Confident Athletes Win Competitions

by on January 27th, 2011
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Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are – Forbes

Performance is the best measure of an athlete’s mental game. Let’s face it as athletes move up in rankings some unexpected circumstances will appear. At that moment, athletes will be faced with a decision on how to act, or react. An athlete’s mindset has a lot to do with the response and the outcome. Traditional sports psychology primarily teaches goal setting, visualization and self talk as primary tools to overcome obstacles.

Many approaches exist to begin strengthening your mental game. Time is of the essence during a competitive season, athletes require quick results. Learning new skills does not always work well during the competitive season. So what if there was a faster approach? Instead of adding something onto their training the ideal approach is to remove the obstacle causing poor performance.

Four primary categories create performance blocks.

1. Affect has to do with feelings and emotions. Emotions directly impact response and perception. This crops up as anxiety, anger, shame, fears and disappointment.

2. Cognitive explores an athletes mental process. This includes perceptions, memory and problem solving. Intelligence stems from the cognitive part of the brain. Cognitive barriers are expressed by low self confidence, perfectionism and blaming others

3. Conative is the desire to act on thoughts and feelings. Think of this as willful action. Low motivation, conflicts between opposing interests and extreme desire are conative factors.

4. Behavioral domain casts a wide umbrella including actions, thoughts and feelings. Athletes getting into fights, overtraining, poor communication and pushing either too hard or not hard enough face behavioral challenges.

This new experiential approach requires highly specific information and clarity concerning current challenges. After identifying the problem the athlete goes a little deeper to look at the underlying meaning. Why is this necessary? Well actions are the easiest way to recognize a problem, but they only scratch the surface. To fully understand performance issues it is necessary to understand its root cause.

People by nature, including athletes, are storytellers. Learning the story, and its underlying meaning, is necessary for long lasting change. When an athlete recognizes their story, then they have a choice. Keep it or change its meaning. When something is working against an athlete, causing an internal struggle, then it is time to modify the story.

Basically two distinct types of obstacles affect performance, external and internal. Technical problems, conditions and delayed starts are some external problems. Physical and psychological factors lead to internal issues. Physical challenges would be injury, illness, substance abuse and fatigue. Psychological issues revolve around emotions, perceptions and actions. Any one of these factors alone will impact performance. Several occurring simultaneously without resolution create troubled athletes.

So what’s next? Changing perspective and meaning clears performance obstacles. Wherever the athlete is ready to get to work is the best place to start.

1. Discovery. Generalizations just don’t work. Learn why the athlete is uncomfortable. Detect whether the problem is external or internal. Athletes taking responsibility for their actions and perspective is the first step in the process.

2. Choice. Often several different issues occur at the same time. It is rarely just one problem affecting an athlete’s performance or motivation. Attempting to solve several issues simultaneously is ineffective. Choose one specific problem to work on at a time. Where to start? The best place to start is the one the athlete is most motivated to focus on right now.

3. The Story. What is the athlete experiencing? Identify any underlying fears or meaning. Search for the root cause. Ask questions to discover the first time something like this was experienced. Clearing the root cause along with its story brings about an immediate transformation. This is where breakthroughs happen.

4. Reframe. Changing meaning, perception and response is the desired outcome. A great place to reframe is around black and white thinking also known as all or nothing thoughts. The world is rarely black and white. Building balance into the story begins to change its meaning. Rules are another reaction which can be readily modified. Rules sound like this: “If this happens, then this is the response.” The ideal goal is to step out of the box, developing a new response.

Moving up in rankings necessitates personal growth. All athletes experience a psychological barrier at some point in their career. Inner conflicts create struggles leading to performance issues. Periodically athletes are faced with old beliefs causing them to stumble. Many times athletes can overcome these hurdles on their own. Persisting challenges, however, affect confidence.

Athletes rarely hesitate to seek out a coach to improve physical performance. Take the initiative to find the right support to build a solid mental game. Performance coaches are trained to work through mindset challenges. Making the decision to take action is a powerful first step. Reaching out for the right support frequently brings relief, recognizing it is the first step toward a solution.

Activity: Identify a recent competition where you weren’t satisfied with your performance. What was one which bothered you the most? List the reasons your performance was off. Include what prevented you from regaining focus. Now list all the ways this challenge can be approached. If you are ready to turn things around, what first step are you willing to take now?

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