This week I’ve seen many athletes at the Olympics use a mental plan before they compete. I’ve seen Apolo Ohno tune out distractions by listening to his iPod. I’ve seen Louie Vito psych up by listening to his. I’ve seen Megan Sweeney use imagery, Scotty Barhke employ breathing techniques to relax and Lindsey Vonn shaking out of her boots at the starting gate and saying later, “I wasn’t nervous at all; I was trying to be aggressive.” These Olympic athletes may have a lot of things that most of us don’t have, but anyone can have a good mental plan for peak performance.
A mental plan is routine made up of mental skills like imagery, intensity regulation, focusing exercises, and thought control procedures to help you achieve your peak mental state. You probably already have a physical routine you use before training and competitions. Maybe you stretch, check your equipment, eat and drink something in particular the morning of a big event. Preparing in this way not only gives you time to get yourself in the best physical state possible, it also gives you a routine that feels familiar, and can help keep your nerves in check. It is just as important to have a mental plan for competitions, although many athletes neglect this portion of their preparation, often because they don't know what sort of things should go into a mental plan, or how to practice mental skills. Everyone's mental plan will differ, but each one is designed to help athletes get their optimal level of intensity, keep or maintain their focus, mentally rehearse their game plan, work through exertion pain, and stay on track to do their best.
To develop your own mental plan, think of the things you’ve done before some of your best performances. Do you do things to psych up or psych down? Do you listen to a particular kind of music? Do you visualize a successful performance? Are there things that you say to yourself that help you get into the proper state of mind?
Olympic athletes make good mental plans because they are an effective way to bring their best when it the pressure is on. But these plans don’t happen by accident. To get your plan together, write down a list of the things you want to do, both physically and mentally, before a competition. Then test them out in practices and training to tweak what works best for you. Once your plan becomes automatic, you’ll be ready to use it in when it really counts. For more information on mental planning, and the mental skills used in mental plans, see the Training Article on mental planning on this page.
Wed, February 24, 2010
by Dana Blackmer, Ph.D, CC-AASP filed under