This weekend myself and my team; Manchester Kettlebell Club, head to yet another competition and it’s got me thinking about the psychology aspect of competing in sport.
- How do you prepare?
- How do you go about getting yourself in the right frame of mind?
- Have you done enough training?
- Are you fit enough?
- What about the other competitors? are you fitter and stronger than them?
- How do you control the nerves and doubts?
The increased stress of competitions can cause athletes to react both physically and mentally in a manner that can negatively affect their performance abilities. You may become tense, your heart rate may be racing, you probably worry about the outcome of the competition. On the flip side of this you may also be too hyped up, too confident. This in turn will also get the heart rate racing to much.
For me personally it comes down to anxiety, or competitive anxiety. The major problem in competition is letting your mind work against you rather than for you. Gallwey (2000) explains the elements of interference that impacts on performance.
- Performance = Potential – Interference.
So, how do you control this competitive anxiety?
It’s about using techniques that help you stay in control and therefor allow you to perform at the highest level possible. You want to be able to stay relaxed with your attention focused in a positive manner at the task at hand. Whether that’s to complete a 10 min kettlebell set or go into a Cup Final. It doesn’t matter the nature of the sport, it’s about preparing and participating. Competing.
Concentration, confidence, control and commitment are generally considered the main mental qualities important for putting in a successful performance.
- Concentration – ability to maintain focus
- Confidence – believe in one’s abilities
- Control – ability to maintain emotional control regardless of distraction
- Commitment – ability to continue working to agreed goals
This is the mental quality to focus on the task in hand. If you lack concentration then your athletic abilities will not be effectively or efficiently applied to the task or competition. Ways to improve concentration can be very personal, some athletes will have a routine that they follow, others may use trigger words that help them to re-focus. Once you find a way of switching on, and it is structured, then it can prove a useful aid in concentration.
As an athlete you will have self-confidence if you believe that you can achieve your goal. With self confidence comes perseverence. Even if things are not generally going to plan, if you are positive in your approach it will help you mentally take the share of whether you are successful or not in reaching your goal. Personally what works for me is visualising previous good performances to remind me of how they felt and made me feel.
Confidence is a positive state of mind. Thoughts, assumptions and expectations can build or destroy confidence.
Your ability to maintain control of emotions when your struggling and remain positive is essential to successful performance. Two emotions that are often associated with not performing very well are anxiety and anger.
Anxiety comes in two forms – Physical and Mental. The physical form can be associated with butterflies, sweating, and needing the toilet. The mental form can be associated with worry, negative thoughts, confusion, and lack of concentration.
If you become angry or are to wound up at the start of a competition, this often becomes the focus of attention. Which in turn can lead to a lack of concentration on the task, which then means that your performance will deteriorate, leading to a loss of confidence in your ability which can then fuel the anger even more. With this your destined to fail.
Alot of sports performance can depend on your ability and willingness to fully commit to set goals. Most people, myself included have many aspects of daily life to manage. Commitments might include work, family, girlfriends/boyfriends, social life and other hobbies.
Within sport it is generally noted that commitment can be undermined by a perceived lack of progress or improvement, injury, a lack of enjoyment, anxiety about competing, becoming bored of training, the coach and athlete not working as a team, and even a lack of commitment by other athletes.
You can counteract this by setting goals. If you follow the ‘smarter’ principle of goal setting it is considered that you will generally become more committed to achieving them.
- S - Specific
- M – Measurable
- A – Adjustable
- R – Realistic
- T – Time based
- E – Exciting
- R – Recorded
As hopefully you can see Psychology is a vast field that once you start exploring, will, undoubtly, help all of you perform better in your chosen sport. Importantly though, Psychology can be used as a weapon in your armoury in helping to gain the winning edge. DO NOT disregard it.
‘The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.’ Howard Cosell