Many times when an athlete starts working intentionally on mental training, a mental coach will guide through an exploration of how they would describe their ideal competitive mindset. If you know what it looks like, feels like, and sounds like to play your best game then you have the first opportunity to recreate it. Even though this sounds somewhat simple enough to figure out, it is not as easy to repeat in practice and competition.
None the less, reflecting and re-imagining your best past performance and the mindset it took to create and compete in that performance is an important part of training. Think about how you might start this type of mental training. Here are some steps:
- Find a nice quiet undistracted space and time where you can sit for at least 15-20 minutes.
- Close your eyes and start with 3-5 deep diaphragmatic breaths to induce the relaxation response. During these breaths, it is helpful to inhale to a count of four then hold for four and finally exhale for a count of four to create a rhythmic breathing pattern. (You might be able to extend the count depending on your lung capacity.)
- As you become connected with your breath and the state of presence that it induces, start your reflective imagery experience by recreating all the sights, sounds, textures, and other sensory information of the competition venue which you can recall. Take your time as this should not be rushed.
- After you have vividly recreated the environment, guide your attention to the moments before you entered the venue. Specifically focus on your energy level both mentally and physically, attention/concentration, self-talk, and anything else related to your mindset. Bring all that experience back into your awareness and simply relive that state for a moment or two (a.k.a. for a few breaths).
- As you continue to experience the pregame mindset, walk yourself through all the elements of your pre-competition routine. Imagine the transportation to the venue, the connection with other people whether they may be teammates or coaches, any meetings you may have had before, changing into your suit, uniform, and equipment, physically warming up your body with stretches and drills, and then finally any last pep talks or verbal reminders you or any ones else said.
- Finish your imagery ideal competitive mindset practice by playing out a couple of situations in the competition in as close to the real time it took you to physically complete them.
- Finally, take 2-3 deep diaphragmatic breaths with the 4-4-4 rhythm as when you started (or your own modified rhythm you used before). Open your eyes and stand up then stretch out your body to reconnect with your surroundings in the present environment.
What did you learn about yourself at your best mentally and physically? If you need to create visual reminders of what you just experienced during your imagery practice, it is recommended you write them in a journal or sheet of paper. Now you have a structure you can practice to create and recreate you at your best in your sport. This is an important point: very few athletes magically play better than their best before but many play a lot worst when it matters. Can you bring your best to each game and practice so that you consistently redefine what you are capable of achieving?