Unfortunately, many times these athletes find themselves having problems when they go out to a competition or game. They either freeze up, making costly errors, or can't seem to find their focus.
This all has to do with the psychological aspect of training, one in which many athletes seem to leave out of their training regime.
Two Techniques For Controling Performance
One technique that is used by some of the best athletes in the world is imagery. This is where the athlete will actually visualize in their mind themselves performing either a single movement or an entire skill.
There are two approaches to doing this. The first is where they will picture themselves out of their body, as if watching themselves from afar performing the movement.
This is beneficial as the athlete can then see their body movements and pick out how where their body needs to be for perfect execution.
The second technique is using more of an internal focus. This is where they aren't picturing themselves so much as they are 'feeling' themselves perform the movement.
When some athletes do this, you may even be able to see their muscles contracting as they are physiologically sending out signals for the muscles to contract just as they would if they were actually performing the skill.
This approach is quite beneficial as well as it allows the athlete to go a bit deeper with their imagery and it is almost as if they are really out there performing. These two techniques are really great for working on the factors that are within your control, your performance.
Mental Preparation For Combat
There are many factors though which are completely out of your control that can affect how you play. These include noise from the surrounding area, bad field/ice/court conditions, and competitors trying to throw you off as well as your own fatigue. By using imagery, you can also mentally prepare yourself to combat these should they occur.
You can do this by imagining yourself performing and one of these taking place. The technique for this that would probably be most appropriate for most people is the more external approach where you see yourself like you were a spectator.
As the distraction takes place, imagine yourself remaining in control, staying focused on what you are out there to do, and see yourself achieving success.
You may possibly want to imagine different techniques you may use to overcome this obstacle, such as maybe focusing all your attention on one place on the playing field so as to not let the distractions get to you.
Using Imagery On A Daily Basis
So how do you go about using this principle? The first step is to start practicing it on a daily or almost daily basis in short intervals. You need to use a lot of concentration to perform it correctly so by starting off with short time durations you can work on improving your concentration ability.
Find a quiet place, somewhere that is free from distractions. It may help to lay down in the beginning so you can really relax your body, however as your progress you should be able to do this in an upright position, either sitting or standing. Next, close your eyes and focus on taking deep breathes. You want to get a feeling of calmness over your body where you feel totally in control and aware of your surrounding.
Once you feel you are centered then start out by picturing or feeling (whichever method you choose) yourself performing an easy task, one that you can master without any difficulty. This will give you the confidence that you know the skills well enough that it doesn't take much effort to mentally imagine yourself performing perfectly.
After running through a couple of easy exercises stop and finish off just by laying and relaxing for a little longer. Then slowly get up and continue about your day. Do this routine for a couple of days until you are comfortable with it.
Then, when you are ready to progress, perform the easy tasks you did on your first few times and add in a harder skill that you may have more difficulty executing in reality. Again, focus on performing the skill perfectly with no troubles.
After you have worked through all the skills and techniques you need, you can start imagining yourself going through entire drills or series of actions. Imagine yourself just as you would if you were playing a game. Also, as mentioned above, as you get more comfortable with imagery, try sitting upright so that you will soon be able to call upon this skill wherever you may be.
You may wish to start practicing in other environment situations where there may be a few minor distractions, as you may not always have a choice as to where you will need to do this before a game.
When it actually comes down to game day, take 15-30 minutes, about half an hour to an hour before your performance begins, and try to find a somewhat private location to perform your imagery. Really focus in on yourself and what you need to be doing. Not only will the imagery help to improve your performance, you will find yourself likely feeling calmer and less nervous as well.
Helping Unmastered Skills
It should also be noted that not only can imagery help to improve upon the skills you can already do, but you can also use it on skills that you are working on and have not mastered yet.
While this is more advanced and will require a bit more of assumptions on your part, you can imagine what it would look or feel like to perform this particular skill correctly. This will help you have a better chance of actually carrying out the skill as you are hoping when you go to practice it.
Overcoming The Pressure
Seeing athletes choke in the middle of their performance is a common occurrence today in the world of sports. Many athletes simply can't handle the pressure that goes along with high-level competition. By using the technique of imagery, they can successfully imagine themselves overcoming errors, performing to perfection, and increase the chances of performing exactly how they hope to.
While it does take practice, just as learning any new skill, if you take the time in your training regime to dedicate to learning imagery, I bet you will find your performance will increase tremendously and you won't become another one of those many players that is known as a great 'practice' player.