When we talk about sport, thoughts create a natural association between the athlete and his lifestyle. A sportsman, adopts a lifestyle based on discipline, proper nutrition, and training. The same principle applies to a sedentary person who decides to get in shape and lose a few pounds. What do you need to get in shape? Workout and proper nutrition.
IT’S TRUE, BUT IT ISN’T ENOUGH.
An essential component in playing sports with success and satisfaction is mental training. Without adequate mental preparation, in fact, sports performance can be limited or even compromised. This applies to both professional and amateur levels.
In my career as a Coach, I came across many athletes who, while loving their sport, felt overwhelmed by anxiety when they had to face tournaments, championships, and official competitions. In particular, a big difference in performance emerges between training and competition.
Sports performance is often compromised by drops in concentration which can be fatal. I remember a cyclist who lived conditioned by the fact that he threw out a victory for having celebrated too early, thus allowing himself to be reached and overtaken by two opponents. From that moment he was no longer able to win and not even get close to the top positions so his self-esteem was undermined by that gross error.
In the book "The Inner Game of Tennis", a book that inspired the world of Coaching, Tim Gallwey explains how the athlete's performance is given by the following equation:
Performance = potential performance - interference.
Basically, our ideal performance is conditioned by our mental interferences that can compromise the sporting result.
BUT WHAT ARE INTERFERENCES?
Interference is the flow of thoughts that hinder us from what we are doing. If before a race, for example, I start to think that I am not up to the competition or my opponents, this mental process will eventually affect my performance negatively.
Performance anxiety acts negatively both physically and mentally.
In the body, it causes stress that stimulates the production of cortisol which will affect the muscles, which in turn will be less oxygenated and therefore less reactive; while mentally it interferes with our thoughts.
When we are under stress like before a race or when we complain about something, the production of cortisol will affect neuronal processes reducing the ability to concentrate and problem-solving, thus limiting our performance.
To better understand this passage, I take up a concept from Gallwey: during a sporting performance, you are involved in two games, the one that takes place against your physical opponent and the one that takes place inside yourself, against your mental opponent.
To get the most out of our performance, we must focus our mental energies on what is under our control, namely our physical preparation, our nutrition, and the execution of the technical gesture. On the other hand, when we associate the sporting result with our personal values, the pressure on us increases, and the risk of making mistakes increases.
The same problem arises when we have low self-esteem and think we are not up to the challenge we face. This thought limits us enormously and does not allow us to focus on our performance, as we shift the focus on ourselves and at every slightest mistake we will think that it is true that we are not up to par.
LET'S CONTROL THE BREATH
What to do to better manage our mental energies and maximize our performance?
First, let's focus on what's under our control. We cannot control what our opponents are doing, technical unexpected events, the weather, etc. The more we think about it, the more we divert precious energies to our purpose. Instead, let's start by visualizing our ideal situation. Let's close our eyes and visualize ourselves in doing our best with everything under our control. We begin the visualization by controlling our breath.
FOCUSING ON WHAT WE CAN GOVERN
We can also imagine ourselves managing a possible unexpected event or a potentially insidious situation in the best possible way and then imagine ourselves winning our challenge. What do we feel? How do we feel? Done regularly, this visualization will help us prepare our minds for the event. During the performance then, let's focus on the present moment and on what we can control and manage. When stress assails you, try to focus on your breath and only on the object of your sporting activities.
By reducing the impact of interference and focusing on what we can govern, our energies will be catalyzed towards what is useful to us and our performance will be improved. Seeing is believing.
Patrick Vom Bruck is a Certified Professional Coach (ACC) at the ICF - International Coaching Federation.
He specializes in sports coaching and personal development
He holds Coaching sessions both in the studio and remotely, even with English and German-speaking clients, and organizes events and seminars in Italy and abroad.