In athletics preparation and mindset makes (or breaks) many athletes. The most successful prepare the mind as well as the body. In my earlier years as a collegiate sprinter I recognized several factors that differentiated the average from the stellar athletic performers.
The following tips hold true from the track to the pitch to the court and anywhere else competition exists.
Hone Your Craft
The best athletes in the world shape their skills to the highest possible level. Honing means sharpening, smoothing, and perfecting. Dissection of small behaviors, movements, and techniques lead to discovery of new areas to improve.
Examining each aspect, whether leaving the starting blocks or striking a perfect soccer shot, top competitors expose small inconsistencies in physical mechanics which betray the best performance.
Elite performers seek improvement through refinement. Greater control of small details, accumulated over time, result in performance gains.
Talent does not cause success. Talent plus huge repetition and refinement wins championships.
Every endeavor has leaders and innovators. Sometimes training techniques, approaches and programs become stagnant or outdated. Research in exercise physiology has taught us a tremendous amount in the last decade about how the human body reacts in high performance scenarios.
As a young sprinter, I had the great fortune of training under Clyde Hart. Coach Hart is arguably one of the most successful track & field coaches of all time. Though I didn’t fully recognize his genius at the time, looking back I realize his success stemmed from implementation of innovative training techniques. He routinely used race-pace training regimens, strength programs, and timed interval buzzers during workouts which pushed not just aerobic but anaerobic endurance as well.
Become an innovator!
Explore how the highest level athletes train. Study individuals trying new activities, try to understand new techniques and training strategies.
Sometimes training can become monotonous. Throw in a training session designed to develop mental toughness, improve balance, or maybe flexibility. Expand horizons of performance by focusing on highly specific areas of weakness and perform workouts to improve those areas.
Get Perspective/Success Visualization
Standing on the track in front of thousands of spectators in one of the biggest races of my life, I learned a valuable lesson that I believe aided my performance the rest of my career.
No matter how big the game, once the preparation is done, the whistle blows or the gun fires, all you can do is do your best.
A quiet little voice in my head reminded me of that fact before the gun fired. I instantly knew my best performance would flow from letting go of wasted anxious energy. Instead, my best results stemmed from simply focusing on my specific performance—my gameplan.
A game or race is just that…a sport. It’s fun. Hunger Games aside, whether you win or lose ultimately isn’t life or death.
The mind is at least 50% athletic performance. So often external/internal expectations rob talented athletes of their best performance.
I have seen competitors crippled by automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) like:
What happens if I lose?
What will my friends, family, or coaches think?
What if I fail?
In the end, life goes on.
From performance perspective however, focusing instead on technique can influence the outcome tremendously. Personally, I used to focus on the phases of my race. I visualized how the initial 200-400 m would unfold. I would remind myself to watch out tactical errors like getting “boxed-in.” I would mentally imagine myself making a final powerful kick at a key point in the race. Each thought forced me to mentally and emotionally focus not on outcome anxieties, but more on my specific plan I would shortly execute.
In my experience, the fastest races and best performances always came from a focused but relaxed mindset. Aggressive, fierce, determined to win—but relaxed and accepting of any outcome as long as I executed my plan.
Gaining the bigger perspective can make all the difference. Win or lose, knowing you prepared and gave your best effort leaves no room for regret or shame.
Use Rocket Fuel
No essay on sports performance can overlook the role of proper fuel for performance. Soda, alcohol, sugar, candy, excessive processed starches and chemically laden foods rob performance. The aforementioned foods unbalance hormones and increase inflammation.
Instead of speed-performance you get slow-pain. Instead of stamina-quick repair you get weakness-injury.
The very best athletes in their sport know that hydration and proper nutrition maximize performance. Diets without adequate protein, quality fats, fresh vegetables and fruit lead to increased injuries, decreased stamina, and loss of mental focus. Real foods trump supplements, sports drinks, and powders anyday.
“Real” high quality food acts like Rocket Fuel! Do you eat junk? Elite athletes don’t!
You want unstable performance? Ignore nutrition.