Your athletic performance can be a result of what's happening inside your head.
Our performance is influenced by our thoughts. We can use this to our advantage with visualization techniques to increase our athletic performance. Meditation is the key here, and becoming an expert at it can be really beneficial.
- Practice makes perfect!
- Use the various methods listed below - there's no harm in trying
- Keep your negativity in check
Get your Head in the Game
“Get your head in the game!” How many of us have heard this yelled time and time again by coaches and teammates? Just what the heck is it supposed to mean? You’re out there, sweating your glands out, breathing as if your lungs are on fire with a competitive burn in your belly. Yet, you end up walking away from the field or arena feeling like you could have done a LOT better. What went wrong? Why do we often screw up and how do we rise above it?
Follow the points below to significantly improve your sports performance:
- It is possible that it's all in your head.
- Visualization or mental imagery is something that has been shown to be useful.
According to Sport Psychology Today, an athlete’s performance is often the result of what’s happening inside his or her head. Whether it is a nagging inner voice or a crowd of people cheering, sometimes what one needs to do is drown out the excessive noise. By learning to visualize off the pitch (or path, etc.) you can dramatically increase your performance when you’re next competing. Visualization – or mental imagery – is a technique used by top athletes to imagine themselves in a specific environment, performing a specific activity. A very interesting article I once read on www.Livestrong.com indicated that visualization can also be a hugely effective motivational tool – when practiced it can help remind you of your objectives and inspire self-confidence. More significantly, it can help identify bad habits and help you break a negative pattern.
“But I hate meditation,” you say. “I can’t sit still for 2 minutes – I want to MOVE.” Aha! Visualization does NOT involve sitting cross-legged on the floor whilst chanting through your nose. It is all about movement – and the play, replay, and intensity of your memory associated with that movement. Here are some easy tips to get you started:
- Practice makes perfect: 5-10 minutes every day is more beneficial than an hour long session once per week. Try visualizing first thing in the morning when the mind is still positive and not yet bogged down with “mental baggage.”
- Visualize your best move – one of the most powerful effects of good visualization is that it programs the subconscious brain. Think of it as being a remote-controlled car which moves towards a target as fast or as slow as you want it to. You can make small adjustments to its path; moving it forwards, backward or turning it in circles until you find the best way to your goal. The trick here is to stay positive – don’t program your subconscious mind with negative coordinates. Your mind is one place where you can achieve absolute success – you can execute skills without error, dominate your competition and win each and every time.
- Change your perspective: Sit quietly and take five deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling forcefully through the mouth, as if you’re blowing out a candle. With every exhalation, release any doubts or negative emotions associated with the fear of failure. With each breath, allow yourself to relax even further. As you continue to unwind and breathe deeply, bring up an image of yourself competing: Where are you? Who are you competing against? See if you can involve your senses – Who do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? Continue breathing deeply, and allow yourself to imagine further: What do you smell? Begin to play around with your internal imagery – see yourself performing at your absolute best. Give yourself permission to daydream and push your current limitations.
- Association v.s. Disassociation – so when you were performing, what did you see? Associated images involve you feeling as if you are really there looking out from your body. Association allows you to connect to the actual feeling of the visualization. Disassociation involves you looking objectively at your body as if you were an observer (many gymnasts and golfers do this). The main benefit of this is that you can work through a painful experience (an injury or a loss) and turn it into a learning experience – what would you change? How would you move differently? The key here is to allow yourself to experiment with being both associated and disassociated to find out what works best for you in a given situation.
- Fuel Your Emotions – A visualization without feeling is like a jet engine without fuel. Feelings lead to emotions, and emotions are the fuel to your performance. Create powerful emotions and you’ll create a richer performance state. Allow yourself to heighten your emotional state – here are two suggestions:
- Technicolor v.s. black and white – when you began to visualize, did you see yourself in color or black and white? Whatever the outcome, go back and switch it. What did you notice? Most people who allow themselves to visualize in color feel a heightened sense of emotion and consequently a greater sense of purpose. If you are looking at yourself in black and white, begin to pinpoint the areas of grey – and fill color in. Gradually allow your picture to grow in color and brightness, increasing your emotional field.
- “Spin the dial” – you can actually use this technique in addition to the “technicolor” technique mentioned above. Concentrate on the feelings you’re currently experiencing. If you can, give it a name (elation, anxiety, raw determination, etc.) As you do this, see a dial appear in front of you, like the volume knob on your car’s stereo system. This dial is connected to the intensity of your visualization. Turning the dial up increases the intensity; turning it down mutes the intensity. As you visualize your movements, turn the dial up, increase the colors and breathe a little deeper.
- Follow a system – Most people have an uncoordinated approach to visualization. Separate yourself from the outside noise. Sit in a quiet space. Close your eyes. Breathe in through the nose and out forcefully through the mouth. Develop a system to visualize each day – try to do it the same time each morning. Begin to link your visualization to the physical world by imagining the exact location, the people around you, the sounds and the smells. Involve your senses and allow yourself to heighten your emotions.
Our minds are one of the least discussed factors in success or failure – we often focus more on cross training, nutrition or instant replays than allowing ourselves to listen to the quiet of our own minds. Mere mental rehearsal triggers responses from the autonomic nervous system, which in turn improves athletic performance.
One study performed in 1990 with Russian Olympic athletes found that those conducting “visualized workouts” increased their muscle strength by 13.5%. What? Time to get in the zone! According to Applied Sports Psychology, visualization can speed up your progress and help to develop your skills even further. It can also help to keep in top form when you are injured, ill or traveling and you are unable to train.
So, begin to develop your own visualization system – and write down your progress. Check your negativity – by allowing yourself to excel in your mind (time after time after time), you can achieve the competitive edge that you seek.