If at the very moment I told you that you are to represent your country in 400m race in the upcoming Olympics in London, what would you do? I guess you would grab a pair of trainers and train by running around your town. Sure enough that would make you better at running, but you wouldn’t be anywhere near the world class athletes in terms of performance. Setting aside the lack of experience or adequate physical training, what stops you from performing as well as say Usain Bolt, or LaShawn Merritt? It’s your mind.
All world class sportsmen, be it runners, ski jumpers, or boxers have the right mindset for success. Some believe that right frame of mind constitutes for 50% of success (other half being physical training), while others state that whopping 80% of the success should be accredited to individual’s state of mind. Most are not born with it, but spend countless hours drilling it with their psychologists. In this article I am going to explore what exactly is the mindset required for the triumph.
This is my first point and probably the single most common reason for failure. Why did Dereck Chisora get knocked out in fifth round by David Haye in the yesterday boxing event in Upton Park? At the beginning of the bout we could see Chisora very focused and sticking to the game plan. In fifth round his hatred of David Haye took over him and he started throwing scruffy, rage fuelled punches, which led to Chisora’s demise. Similarly, if stress takes over an athlete, results are just as bad. How many times you were stressed on your exam and could not answer a particular question, yet few minutes after leaving exam hall the answer pops back to your mind? Same is the case in sports. Stressed athlete will not be able to carry out given movement with such precision as they would in training, or they will not be able to spot all the openings in opponent’s guard. Not to mention stressed Olympic tae kwon do competitors or dancers would lose great deal of the much needed flexibility. Uncontrolled emotions can prove to be a great distraction, while we want to remain focused. However, emotions can also boost our performance once controlled.
This one is a bit obvious and closely related to previous mind characteristic. You run towards other team’s goal while in possession of a football. Crowd is going wild, everyone is shouting, but you have to block out all distractions and make that ball fly in precise curved trajectory, right into that goal. That is what focus is all about. Sportsmen spend years drilling it. Focus in a way could be called the ability to block out distractions.
This is another obvious one, but very important one. Every single sportsman needs to love what they do and to push themselves past their limits every single training session, in order to come back stronger on next competition. You can tell straight away if an athlete love what he/she does or is in for money.
4. Mental Toughness/Endurance
You are running 5-mile race. Your legs ache, your throat stings with every breath you take. You feel an invisible force tenaciously squeezing your chest like boa the constrictor. Above all you know you still have three miles to go, yet you cannot slow down, or you will lose. That is when mental endurance comes in. It is ability to block out the pain and to carry on. When you are tired, your body sends out various signals to appeal to your brain’s instincts to slow down. Mentally tough people can prevent themselves from following those instincts, or body’s commands. In fact running training consists of two parts. First is the training to improve physical ability of muscles and cardiovascular efficiency, which allows you to run faster and longer. There is also the mental endurance part with teaches you to cope with the workload, once your physical abilities have been surpassed, once your heart does not circulate blood fast enough to ensure aerobic respiration in muscles, once muscles are damaged and cannot perform at their best anymore.
5. Coping with Setbacks
In everyone’s career comes a point where they have failed, be it a boxer who got knocked out, or a manager who has failed to secure a venue for his rock band to play in. Good athlete has to be able to cope with failure and bounce back stronger than ever. If athlete doesn’t deal with loss very well they will come back ‘as they have to win’, which will hang onto their mind stopping them from focusing and hampering ability to control stress.
These are just but a few traits of the ‘athletic mindset’. Overall, I can’t help but to think athlete is supposed to be relaxed, but focused person. Initially it might seem to be a contradicting paradox, but after giving it some thought you can see that it is actually possible. I hope this article has explained that there is much more going on in the sport than what we can see.
Article written by: Hubert Bieluczyk
image from: http://www.joystiq.com