Did you know?
- According to the International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health, athletes frequently state that the mental side of their sport is the most important aspect of their performance.
- Professional golfer Arnold Palmer said that golf is 90% psychological,and that “The total time spent by the golfer actually swinging and striking the ball during those 72 holes is approximately seven minutes and 30 seconds, leaving 15 hours, 52 minutes and 30 seconds of ‘thinking time”.
- Studies have shown that mental readiness is felt to be the most significant link to Olympic ranking.
It is widely known amongst elite athletes and coaches that as an athlete, once you achieve a certain physical ability with your sport, it is your mental skillset that makes or break your optimal performance.
So, how can you improve the mental aspect of your sport, thereby improving your athletic performance? Here are 4 competitive advantage strategies that may help you:
Competitive advantage strategy 1:
Remember why you chose your sport in the first place
As an athlete, overthinking can get in the way of you performing to your potential. What does this mean exactly? To help explain this, let’s touch on the conscious vs. the subconscious mind.
Your conscious mind = your thinking mind. Everything you are aware of and thinking about in any particular moment is within your conscious mind, or consciousness. This includes awareness of yourself and the world around you. The conscious part of your mind is also responsible for logic and reasoning, which you use throughout the day to make decisions, problem solve, and take action. Any voluntary action you take, for example, raising your arm, is done by your conscious mind.
Your subconscious mind = your non-thinking, ‘power’ mind. Your underlying emotions, memories, beliefs, and urges that are outside of your conscious awareness, are within your subconscious mind. According to Sigmund Freud, this part of your mind greatly impacts your behavior and experience, even though you are largely unware of its underlying influences. Your subconscious mind is also responsible for your involuntary bodily functions, such as respiration and heart rate. The subconscious process behind these is also known as your autonomic nervous system.
Getting back to the concept of overthinking and how this can impact athletic performance, it is the conscious mind that sometimes tends to over think. When this happens, your subconscious, or power mind, gets overruled. It is the subconscious level where all of your athletic abilities, both mental and physical, are stored. When conscious thinking blocks access to the subconscious, this may negatively impact your athletic performance.
For example, have you ever had a stressful time in your life, inside or outside of your sport, that you kept thinking about? When you brought this thinking onto the playing field or arena, did it impact you? Was it a positive, or negative impact?
The key concept to remember here is that the part of you that can play your sport well and more importantly, have fun doing it, is at the subconscious level. This is where your power is.
Just for fun, try this short experiment. Focus on what you love about your sport. Bring to mind why you are doing this in the first place. Can you recall a time when you first started out in your sport, with no thought of failure or success, when it was all about having fun practicing, competing, and building your abilities? Spend a minute or two here….
How do you feel after those couple of minutes? More energized? More in touch with the love of your sport? Most athletes answer yes to these questions. The truth is, this love for your sport is already in you, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this right now. It is important to understand that this part of you is on the subconscious level.
So, when you get caught up in your thinking, sometimes just spend a few minutes recalling what you love about your sport and why you do it to help get you out of an unhelpful thinking cycle.
Competitive advantage strategy 2:
Set an intention or goal to stay focused
Keeping the love of your sport in mind, setting an intention or goal for the day/week/month/season can further help keep you on track and focused.
For example, one of my clients John, a professional baseball player, came to me because he was really feeling the pressure from coaches, family, and the media. He felt he had to live up their expectations, and this was dragging him down and causing him to feel stressed, anxious, fearful and doubtful . As a result, he was overthinking everything and he lost not only his ability to play at his best, but he lost his ability to enjoy his sport.
Needless to say, this was a very serious issue for John. To get him back on track, I had him reconnect to what he loves about baseball. We did this in great detail, with as many specifics as he could provide. He reminded himself of these every day. In addition, we added actions that reflected his love for baseball. For example, he set a personal goal to practice his batting skills with fast balls for one month, because this was a skill he wanted to improve that would make him enjoy the game even more. After a short time, John had renewed motivation to play baseball, and his stress, anxiety, fear and doubts subsided, and his batting skills improved greatly.
Competitive advantage strategy 3:
Learn to manage challenging emotions
There are three things to remember with managing challenging emotions. One, every single one of us experiences a range of emotions every day. Two, every emotion we experience serves a purpose, providing fertile ground for growth and learning. Three, behind every emotion are specific thoughts and beliefs.
Thoughts -> feelings -> more thoughts -> more feelings -> actions that reflect the feelings. Your emotions, thoughts and beliefs feed off each other. This alone can reduce the power of challenging emotions to trip you up.
For example, my client John had thoughts about his situation, himself, and people around him that caused him to feel anxious, stressed, fearful and doubtful. These challenging emotions spawned more similar thoughts, which led to him feeling even worse, and impacted his ability to play baseball at his potential.
I worked with John to examine his subconscious thinking process to determine which of his thoughts were causing the challenging emotions. I also helped him understand the value in these emotions, in that they can actually help him to learn more about himself, and to grow. For example, doubt is a sign that he is overly focused on others’ opinion of him, and that he needs to redirect his focus to the physical and mental strengths that he already possesses.
Competitive advantage strategy 4:
Challenge your thinking
When your emotions negatively impact your actions, reactions, or athletic performance, it may be time to challenge your underlying thoughts and beliefs. But how do you know what these are? To get to this level of awareness, you can use practices such as meditation, relaxation or hypnosis, to get out of the ‘thinking’ mind.
It is ok to have beliefs, but sometimes we unknowingly create disempowering beliefs that are irrational and unnecessary. We form disempowering beliefs for reasons that served us at a particular time in our lives, but there is really no reason, no need, to carry them forward in our lives. These beliefs are not based in reality other than the reality we create in our own minds. Our personal realty is subjective and changeable. We create our own reality. Sometimes our beliefs can seem very real, but the truth is they are only real only because we make them real.
My client Johnhad certain beliefs about himself, about his situation and about other people, and these made him feel stressed, anxious, fearful, and doubtful, because. Until he realized it was his thinking that caused the unwanted feelings, he was stuck in endless, unhelpful thinking patterns. Once he became aware of these, he was able to change them to support how he wanted to feel, and how he wanted to act.
To learn more about how to create and implement competitive advantage strategies that work for you, contact us for a free consultation.
Your Mental Performance Coach