Mental preparation for sports

You know where you want to go and you also know why you want to get there. The question is: Why aren’t you there? This is where mental preparation for sports truly begins.

The space between where you are now and where you would like to be is called “the gap.”

How wide is your gap?

All athletes driven toward excellence possess a gap.

For instance, a dedicated golfer I worked with kept trying to lower his handicap on his own, but it just wasn’t moving. The gap for him was the space between his 8.7 handicap and what he reached three months later, 5.7. My client was ahead of the game, so to speak, because he understood that the problem was mental toughness not physical or technical.

Perhaps you want to play for the NFL or at Wimbledon or on the Senior Tour, but you keep missing the mark or you’re just not there yet. That is the gap.

Illuminate the stepping stones

Once you commit to your vision, and recognize your gap, little steps to help you get there will begin to appear. Some of these stepping stones might have been there all along. You just never noticed them because your focus was elsewhere.

For example, a triathlete was preparing for her first Ironman competition. As you can imagine, that is a significant undertaking. She got nervous as soon as she signed up, realizing what she had committed to and needed reassurance of her capabilities.

The capability was in her, she just didn’t recognize it at first. Mental training helped her tap into the qualities and commitment level that had helped her to successfully rise up to a big challenge she’d achieved earlier in her life. Those qualities were her stepping stones, revealing to her that she had the necessary capabilities to compete in the Ironman. Knowing it was within her, because she had already done it once, gave her the confidence to take it on.

How Do You Bridge the Gap?

The difference between the winners and everyone else boils down to one thing: how you choose to bridge the gap. Mental preparation for sports doesn’t start right before you compete. Mental toughness training is something you want to build into your training program.

How mental preparation for sports helps to cross the gap:

  1. What is your belief regarding your ability to achieve your dream?
  2. Commit to the plan and give it your best effort. Trust you have what it takes to go the full distance.
  3. Your desire to hit your numbers is greater than your desire to remain within your comfort zone.
  4. Tune in. Connect with previous times when you were up against a big hurdle and unwilling to accept “no” as an answer.
  5. Determine who’s got your back. Your support team will be there for you when doubts arise.

As you can see, your approach to the gap is determined by your beliefs, perceptions, desire, prior experiences and support system. The most successful athletes take imperfect decisive action to close the gap. Mental preparation for sports means you continue making progress toward the next level of competition while correcting your course along the way.

Discover the opportunity

Mental preparation for sports keeps you focused under pressure photo credit: dhim09 (295) via photopin (license)

Mental preparation for sports keeps you focused under pressure
photo credit: dhim09 (295) via photopin (license)

The gap is not a problem, it’s an opportunity.

Many athletes make the mistake of focusing on where they are now, what is right in front of them. Although the day-to-day training has to continue, you must remain focused on your vision. This is where visualization, a common sport psychology technique, helps clarify your reason to excel. Connecting to your burning desire to excel will help you refocus on your vision.

Before you can bridge the gap, you must first discover what your vision looks like for you. The following sports psychology exercise will help you do that.

Challenge: Take a step back from where you are now. Connect with your burning desire, about what motivates you to excel. Really drink it in.

Now, experience the excitement and anticipation you feel as you imagine yourself as a winner, as you see the new records you are going to set and the life you will live. Tap into that feeling of being a winner.

Describe how your life will be different once you reach your peak.

Mental preparation for sports helps you see yourself in the future. Write down five things about your life and your accomplishments as a winner. Post the steps which you’re taking to bridge the gap.

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