You have been training unbelievably hard for this moment. It’s the chance to show everyone all you have to offer. To make your gym, your family and teammates, and yourself proud. To return home, medal in hand.
How do you consistently perform your best,
especially when it matters most?
Let’s look at this idea of “when it matters most.”
In essence, it all matters. If you think about the days and hours you spend practicing, chances are that percentage of time far outweighs time spent in competitive performance. So – how do you make the most of all the moments?
1. Bring awareness to your ideal performance mindset, where “performance” doesn’t just apply to meet time. When you’re at your best, what’s in play? Do you thrive or crumble under stress? Is your pre-game focus internal [all-meet-all-the-time], or external [distractive]? Where’s your confidence and how do you bolster it before stepping onto the apparatus? Practice using the tools necessary to get your mind in the game. And when you’re done, practice some more. Doing so daily (not just “when it matters”) will help make this performance mindset second nature.
2. Equalize the stakes so that practice mimics performance (…easier said than done, right?!). It makes sense that the further into the season you are, the greater the stakes and the higher the pressure. It’s like the more success we see, the more we expect ourselves to continue to be successful.
…a Catch 22, if you will – be great and excel,
but don’t let the pressure of being great
and excelling lead to your downfall.
Instead, learn to develop pre-performance routines [example: http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/resources/resources-for-athletes/playing-pressure-points/] that establish familiarity and signal “it’s go time.” Bring your mental game to the warm-up and give it the attention likely already given to your physical warm-up.
3. Focus on controlling the controllables. While certainly not out of sight, outcomes are often out of our hands. And yet, most people still tend to focus on the end goal – the clean routine, the score, the spot on the podium – and in doing so, overlook HOW to get there. It would be like hopping in the car to drive cross country without a map or GPS. Sure, you might get there eventually… but the trip would be far more challenging, indirect, and bumpy. Stick to what you know! Focus on the controllables – things like form, performance, and technical preparedness – so that you can bring what you’ve practiced, time and time again, to the mat. Find satisfaction in the process; start small so you can finish BIG.
This is the moment you’ve been training for. This is your time. Time to – in the words of Tom Brady – DO YOUR JOB. Take stock of your mental game and make sure it’s up to par with your physical game. Know that you’ve done everything you can to be ready – both mentally and physically – when all eyes are on you.
Kelsey Griffith, MS, is a mental skills specialist at The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, Boston Children’s Hospital.