One reason an athlete will get beat, or not do what they were supposed to in a competition, is because they went in thinking they wouldn’t be able to do it. In order to have the outcome expected, you need to believe it’s possible.
A number of athletes will routinely use visualization techniques as part of their individual sports training. Those who use this technique often say that their performance improves, mental awareness and sense of well-being. All these factors contribute to an athlete’s success.
I used to compete in biathlon (skiing & target shooting) and we would use imagery to to calm our breathing and “see” the target. I do think it works, but you need to practice over and over.—Guest runner5
Visualization happens when athletes create an image or a series of images relevant to their sport, without any external prompts or stimulation; the images are mentally generated by an athlete on their own. It is simply creating the scenario that an athlete will have the outcome they seek in a competition based on past experiences as well as the desired. The most effective visualization techniques result best with a detailed sport experience where the athlete has complete control over a successful performance. An athlete may also depend on auditory (sounds), kinesthetic(movements), tactile sensations (touch), and purely emotional stimulation in order to get the visualization going through their mind.
The 4 Cs
- Concentration – ability to maintain focus
- This is the mental quality to focus on the task in hand. If the athlete lacks concentration then their athletic abilities will not be effectively or efficiently applied to the task. Strategies to improve concentration are very personal.
- Confidence – believe in one’s abilities
- Confidence results from the comparison an athlete makes between the goal and their ability. The athlete will have self-confidence if they believe they can achieve their goal. Good goal setting (challenging yet realistic) can bring feelings of success. If athletes can see that they are achieving their short term goals and moving towards their long term goals then confidence grows. Confidence is a positive state of mind and a belief that you can meet the challenge ahead – a feeling of being in control.
- Control – ability to maintain emotional control regardless of distraction
- Identifying when an athlete feels a particular emotion and understanding the reason for the feelings is an important stage of helping an athlete gain emotional control. An athlete’s ability to maintain control of their emotions in the face of adversity and remain positive is essential to successful performance.
- Commitment – ability to continue working to agreed goals
- Sports performance depends on the athlete being fully committed to numerous goals over many years. In competition with these goals the athlete will have many aspects of daily life to manage.
Factors of Performance
Stress can be a major cause of bad performance in an athlete, along with anxiety and anger as well.
Anxiety comes in two forms – Physical, the feeling of butterflies and nausea, and Mental, consisting of negative thoughts and worry. Relaxation is a technique that can be used to reduce anxiety.
When an athlete is angry, the cause of the anger often holds the main focus and attention. This then leads to a loss of concentration on what it is the need to be doing, performance deteriorates and confidence in ability is lost which fuels the anger.
Races are often won or lost before they even have the opportunity to begin. Swimmers who know this often play mental tricks on their competition. This is designed to give them a mental advantage without any knowledge that it is happening. Occasionally these can backfire on the swimmer by taking their focus off their own race, but it is also important to be ready to handle these unexpected mind games. It’s important to over come these challenges and stay focused on what needs to be done in a competition.
Swimmers also go through many specific periods during their season. There is often a one to two week period often referred to as “hell week” when practices are more intense and involve a lot of extra yardage. It’s meant to exhaust the body’s muscles and work them hard. This period is followed with what’s called taper, this is usually two weeks long and is a recovery period. During the weeks of taper swimmers are expected to hold on to their energy and keep a healthy diet. For a specified period of time, especially women swimmers, are not aloud to shave and let the dead skin and hair have some build up. The last day of taper, which is generally the day before a big competition, the swimmers will shave down. This involves shaving what your swimsuit will not cover, men will shave their head while women often wear just a swim cap. The shave down takes away layers of skin and hair that cause drag. The theory that the shave down and the mental process of taper have not been scientifically proven to make someone go faster in the water. As of now, it is all based on a swimmer’s attitude and their confidence in themselves.
“In training everyone focuses on 90% physical and 10% mental, but in the races its 90% mental – because there’s very little that separates us physically at the elite level”.
Research is finding that both physical and psychological preparation in certain situations can be improved with these exercises. Such repeated technique can build both experience and confidence in an athlete’s ability to perform certain skills under pressure, or in a variety of possible situations.
Advanced Studies in Physical Education and Sport, P Beashel