eight
attributes for team success…
this issue of How To Win:
- The major factor that distinguishes successful
athletes from the rest
- What happens to your body before competition
- The key to an appropriate pre-competition mind set
- How to control your emotions to enhance your
- Using imagery for good technique
- The ‘quick set routine’ – combining the
emotional and physical in the seconds before
- How to fortify your mind and develop your will to
- What makes a team successful?
- Free Sports Psychology Special Report
importance of the mind
Getting into the correct
mind-set prior to competition is one of the most crucial aspects of top
In fact, a study of Olympic athletes by Orlick and Partington (1) showed
that the combination of mental and physical readiness was a key factor
that distinguished more successful athletes from their less successful
counterparts in the Olympic Games.
Perhaps even more impressive is the finding that, of the three states of
readiness assessed (mental, physical and technical), only mental
factors were statistically linked with final Olympic rankings.
strategies — using increased emotion to increase your performance
During the lead-up to
an important competition, the body starts to prepare for the demands to
come by releasing hormones such as epinephrine into the bloodstream,
setting in motion the physiological changes associated with increased
arousal (sometimes referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response).
In addition, changes occur in the attentional system, as athletes become
more focused and alert, with increasingly active minds. This overall
increase in arousal can be your best friend or your worst enemy: and the
key to achieving an appropriate mind-set is to analyse the changes in a
rational manner and channel your emotions in a positive direction.
Many élite athletes associate increased arousal with excitement as the
body readies itself for competition, and use it as a cue to focus on
This positive interpretation of the arousal response usually leads to
more positive emotions and optimistic outlooks.
Conversely, some athletes interpret physiological changes like an
increased heart rate as anxiety, worry and apprehension, with a negative
impact on emotions that is not conducive to good performance.
most important thing to remember is that your interpretation of
physiological changes directs your emotional response.
relationship between thoughts and emotions works in both directions:
although emotions are the result of cognitive interpretations, they can
also impact on your thoughts, giving rise to a vicious circle of
negative thoughts and emotions.
control by altering your focus
The good news
for athletes who experience unhelpful emotions before
competition is that you can gain more control by altering your
focus of attention.
The next time you feel these unwanted changes occurring try
going through the following psychological routine:
1. Tell yourself ‘this is my body preparing me to
perform well’, and repeat the affirmation as necessary;
2. Try to recall an image of yourself either winning
or performing well, and connect this with the feelings you
experienced at the time.
You will need to practise this routine on a regular basis in
order to establish it as a habitual response that will help you
feel more composed and energised before competitions.
If negative images jump into your mind during this time, try to
visualise the most successful athlete in your sport and the way
he or she runs, competes, enjoys performing – in short every
positive thing about them. Then visualise yourself with similar
these training techniques appear in The Peak Performance newsletter.
The mental aspects
prior to performance should involve focusing on what you are going to do
during the event. This can include specific strategies, and the
establishment of optimal attentional focus.
Some athletes will like to use imagery to recall positive past
experiences and generate a sense of confidence.
Many people use imagery simply to see themselves winning but it can be
employed to imagine good technique, coping with difficult situations,
recreating emotional feelings and rehearsing the upcoming event in the
‘quick set’ routine
Jeff Simons has described one of the best ways to organise the
last 20-30 seconds before competition in what has become known
as the quick set routine (5).
This three-phase routine is designed to provide a quick focus
that can be used just before competition or as a means of
refocusing quickly following a distraction.
It is minimal in content, which appeals to many athletes, and
involves a physical, emotional and focus cue. An example for a
sprinter could be:
- Close eyes, clear your mind and maintain deep rhythmical
breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Imagine a previous race win, see yourself crossing the
line first and recreate those feelings (emotional cue);
- Return your focus to the sprint start, thinking of
blasting off on the ‘B’ of the bang (focus cue).
our Free Sports Pyschology Special Report, you can read more about
effective pre-competition strategies.
Professor McDougall, a
famous psychological writer some 40 years ago, stated that the seemingly
useless practice of each day taking all the matches out of a matchbox
and, one by one, arranging them in a line on a table, was an exercise
that would strengthen will-power.
We don't hear much about will-power training in sport. We often hear
about 'the will to win' but where does this will come from?
Are we born with it or can we acquire it?
Oscar Wilde aptly summed up the weak-willed when he said: 'I can resist
everything except temptation'.
Athletes have to resist certain excessive social behaviour patterns,
which are accepted as the norm elsewhere in society. This is defensive
use of the will.
Can we go on the offensive?
We can - and in doing so, improve our performance.
A middle-aged female took up running for the marathon. She had not
participated in sport of any kind for 25 years. She was told to run for
one minute and each successive day to add a minute.
Because she had such a short stride, her leg strength was tested by
making her hop 25 metres. She took 22 hops to cover the distance
(world-class middle-distance runners can do it in nine). She was told to
do hopping exercises every other day.
After 100 days this woman was running for 100 minutes and had reduced
her total hops to 15.
secret of her success was to start with a very minor challenge and to
build on it.
top fortifying tips
here are my nine top tips for fortifying the mind:
- Start each day with a declaration of intent: 'I am going
to enjoy this day'.
- You can run; many cannot and will not run. Some have never
known what it is like to run. Make the most of it while you
- You can train every day for at least one hour. There is no
excuse not to.
- Train with a goal in mind.
- The method of achieving this goal must involve rehearsing
the activity and aids to that activity.
- Competition must not only include the specific event but
other events which will test endurance and speed.
- Exercise your will specifically by daily devoting time to
the task you dislike most in training, or to a known
- When it comes to competition, if you have trained
diligently and intelligently and done your best, you have
succeeded. You are only a failure if you have not done these
on for your Free Sports Pyschology Report...
makes an effective team
In his book on
football psychology, Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England footabll team
coach, talks a great deal about how the ‘we’ mentality can raise the
performance of all the players in a team and help reduce the pressure
associated with big matches.
He describes eight key attributes of an effective team, and I invite you
to note that all are task-oriented and have nothing to do with social
relationships. The ‘good team’, according to the England Coach, has:
- a common vision
- clear and definite goals which go hand-in-hand with this vision
- members who share their understanding of strategy and tactics
- great inner discipline (meaning they act professionally
- players with characteristics which complement each other
- a good division of roles among the players, with all members
- players who put the common good before their own interests
- players who take responsibility for the whole team, with
everyone accepting mistakes as long as people do their best.
Free Peak Performance Sports Psychology Report contains more research
and practical advice on what makes a successful team.
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your first trial issue of Peak Performance you
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gives you more practical advice on:
- Pre-competition strategies
- How to control your emotions and direct your
nervous energy towards winning
- How to adopt the correct mind set to maximise
- Using imagery for winning, good technique and
coping with problems
- Warming up for the mind and the body
- A variety of techniques to help you focus
- Cope with distractions
- Deal with mind games from opponents
- The necessity of training for mental as well as
- The true importance of team cohesion in achieving
- What aspects of team cohesion really matter?
- How a team can be successful even if they don't
like each other!
- Why you should plan what you are going to think
about during training and competition and how to do
- From Olympic 400m Hurdles Gold Medal Winner, David
Hemery: how to increase self awareness and
responsibility, two attributes that invariably stand
out in top performers
- (For coaches, parents and fans) what type of
encouragement makes a difference to performance. Yes
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