Being an Olympic year there is a lot of discussion amongst the sporting fraternity with respect to maximizing athlete performance. Sporting commentators are constantly covered in the media talking about the importance of managing a training and competition schedule to maximise the chances of success and the mental skills training necessary to have an athlete confident and motivated going into London. There is a lot of buzz about performance.
One of the most basic aspects of elite performance is preparation. It is basic because everyone understands how important it is to be prepared in terms of performing well.. don’t they?
An Olympic year is an opportune time to look at why preparation is important. It is not uncommon to see gifted and talented athletes not preparing well enough physically and mentally for competition, and as a result their performances are often inconsistent. Their lack of quality preparation is not a function of laziness or arrogance, but rather often related to the fact that they don’t fully understand why preparation is important.
Good preparation is important for a number of reasons. First, as most would understand, it prepares the body for competition by making it fit enough and strong enough to perform. Preparation also prepares the body in terms of being able to handle repeat performances, and recovering from niggling injuries. Second, preparation gets the mind ready for competition and all that competition might throw at it. More specifically, it prepares the mind to be focused, confident, and calm.
If the body is not fit enough and strong enough to do what it needs to do in competition then performance will be hindered. There is no way around it. If the training is not done then no amount of confidence or self-belief will replace it. Preparation in the form of quality training is imperative. Simply put, if you choose not to do the hard work then don’t be surprised or upset when you don’t perform at your best.
Preparation in the form of being organised and structured is also important for the body to handle the rigours of performance. Active recovery, ice-baths, stretching, triggering, and all of the other small, but important things must be done if the body is going to be ready for repeat performances at the highest level. So, preparation in the form of having the facilities, time, and resources set up to do these small things also becomes critical. Doing all of the training, performing well and then not being able to facilitate recovery at a major event is a sure way to underperform.
Methodical preparation is crucial in terms of confidence and self-belief. One of the major sources of confidence an athlete (or a non-athlete) can draw upon is good preparation. Athletes compete much better when they know they have done the work and they know their bodies are ready to do what is required.
Preparing well must include performing the physical movement that the sport involves. A lot of this has to do with acquiring the skill to the point where it is near automatic. An equally important part is that the mind learns how and where to be focused during the event so that performance can be maximised. For example, a rower can be tall and strong and achieve great ergo results but if they don’t know what to focus on and when during a race, their mind will be all over the place resulting in poor performance. A golfer can stand on the range and hit perfect ball after perfect ball but until they get out and play on the course, their mind won’t be truly trained to focus on the right things at the right times.
As a result of good physical and mental preparation the mind can be more calm and in control during competitions. When an athlete feels they are prepared, they are ready for whatever the event will throw at them, and they believe they can perform well then the mind is clear and calm.
The Mental Notes Consulting team specialises in helping athletes compete at the peak of their capabilities. We have a range of skills and tools designed to help athletes feel focused, calm, confident, and ready to compete. They are very effective and essential for athletes who want to be competitive in their sport. However, something as simple as being prepared and organised can also help to make the difference between good athletes and great ones.
Matt Ahlberg | Sport & Exercise Psychologist MAPS