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I went to a competition last weekend, and it takes me a good 20 minutes or so before I really get it together. I get completely thrown off course by everything around me- people warming up, looking at other coaches and riders on the sidelines watching me ride. How can get my head in the right space so I can produce the results in competition that I am experiencing at home?
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Start by thinking of every emotion that we experience as a form of energy. Getting in the zone, or getting our head in the right space, involves concentrating all of the energy that is available to us at that particular moment and directing it towards our ultimate outcome. When we do so effectively, it gifts us with the ability to ride with focus and clarity and the means to continue to make effective decisions in the face of outside pressure.
Everything that you have going on inside your head has everything to do with how well you end up performing.
When you arrive at a competition, the emotions, pressures and distractions of your environment becomes interspersed with what it is that is going on inside your head. We begin to mix the energy of the outside with the energy of the inside, and the potential result of those two forces combining can form any number of possible results. Depending on your mental skill base, what manifests on the outside could be feelings of nervousness, anxiety and loss of focus- or it could be confidence and clarity. It all comes down to the ability to consistently direct your focus in a way that empowers you and have the mental strength and skills that will enable you to harness the energy and use it to your advantage.
This is what riders and athletes who perform at the highest level know how to do. They recognize the forces that will be outside of their control and influence but have developed the mental fortitude that allows them to continue to perform at their optimum in the face of it. Across the board, it is those riders who learn and practice mental training techniques along with the physical training techniques that are consistently able to produce the highest level of results.
So how is this possible? How do you develop that kind of mental strength for yourself? With my private clients, I work to a 5 step program that embodies the following elements:
1. Developing your competition mindset. This encompasses several elements that involves analysing your underlying belief systems, self talk and aspects of self identity which feed in to your ability to create the results you desire.
2. Breath work that ensures you can effectively manage your emotional and physical responses to stay in the optimal arousal zone.
3. Visualisation techniques
4. Effective pre and post competition strategy, as well as a plan for competition day
5. Anchoring and mental programming techniques.
Just as you would visit the gym or hire a personal trainer to create optimal physical fitness, creating the type of mental strength that we need to deal effectively with competition pressure requires some training and pre-planning. You get out what you put in. Expecting to ride and perform at your optimum without training your mental muscles means that you launching off an unstable foundation; sometimes it will work out, sometimes it won’t.
The key lies with developing an effective mental training plan that will allow you to simultaneously stay positive, resourceful and focused whilst deflecting outside pressures that could potentially detract for your overall purpose and outcome.