Tournament prep .... it's all in your head


Two weeks out from a very important tournament, meet, match or race. What’s most important? Cramming in physical sessions because you think you haven’t done the work? Not likely.

This time needs to be spent getting the two inches between your ears ready for the challenge.

If you are serious about your sport you will have done the physical preparation well out from the moment, but what you won’t have overtly done is prepared your mind for the moment. You would definitely have planted seeds that will have been growing during the physical prep, but you probably won’t have sharpened your mind for your best performance.

See Success .....

In the lead up to the event, and the timing will depend on the sport, you need to make sure you give yourself the best opportunity for success by living and breathing that success in your mind. You will also need to have experienced the errors or the obstacles that may come your way, and which could easily distract you from your ultimate goal. It may be simply days beforehand or it might be weeks beforehand but you will need to get your mind into a space that ensures your best performance. To do this you need to identify those things that will or could effect your performance both in a positive and negative way.

You need to develop a strategy that allows you to reflect on all the training you have done, and to take confidence from that training. When it gets tough and you may have doubts as to your ability to reach your goal, you need to have prepared a thought process to say, “I have done the kilometres, I have sharpened my skills, I am as fit as I need to be, I am as skilled as I need to be ….. I am ready to do this”. When your legs are about to give out you need to remind yourself of the running you did, the intervals, the sprints, the long kilometres. These are the thoughts that are going to allow you to push harder for longer.

You will also need to have seen what victory looks like. Using visualisation you should have lived through the moment of victory, the aftermath of a successful race or match. It is the view you want most, it is the dream you need to become reality. By playing this out in your mind you will be helping motivate yourself to perform and to achieve the satisfaction of achieving your goal. Included in this visualisation will be the process you will need to go through to get that victory. Imagine yourself executing your race plan or your core skills in the game; plant the seed of experience in your mind by running through all the elements of your race or match; the start, the critical points during, and the final moments when it may still be in the balance and your execution could be the difference between winning and losing.

On the other side of the coin you will be better off if you have experienced the problems or hurdles that may be placed in front of you. Visualise yourself making an error and develop a strategy for overcoming that error. See yourself rebounding from the disappointment of the mistake to a moment of perfect execution. By doing this you are building a database of experiences specific to that moment before you even get there. When you get older you will really appreciate the value of experience and the wisdom it gives you. We all wish we could go back in time knowing what we know when we are older.

Know who you are .....

To reinforce the visualisation of success you will need to make sure you completely understand your brand. Who do you want to be? What is it you want people to see when you compete? When you come off of the track, field, court or out of the pool, what image will you portray?

By being clear on who you actually are and living that example you will be able to feel confident in your performance and comfortable and at ease in your own skin. By trying to be something you are not you will waste valuable energy and cause anxiety behind a mask.

Martin Crowe, former New Zealand cricketer, knew all too well about wearing a mask. He was lauded as a wonderful batsman and cricketer and the cricketing world adored his on-field skills, but behind the scenes, behind his mask, he was a confused and lost man. It wasn’t until cancer shook him into action did he expose his real self and look for help; he rid himself of his mask and became true to himself. He was asked what the meaning of success was and to him it was accepting who he was. Accept who you are and build a brand around that; you will thank yourself for it because it will allow you to direct your energy toward high performance and away from a charade.

Fill your love tank .....

Another way to ensure you have the energy to perform is to fill your love tank. Love tank? Yes, love tank. We perform the best when we are happy. As experienced athletes you will have had experiences when you really weren’t in the mood to perform and so you didn’t. Why did this happen? I can assure you it could have stemmed simply from not being in a happy place when you needed to be. In simple terms, you have a fight with your partner the morning of a game. I can assure you the emotional energy that you expend dealing with that internal and external conflict will sap your energy, and at the highest levels a one percent drop in performance is the difference between Gold and Silver, or the winners trophy and a big fat thanks for coming. Know what you love and ensure that it is part of your preparation. If family time fills you with joy, spend quality time with your family before you perform. Feeling loved and fulfilled is a much better fuel than anger or bravado because it lasts longer and it burns deeper in your engine. Let your coach, family, and partners know what it is that fills you with love because they play a huge part of the process. They generally facilitate your ability to get what you want and NEED.

Know your detail .....

You can prepare physically all you want but you need to be able to execute what you know and in most sports there is a component of intellect. You don’t have to be a Rhode scholar but you do need to know your plays, know your plan, know the stuff that can be put on paper. If you need to stop and think about what has to happen next then the moment is lost and someone else who knows their detail has already beaten you. Do the study so that it becomes automatic and a lot of that study will be done months in advance but it’s the last couple of weeks or days where that detail flows out of your brain at a pace you need to be quick to keep up with. You need to know it’s coming even before it is required. The reason why Roger Federer returns serve so well is that he knows his detail so well he can almost read where the ball will go based on the body of his opponent serving to him. He has developed a database of experience over many years of hard work to recognise queues in the servers body to reveal they are going across court or straight down the line. Now that is knowing the detail.

Your ability to achieve in many sports relies on a great physical capacity but that will only get you so far. Making sure the two inches between your ears is ready for the challenge can be the defining element of preparation to achieve success. Whether it is living the moment beforehand through visualisation, or making sure you are comfortable and confident in your brand, or simply knowing your detail, your mental approach to your sport and the task at hand is essential for success.