How athletes improve performance

Why even bother to train if you’re not going to give it your best shot? It’s a mistake many talented athletes make. Regularly attending practice is good, but it’s not good enough. It’s easy to show up, go through the paces and not achieve any gains. Athletes improve performance when they train with the same intensity as they expect to compete.

Think about it, the bulk of time is spent training. Whereas, the actual playing time is rather small in comparison. So don’t short change yourself by mentally checking out. Sports psychology studies reveal that athletes improve performance when they’re paying full attention and giving maximum effort.  Focused practice can tip the scale in your favor, possibly leading to record-breaking performance.

New records are set all the time. What was once believed impossible is now the norm. Looking back in history, the marathon winner in the 1896 Olympics would barely qualify for the Boston Marathon today. Consistent focused effort helps athletes improve performance.

Of course, additional factors like more sophisticated coaching, new equipment technology, and sports science contribute to performance breakthroughs too. Quality practice is more important than hours spent training. Many stories exist about the greats in baseball, soccer, gymnastics, etc. Those top athletes set a higher bar than the average athlete.

There’s more to training than most athletes realize. There’s lots of brain training happening under the surface. But if you’re allowing your mind to wander, then you’re interfering with potential performance gains.

Here’s how athletes improve performance:

  1. Motivation. How strong is your desire to improve? When you want something bad enough, then you’re more likely to do your best.
  2. Multiple. Ask questions so you understand the basics. Then practice those skills in a variety of different situations.
  3. Micro. Now drill it down by using your skills in very specific situations.
  4. Measure. Athletes improve performance when they self-assess after the event. Then make necessary changes or adjustments for future gains.

Effort and concentration helps athletes improve performance  Photo by Keith Allison

Effort and concentration helps athletes improve performance
Photo by Keith Allison

Action steps to improve your performance

Now that you have the steps, put it into action. It’s better to learn something new the right way than to try to break a bad habit later on. Your brain lights up when you’re learning something new. In the beginning, seek lots of feedback from your coach because you want to get it right.  After you learn the skill correctly, then practice on your own.

Ever feel sore after a workout because of how you used that muscle differently? Well, your brain builds new pathways when you’re learning something new. The more you practice that activity, the stronger that pathway becomes. Doesn’t that seem similar to physical conditioning? That’s why it’s sometimes referred to as mental conditioning.

Each time you take any action, whether you throw a ball, take a jump shot, or swing a bat, you’re strengthening that pattern of movement in your brain. It’s why your performance improves, getting quicker and easier with practice.

It’s normal to put routine actions on automatic pilot and tune them out. Your brain will take the necessary actions along the way. But once you make a mistake, you’re tuned in. Now you’re paying attention to avoid another mistake.

Avoid this common mistake

Well, it’s counter-intuitive. The more you’re tuned into avoiding an action, the more you’re likely to make that same mistake. Focusing on a single action or movement starts to reinforce that new action. Your game is off once that happens.

Re-focusing after a mistake is possible. It’s something you can train to do. Notice what you do when you’re performing really well. After those events, review what happened so you can repeat that moment. What were you saying to yourself (if anything)? Notice your response to mistakes. What was your attitude like and your level of confidence?

Looking for those cues teaches your brain what it’s like to perform your best. Athletes improve performance by focusing on where they want to go instead of what they want to avoid.

Get the most out of your training by training for the things that distract you. Your competition readiness will soar when you train to overcome those situations that normally throw off your game. Athletes improve performance by training to tune out the distractions, and tune into the necessary actions for performance breakthroughs.

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