Most athletes recognise the importance of warming up. Even the casual Sunday league footballer will display a show of jogging or touching of toes before kick off in the knowledge that by doing so he will perform better and reduce the risk of injury, to a degree. However, warming up is more than just a physical process, performance is also increased by mentally and emotionally warming up.
This process may begin a few days in advance of an event or even 5 minutes before but mentally attuning is a skill that should to be developed and strengthened.
In contrast, lets compare those occasions in which you may have been running late and focusing on traffic or another external factors and upon arrival had to get immediately involved. Even if you are physically warm from jogging to the destination, in those first 5-10 minutes you’re usually distracted and sub maximal performance ensues.
Preparation is mental as well as physical
So what should be focussed on when mentally attuning to an event or training session.
Venue – The place where you are to perform. Familiarity has a huge impact on performance and when attending a new venue distractions or external factors are in abundance. Mentally familiarising yourself with the venue beforehand will help attune your thoughts. Visualise your performance within the venue beforehand. If it’s a new venue get there early and visualise before or whilst warming up.
In 1982, the West German football team played England at Wembley. Not only did the organise a training session on the day before but also had a mock “Wembley Roar” playing on the speakers throughout. This familiarisation of venue is nowadays common practice for the elite athlete.
Your Self – Your thoughts and feelings probably vary more on a day to day basis than your physical sensations. A golfer may spend his time at work thinking about his putting last week and spend his time on the green thinking about a deadline with work. For the majority of the time people are unaware that their thoughts are not present. Distracting thoughts are best recognised and put to one side to be addressed at a later time.
It is also important to tune to a certain level of emotion that is appropriate to the task at hand. For a power lifter that level will be different to a ballet dancer and depending on the person and day, one level could be harder to achieve and maintain than another. The ability to tune in to that appropriate level is a key ability in mental toughness.
Other People – Performance is also affected by your relationship with other people, whether it’s opponents, teammates or coaches. Tuning in or getting on the same wavelength is a tricky process as one can easily benefit or hinder another. Recall a situation in which you were training well and by interacting with someone else you lost that focus you obtained, or a time another person has helped you attune to an appropriate mindset. By a shared conversation a collective group can provide an environment suitable for high performance.
Purpose – Why are you there? The most effective thought process to ‘tune in’ is recalling why you are in the situation in the first place. Recalling long term objectives, the importance of the current training or event and it’s place on the path to your goal is incredibly motivating. Effective goal setting is crucial to this. Focusing on mastery and process goals, such as your technique, helps lower the pressure associated with outcome goals (personal best’s and medals) and ultimately leads to a long term commitment.