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Elites Do. Do You?

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:03pm

If you've been reading the SportsMinded Blog for a while, you know that there are many techniques that elite athletes use that are available to athletes of all abilities. I thought highlighting 4 ...



previously undiscussed psychological strategies for managing competitive anxiety would be a great way to celebrate the "new and improved" SportsMinded Blog.... strategies that the elites use to manage competitive anxiety are not just any strategies -- these are "advanced psychological strategies." Or at least that's what the authors of a recent study in The Sport Psychologist say. Since we'll be looking at a number of different techniques, I'll be presenting them in a series of 5 posts. of which this is the first. In this one, we'll cover the basics and give a brief overview of the 4 strategies.


To start with we have do understand the concept of "direction" (and I'm not referring to arrows chalked on the asphalt in a 10K, marathon or triathlon letting you know which way to turn). Traditionally, research on anxiety looked at two aspects: the cognitive and the somatic. The cognitive aspect of anxiety includes all the anxious thoughts one might have regarding a competition (e.g., "What happens if I lose?", "What happens if I let my teammates down?", "What happens if I don't do my best?"). The somatic aspect includes all the physical symptoms one might have one anxious (e.g., sweaty palms, muscle tenseness, increased heart rate). More recently, researcher have begun studying how these symptoms are interpreted. Which is to say, that not all anxiety is bad. When we experience pre-competitive anxiety we have a choice: we can view it as something negative or something that might actually improve our performance (i.e., an indication that we are excited about competing). Direction refers to where on the facilitative-debilitative continuum we place our competitive anxiety.


Another thing that will be helpful to be aware of is the differences in how elite and non-elite athletes use basic sport psychological skills such as goal-setting, imagery, relaxation and self-talk. Non-elite athletes primarily use relaxation techniques to try to reduce their pre-competition anxiety to a level that they feel is facilitative (i.e., positive direction). In contrast, elite athletes maintain their intensity levels and use goal-setting, imagery, and self-talk to interpret their heightened pre-competitive anxiety as facilitative.


These basic psychological skills work for a variety of reasons. They help us pay closer attention and focus on things that are important to our performance. They increase our effort and motivation. They allow us to feel more in control of our anxiety. All of these allow us to interpret our anxiety as a positive thing.


Most often, non-elite athletes will use the previously mentioned psychological skills one at a time Not so for the elites. Elites will often combine these skills into advanced psychological strategies. So the combination of the basic strategies of self-talk and imagery creates an advanced strategy of cognitive restructuring.


Which bring us to the study by Sheldon Hanton and Ross Wadey from the University of Wales, and their colleague Stephen Mellaliu from Swansea University. In Advanced Psychological and Anxiety Responses in Sport, they analyzed how elite athletes used simulation training, cognitive restructuring, pre-performance routines, ad overlearning of skills. Each of these will be discussed in it's own post. But for now, here's a brief description.



Simulation training is when athletes attempt to physically and mentally simulate the competitive environment as closely as possible so that they can practice and learn to perform successfully under such stressful conditions.


Cognitive restructuring is when athletes replace irrational thought patterns with more adaptive ones.


Pre-performance routines are when athletes engage in individualized and systematic thoughts and behaviors before performance (think of a baseball player tapping his bat 3 times and touching the brim of his hat before batting).


Overlearning of skills is where athletes repeatedly execute the physical and mental skills they are going to use during competition.



So know you've got the background. The rest of this blog series will look at each advanced psychological skill in much greater depth We'll examine how it's done and why it works. We'll also look at ways in which you can incorporate it into your own mental training. But you'll have to come back to read all that. Right now it's time to let all of this background information sink in. Besides I've got to run (literally and figuratively speaking!).



Make it a great day!


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