There is often a fine line between young athletes playing sport for fun, and the desire to be a successful elite athlete. As a psychologist who has worked with an array of athletes from elite, state and local levels, there are often psychological barriers to an athlete’s success.
Detailed below are 5 effective ways to prepare a young athlete for success.
Control what you can control
Sport generates powerful emotional responses among participants. An athlete’s mood will be influenced by situational factors such as weather conditions, sporting arena and your opponent(s) to name a few. It is how we manage these factors that determines an athlete’s success. By using attentional deployment an athlete will be able to remain focused on their own race/competition. Attentional deployment involves diverting attention away from elements of competition that cannot be controlled by using music or focusing on your breath as a distraction.
Focus on the performance and be present in the moment
A technique used to help an athlete concentrate during sport is called moment-for- moment. This strategy encourages the athlete to focus only on the one task that he/she has to do at that point in that time. This means, not to worry about things that they have already done (successfully or unsuccessfully) and not to worry about things that they have to do in the future.
Believe in yourself
Negative self-talk is an athlete’s own worst enemy. Developing cognitive strategies to reframe unrealistic or maladaptive thought patterns is key to an athlete’s success. Try setting SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals in order to maintain positive self-talk and achievable success.
Use Mental Imagery
Developing and rehearsing images of ideal technique, attitudes, and emotional states can create a template for competitive performance. This can be practiced by building mental models for performance. These models are different from achievement goals or affirmations in that they define the process of the performance itself. By visualising your best performance and identifying important aspects, as well as considering your attitude and frame of mind, you are on your way to success.
Learning to relax through breath has several benefits. One benefit is that breathing can be used to reduce stress and tension. In fact, muscular tension is often a result of mental stress. For example, when you are anticipating the start of a race, you are likely unnecessarily contracting unneeded muscles leading to a cumulative fatiguing effect. A simple breathing exercise laying down and being aware of your breath and the rise and fall of your abdomen prior to competition will be very effective in relaxing the mind and body.
By attempting one or all of these tips to prepare for your next competition, you will be on your way to achieving what YOU believe to be success.