You can train hard and often, but your biggest improvement will most likely come from venturing within. Kristian Manietta reveals how you can develop your mental game.
You’ve heard it countless times, and maybe the saying has even passed your own lips: “It’s the six inches between your ears that matters most.”
Talent helps but we know all that even the most talented athletes don’t always win – many
of them don’t even make the start line. And when the physical talent starts to balance out at the elite levels, what differentiates athletes from each other?
It’s the six inches between your ears – that’s what, and those six inches are just as important
for age group athletes as for elites.
The outcome of a major event could be as much as 30 per cent mental. That is a huge amount of performance to leave on the table if you are not spending any time at all developing your mental game. It takes time and a lot of hard work to develop the ability to concentrate, focus and deal with all the distractions, but learning how to handle the mental game becomes critical to your success.
Just like the physical aspects of our sport need consistent training, so does the mental game. It doesn’t matter if you’re gunning for the win or just doing the best you can. As it was said in the ancient Olympics, “You must stand naked in front of the gods… fully exposed.”
As athletes we are performers. Our actions count. The goal of this article is to give you information and strategies that will help your overall performance. The first step in developing your mental game.
Why you do triathlon?
Knowing the answer to this question gives you meaning which will fuel your passion and commitment for what you do. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, dislike for the inevitable must-do parts of training can become cancerous. This kills performance and enjoyment of your sport.
Without knowing the why, you are likely just going through the motions in training which greatly limits your potential. When you know why and have meaning, it provides motivation, direction and purpose. This helps you deal with the adversity that goes hand in hand with performance. No one achieves winning performances without major challenges along the way. No one.
Another important question to ask yourself is, what are some of the little things you love about your sport or the process of your sport?
You know that feeling when your legs are smashed because you have given it your all? You know you’re fit and there’s that satisfying fatigue that comes from a session done well. That little thought that you have just ridden further than most people would even consider driving unless they were going on holiday? I love that.
Drawing on these little things helps the process. Sport is not easy. Your total actions count. You have to lay it on the line to get where you want to go.
OUTSIDE THE ZONE
You have likely heard about being in the elusive “zone”. Some of you reading this may have experienced the zone, while others can only imagine what it’s like. Truly being in the zone is actually a pretty rare thing. It’s those days when everything feels easy. The thing is, you don’t need to be in the zone to get a great performance. You can even win when you’re not in the “zone”!
The key is to learn how to deal with your performance when it’s not going great. You need something to go to. That something to go to is the reason you’re doing this, it’s going to all those other sessions you have done, where you feel like crap but have pushed through. You have found that something extra.
Learn to become more comfortable being uncomfortable. Embrace the discomfort. In all aspects of life there are things that make us feel uncomfortable. If you never leave your self-imposed comfort zone, you will maintain your own status quo. Nothing great will be achieved. But when you make the decision to keep showing up and dealing with discomfort it becomes easier and it will massively change your outcomes.
Imagine what could happen with a simple attitude adjustment. Say you turn up to training
or a race feeling sub par. Let’s say at best you’re at 60 per cent of your usual capacity. What would happen if you made the choice to use 100 per cent of the capacity available to you on the day? You would probably be positively surprised by the outcome, and that’s an attitude worth having.
Coach John Woden said, “focus on what you can do and not what you can’t”. This has to be employed in practice and in training. You cannot just switch this on without practice. Learn to have those good “crappy” days. Embrace them because quite frankly they will outnumber the days you feel on fire.
PRACTISE MENTAL TOUGHNESS
Next time you’re not feeling your best and those negative voices are telling you to throw it in and that it doesn’t matter, change your perspective, because it does matter. Choose to embrace and then work through those feelings. This is a major opportunity to take your performance to the next level. It might be uncomfortable, but working through it will help you develop mental skills and give you something to go to when you really need it.
Mental coach to many baseball stars Ken Ravissa says you need to “Take a blow, absorb a blow and give a jab. Not a roundhouse, not a knockout punch, but a jab. Let ‘em know you’re alive.” That’s something to go to. It’s a little step in not giving up. Focus on that next stroke or that next stride or breath and then the next.
PREPARING TO PREPARE
Unfortunately we bring other aspects of our lives into everything we do and it doesn’t serve
us well. We need to separate these different components. It is tough to do, but definitely worth working towards.
The goal is that when you’re training, you train, when you’re at school, be at school, when at work, work and when you’re with your family or friends, be there with them. Taking baggage into a session greatly impacts your ability to get good work done.
One of the biggest tips for success in triathlon and life is this: Be present, be totally absorbed in what you’re doing. You’re either all in or you’re not. You are doing, NOT trying to do. There’s a big difference.
The best way to learn to separate these aspects is by creating little rituals. Let’s use swimming as an example. How often is your mind full of distractions? Thoughts such as, “I need to finish this project off at work, don’t forget to pick up the meat for dinner…” These are distractions that take you away from developing your swim and your ability to concentrate.
Develop a ritual that works for you. Do whatever you need to do to draw a line in the sand. For me it’s the ritual of spitting in my goggles and washing them out. As soon as those goggles go on, it’s game on. I’m there, I’m present, I’m ready. Don’t jump into the pool until you’re ready. Bring the passion, the commitment and the focus.
All of this will give you more confidence.
Being prepared to win the next movement takes mental toughness and mental toughness comes from pushing through your comfort zone, giving you the best opportunity for success.
Learn to take responsibility for your performance. Sure, a coach can help you with techniques to respond to a pressure situation, but you need to be able to take responsibility yourself. You have no control over anything or anyone else but you. What you can control is how you choose to respond to what’s going on around you. Too many athletes focus on what they can’t control when they should be focusing on what they can.
When you learn to control yourself you can control your performance. Self control leads to body control which leads to skill control which leads to controlling your performance.
Attitude is a decision. Take responsibility for learning how to train/race in the present moment. You have to be present to perform, you have to be present to learn and you damn sure have to be present to win. To be present, take the training or race one moment at a time.
LEARN TO FOCUS
Make a commitment to focus for a period of time. This is what being in the moment is about. You won’t be able to go straight in and decide, “Right. I’m going to focus 100 per cent on this 90 minute swim squad” the first time. No chance. But you can develop that by starting with the ritual I spoke about before. Then focus on the next stroke and the next one after that. Keep it simple. Don’t focus on how you’re going to make the main set.
Focus on making the next stroke, the next jab, learn to be here now. This focus will develop the skill of concentration and concentration is the key to performance in many things, including triathlon.
The time is now and place is here. Manage the moment. Focus on the process of what you’re doing and not the outcome.
Learn to recognise what is going on in your body and your thought process. Have you ever stopped and listened to the self talk you use? How often do you belittle yourself or do you build yourself up? Learn to recognise what you’re saying. When you develop this ability to recognise early, you have time to nip any negative self talk in the bud before it gets out of control.
Learn to own the situation instead of the situation owning you. A great visualisation for letting something negative go is thinking about a toilet. Flush the negative thought or event down the toilet. See it being flushed. It might sound absurd but it may make you laugh a little and
that helps with the process.
When we start to recognise what is going on inside of us we can learn to deal with it. We have all had that little voice inside of us that says, “Here we go again”. What does that mean? Simply, it means you are in the past and bringing that past into the future which means you completely miss the present.
Learn to let go of the past and get yourself HERE. Being in the moment will help you deal
with what is up ahead.
Recognise where you’re at. If you’re not where you need to be, flush it, let go and regroup. That will put you in control of you, focusing on one thing at a time.
THE GARDEN OF YOUR MIND
Our minds are truly like a garden. We can grow amazing and beautiful things there. It takes work to cultivate our garden into something awesome but it doesn’t take much at all to let it run wild with weeds and be choked of its potential. We can develop our minds through visualisation and direct thought. Two books you should get are The Magic Of Believing by Claude Bristol and Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. Both will help develop your mind and the infinite potential that is held within.
You will have to practice these mental skills day in and day out. Practice getting through the crappy days. In fact practice getting good at the crappy days. You don’t have to be great all the time, just a little better than yesterday. Making performance happen in competition is about making performance happen in training. If you don’t do it in practice you don’t have any chance in hell of doing it in competition.
So you’re not feeling well, SO WHAT? You now have the methods to deal with it.
Athlete turned coach Chris Hauth recently Tweeted, “Always feeling good in training? Racing surely doesn’t feel good, so why expect to ‘feel good’ in every session? Embrace the hard days.”