By Gemma Seager |
In sports and exercise we often talk about training our bodies, but we forget that it can be just as important to train our minds.
Even the best athletes can be brought down by negative thinking and failure to prepare mentally for the task ahead. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an amateur preparing to run your first 5k or a seasoned athlete looking to place on the winners podium, how you deal with your doubts and fears, and how you prepare mentally can be the difference between a personal best or an also ran. Professional athletes know this and can spend as much time preparing themselves mentally for a performance as they do physically, they’ll often have mental coaches and therapists on their team to help them deal with failures, and envisage their future success.
Us mere mortals might not have an entire team of trainers and coaches behind us to help us prepare, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some tips from the pros to help us perform at our best. Here are 5 tips to help improve your mental performance and banish those negative thoughts.
When working on your mental preparation visualisation can help you master skills and perform better. Spend some time putting together a mental “highlights reel” of your performances in the past.
Before you step our for a race or game try spending 5 minutes sat quietly running through that highlights reel in your head. Picture times you’ve performed well.
It could be a training run where you felt amazing, or a game where you performed well and pulled off something amazing. Run through your best bits in your head, focus on trying to imagine all the sights, smells and sounds and really put yourself back there in that situation. Hang onto that feeling and keep that highlights reel on hand for moments when you doubt your performance.
#2 Keep a Diary
Keeping a training journal is a great way to improve your mental game. Before each training session you can use your diary to set goals for each session and afterwards you can pick out positive aspects from a training session and write them down.
✓ Make notes not only of your physical performance, but also about how prepared you were mentally that day.
Were you distracted by outside events? How did you sleep?
✓ Use your training diary to set long and short term goals, note when you hit them and review your performance over time and how its affected by outside influences.
A relaxed mind leads to a relaxed body, more fluid movements and less risk of injury.
Lots of people like to get hyped up before they perform, but try setting aside some time to focus and relax instead.
✓ Spend 10 minutes or so on slowing down your breathing, and spend some time on meditation. You can use this time to perform your visualisations as well.
✓ You can get apps and online guides with short meditation techniques that will help you focus your mind on challenges to come and step out feeling refreshed and confident.
#4 Develop a mantra
It can be a word or a phrase, but it needs to be short, sweet, and help you focus on what’s important. When running I sometimes repeat “Strong Legs, Strong Lungs” to myself, that keeps me breathing steadily and running strong. I also play Roller Derby and as a blocker I might use “Low and Slow” to remind me to keep my stance low and stable and to keep the pressure on to slow the game down.
✓ You could use a single word like “Smooth”, but keep the language positive.
✓ Use “Keep Going” rather than “Don’t give up”. It can take a while to figure out exactly what works for you, but can be a really useful focusing tool.
Sounds stupid, right? Like you’d forget to breathe? When we get anxious our breathing gets faster and shallower and we might not take in enough oxygen to maintain our performance. When you are coming up to a high pressure or important moment, try and focus on your breathing. Keep it slow and steady and deep.
✓ You could try some deep centering breaths. Breathing in for 3-5 seconds. Make sure you really breath from your diaphragm and push your stomach out to make sure you get as much air in as possible. Pause at the end of the breath, then slowly breathe out for 3-5 seconds. Repeat twice more to help calm and focus you before the big moment.
✓ You can use this technique at any time to bring yourself back to a calm and focused state.
Take Home Message
What are your favourite tips for keeping positive when training?
Let us know below!