Most competitive athletes spend plenty of hours training for their sport. They work on speed and coordination, and they train to build strength in muscles primarily used by their activity. Yet with all the practice to be a better athlete, one of the most important factors in sport is often neglected: the mind.
As most of my readers know, my sport is skiing. I will never forget the lesson I learned from a skier who ended up being a loser because her mind went crazy while waiting for a race to begin. She was a relatively new skier who had progressed amazingly fast through her ski club's age rank, from the novice category through intermediate and with a "strike" in the advanced field. Another strike would bump her to the advanced category. She wanted that.
While standing around waiting for the giant slalom race to start, she saw one of the race crew with a big full bag on his shoulder starting to ski down the course, flinging handfuls of bluish crystals from the bag to the "line" of the course. She asked the starter, who was also standing around, what he was doing. The starter replied, "He's salting the course to make it faster."
As she told me later, instead of waiting for her start to find out the course conditions, she just heard the words " ... to make it faster," and freaked out. When it was her turn, she was afraid, and just glided slowly out of the start. Instead of testing the course snow conditions and adjusting accordingly, she snowplowed the whole way down, which is the slowest possible kind of skiing. She came in DFL, a euphemism for, um, dead last.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sun News
After she learned that 'salting the course' was done on nearly every ski race to harden up the snow so the course wouldn't become rutted, she realized she needed to think differently before a race. The result was that she worked on training her mind, and eventually learned how to suppress fear.
Are you one of those who rarely reaches full race potential because your mind gets out of control before an event? Whether it's a cycling, running, triathlon or ski race, you will need to train your mind to have only confidence during an event. Don't picture yourself losing or falling. Build your self confidence by visualizing yourself coming in faster than usual, but don't make the mistake (and it IS a mistake) of wanting to beat another athlete. Even if you make that goal, you will only be faster than that racer. Picture your own performance, no matter what your sport is. If you're part of a team, focus on feeling part of a team and of being fond of your teammates. Focus on speed. Imagine yourself making that basket, sending a puck between the goalie's skates, sprinting a longer distance to the finish line. Think about setting a PR (personal record).
One reminder: this advice should be used in ordinary practice, not just at an event. As you are biking or running up that hill, concentrate on going faster. Envision your technique. Put into play the things you have learned from the champions of your sport. Watch videos of those champions, and picture yourself emulating them. Remind yourself of the stance of those winners during an event in which you are competing.
Mind control is essential to being a winner. Make your mind obey your physical demands, and never let fear or anxiety take control.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly , which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.