Authors: D. C. Gonzalez
Some athletes find that they
deal best with performance pressures by using coping affirmations. The ability
to talk yourself through a pressure situation is an important skill. Coping
affirmations are powerful because they help you to deal with the pressure—not
to pretend that the pressure doesn’t exist. Many champions create and have
their own personal affirmations. (I’m good; I’m fast; I’m strong; this is my
time; believe; I dominate.) What they may be doesn’t matter as long as they
help you take the pressure off yourself. Create three quick affirmations
(positive statements) you can fire off to yourself to complement the breathing
and relaxation techniques mentioned above.
Another method some athletes
use to deal with pressure is simply thinking about something that relaxes
them. Some do this while wearing headphones listening to whatever it may be
that helps them take the pressure off themselves. They may be sitting in their
chair at a crossover in a serious international tennis match, but they’re
actually no longer there. In their minds, they have transported themselves
somewhere else, perhaps to a tranquil mountain stream where they sit peacefully
as the sun reflects in the running water. How’s that for a simple approach
that can make a big difference? Be sure to take the time to practice and
develop this type of mental focus.
Some champions admit to using a
technique from sports psychology where they allow themselves to let go of the
need to achieve any particular outcome. This is all about feeling the
pressure—and then warmly accepting it. Such athletes approach performances
with the exhilaration of knowing that all their hard training is about to pay
off and that it’s time to go out and enjoy performing their sport. They set
out to compete with the feeling that they have nothing to lose. Confident that
their years of solid training will take over, they let go of any remaining worries
and set out to perform with uninhibited abandon. Some athletes talk about
having experienced their greatest moment in sports through releasing themselves
from any fear of failure.
In other words, not being
focused on the outcome allowed them to become enjoyably absorbed in the
process. One can sense this attitude at times when a youthful challenger
“takes on” a top seed. He (or she) is almost carefree with the sense that
they, at least, have nothing to lose. Some spectacular upsets have happened when
a challenger has convinced himself to release the weight of his own
expectations in this way. Afterwards, such athletes sometimes describe how
they weren’t worried about doing well, how they became completely immersed in
the activity of the moment. Their chances of achieving the outcome that they
desired increased dramatically when they took the pressure off themselves and
let go of the need to achieve any specific outcome.
Other athletes have a ritual or
pre-game routine that they like to stick with and that helps them deal with the
pressure. If this is you (and it works) why mess with it?
And finally, one other approach
is to recall a time when you managed a pressurized situation really well. Go
back in your mind’s eye and take note of exactly what you did right. What
worked? What did you do? Were you still for a while before going into the
match? Were you able to lose yourself in the moment? What was your self-talk
like? What was going on inside your head that helped you reduce the pressure?
Pinpoint it. Noticing the things that helped you deal with pressure in the
past can makes it possible for you to access those techniques again. A
competitor who is not feeling the pressure can easily end up defeating one who
actually plays better than they do. Learning how to manage pressure can help
you outperform others. If there is anything that worked for you and helped you
with pressure in the past, pinpoint it, and then keep using it.
Remember: Pressure is
mental. Learn to view performance pressure as a challenge that can be managed
by using mental techniques, and pre-game routines.
Art of Mental Training
As I transitioned more and more
into coaching, Leo-tai and I often spoke by phone. In those days he enjoyed
hearing about the work that I was doing at a large university as the Mental
Edge Trainer for the athletes on the various teams.
One day I explained to him how,
after the wrestling competitions, the head coach and I would review all the
tapes. Then how (one by one) each wrestler was brought in to sit down and
watch his tape with us. Mostly the head coach would make suggestions regarding
technique or strategy. A few days later I would review some of the tapes again
with the guys who hadn’t done so well. But this time I asked the athletes to
recall what their self-talk was during the toughest parts of the match.
“Very good.” said Leo-tai. “You
found something in common?”
“We certainly did.” I said.
“The one thing we found that they all had in common was that they all had
negative self-talk going on when things were going really badly. By watching
themselves on tape, they were able to remember exactly what they were thinking
at the time. And in every case of poor performance, when things were going really
badly, the self-talk going through their heads was terrible. Their own
internal dialogue was setting them up to perform worse and worse. At the
precise instances when they needed all their resolve in order to be able to
turn things around, their self-talk was busy tearing them down.”
“Interesting,” Leo-tai said
“So we’d play the tape again;
only this time the exercise was to have the athletes verbalize positive
self-talk as things got bad. I’d say, let me hear the positive self-talk of a
champion who might be having a tough time in the match but who absolutely
refuses to talk himself down. Then we’d play the film again. That exercise
really opened their eyes. They learned that—especially when things are
tough—it’s important to listen only for the positive self-talk of a champion
who is focused on working his way through adversity.”
At this point Leo-tai offered
up an observation.
“Very good Danielsan, you
taught them to shut down the Internal Critic. You taught them to always listen
for the self-talk that sounds more like a positive coach rather than a negative
critic. You helped them understand that if there is any self-talk going on it
must be positive, encouraging, and empowering. This is key because just like thoughts
create emotions that affect the way we feel, so can self-talk affect the way we
feel, and the way we feel affects the way that we perform. You did well in
teaching them that the Warrior/Champion always shuts down the Internal Critic because
he understands that he must.”
Remember: Especially when
things are at their worst, your self-talk must be positive, encouraging, and
empowering. Shut down the Internal Critic.
Art of Mental Training
Sometimes in competitive
situations an athlete can actually get too energized before the start of
competition, thus sabotaging his own performance. You see it a lot in
grappling tournaments where (due to sheer over-enthusiasm) some amateur
athletes rev up their engines to fever pitch before even stepping out on to the
mat. What they fail to understand is that coming in too high on the
performance curve will actually end up hurting their performance.
Years ago, this kept happening
to an athlete that I was helping to train. No matter how much he visualized calmness,
coolness and control, no sooner did the day of the competition dawn than he was
crackling with anticipation and incapable of even eating for sheer excitement.
The result was that, although he tended to start out powerfully, he was too
energized, and it hurt his performance. His competitors soon had him on the
defensive. This was very frustrating for him, until he learned through
practice how to adjust the level of intensity at which he entered into
competition. By learning to adjust his intensity down by just a notch or two
as he entered competition, the athlete began to win more often.
A good mental athlete learns
early on at what level of intensity he plays his best game. On a scale of one
to ten (with ten being at the most intense level) most top athletes report that
they perform best at around levels seven or eight. Occasionally, of course,
they may need to call on their full intensity, and “raise their game” to nine
or ten. But they still know that this is not the ideal level of intensity at
which to enter a competition.
By getting to know at what
level of intensity he should begin, the mental athlete has a big advantage. He
is helping to create the conditions needed in order for him to perform really
well. He manages his intensity so it doesn’t interfere with his best game.
It’s a simple concept that can make a vital difference—yet so few amateurs are
aware of it! You can’t rev yourself up to a level ten each time and expect to
consistently perform at your best. Your neuro-muscular connections are able to
deliver better physical technique as you learn to throttle back your level of
Self-analysis and advice from
people you trust will help you to pinpoint precisely at what level of intensity
you generally find your best game. Try to make a note of what pre-game routine
worked to help get you to the exact level where you are most effective, and
then practice arriving at your ideal intensity level at exactly the right
moment. Learn to manage all that valuable intensity.
Remember: You have to learn
to control yourself before standing a chance of controlling your game. Getting
your intensity revved up too powerfully prior to competition will actually hurt
Art of Mental Training
At certain times in my life
I’ve looked around and found myself having (temporarily) achieved my goals.
Looking back on all the hardships, the obstacles, the challenges, and even some
of the negative people who’d done their best to try to keep me down, somehow I
still did what I intended to do, and got myself where I wanted to be.
So, what is it that drives us
to try again and again, to keep going, to keep taking just one more step even
when nothing seems to be working for us?
A dream, that’s what.
Think about it. Without a
dream, without a vision, how can you know where you hope to get? Without a
dream one is only drifting.
So, what’s your dream? If it’s
important to you, then it’s worth chasing. Any champion will tell you that a
big part of life involves reaching for your dreams. It’s what helps you move
Remember what Walt Disney
called Imagineering? Use it, as you set out to create your vision. Let Imagineering
help you build the confidence that you can get to your dream; allow yourself to
be moved by the power of your dreams. Never let anyone or anything shove you
off track or break you down once you’ve set your course towards achieving
A friend of mine dreamed of
becoming a lawyer. Despite the fact that nobody in his entire extended family
had even been to college before, his immediate goal was to get to the
University of Chicago. And, once he was there, his immediate goal was to
graduate top of his class. Once he’d done that, he adjusted his dream again:
to passing the Illinois bar exam. And once he’d done that, to becoming one of
Chicago’s top lawyers. Even once he’d succeeded in that goal, he wasn’t
finished dreaming. He then dreamed that he could, through the position he’d
worked so hard all his life to attain, make life better for the underprivileged
kids in the area where he’d grown up. That’s what I call positive dreaming.
So where do you see yourself
next? What’s your vision of your future? One thing’s for sure, if you ever
hope to achieve it, you need to see it and feel it, vividly, in your mind’s
eye, and not just occasionally. Learn to often reinforce your vision of where
you hope to be in a few years time—and then work towards achieving it.
It’s not only dreaming, of
course, but believing and taking action also. You’ve got to take specific
steps to get you where you want to be. Soon you’ll learn some simple goal
setting ideas that can help you transform your dreams into reality. They’re
the same ideas that many top performers use in order to help them make steady
progress, but for now, I want you to get a clear vision of what it is that you
want to achieve for yourself.
Think about what you want to
become, how you want things to be. For a little while, you need to do some
Imagineering. Close your eyes and see yourself and everything around you the
way you want it to be. Imagine it; feel it; see it clearly; see it vividly.
Let your spirit soar.
Decide: What’s your dream?
Figure it out. That’s your assignment.
Art of Mental Training
Warrior/Champions set out to
turn their dreams into reality by taking action through goal setting. Often,
personal growth and peak performance are directly related to how well an
athlete has mastered goal-setting skills. Mental athletes are goal-oriented.
They have vision.
When an athlete complains of
lacking motivation, you can be sure that it’s almost always caused by goals
that fail to inspire him to action. Goals serve to keep you on target. They
increase the desire to achieve. Goals increase your self-confidence as you
experience measurable improvement. With proper goal setting, the quality of
practice sessions automatically improves. Goals enhance performance, and help