Bringing Your 'A' Game

One of the key skills that elite athletes have is the ability to create a consistent mindset for every performance.  You would have heard terms like the ‘zone’, ‘bubble’, or ‘ideal performance state’ or what we at Mental Notes Consulting call ‘A game’.  An athlete’s ‘A game’ is when their mind and body are working together to produce optimal performance on a consistent basis. In short, elite athletes know how they want to think, feel and behave to achieve peak performance consistently and they know what makes them compete to their best.  Having this understanding and identifying what you want to be thinking, feelings and behaving for peak performance is what the team of sport psychologists at Mental Notes help those they work with no matter what level, age and sport through the use of various mental skills.

In addition to having a good understanding of what you think, feel and behave when you perform well it is valuable to consider what factors can affect your performance and take you away from your ‘A game’. Athletes constantly face an array of stressors relating to both the competitive and noncompetitive nature of the sporting environment which subsequently place them under intense psychological and physical strains. That is, athletes of all levels and ability are not immune to the impact stressful events within their sport have on their psychological functioning (e.g., increased anxiety, concentration issues, negative self-talk, lack of confidence).

The 2010 Commonwealth Games have been rich in demonstrating the many demands and setbacks elite athletes from across the world have had to face and deal with so as to limit the impact they have on their performance. Some of these demands and events are controllable and some are uncontrollable. The most important thing that elite athletes can do is realise what is in their control and focus their energy and attention on this; their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. That is, their reaction to an event in is their control. For example, swimmers at the games have had to deal with debris in the pool, delays in the starting of events, loud crowd noise as they have taken the blocks to start a race and false starts. For example, the swimmers in the 200m Men’s Relay Final, had to deal with a delay in starting due to debris in the pool.  South African sprinter Roland Schoeman, had to reset his focus after a mishap in the Men’s 50m freestyle event to progress into the final.

However, what elite athletes possess is the ability to deal with these demands and setbacks more effectively to help get them back into their ‘A game’ to help perform the way they want to. How is this? Well, elite athletes have trained all aspects of their sporting performance; physical, technical, tactical and MENTAL. At this level, these athletes know that their competitors have probably done similar types of training for similar amounts of time. That is, the physical difference between them is smaller and what sets them apart is their ability to deal with setbacks, pre-competitive nerves; their MENTAL performance. A good example of this ability to bounce back after a setback will be Sally Pearson in the 100m hurdle at the Games. She was stripped of her gold medal in the 100m women’s sprint final after a contested false start. However, as Sally mentioned "I am in this sport as a competitor and as an athlete just like anyone else. This is our career, this is our job. This is what we train for. To run the race [and] do the victory lap and then be told; 'Oh no you can't have your medal now' is horrible. But I have to deal with it because that's just the way sport is." Through the use of mental skills, athletes can deal with setbacks and demands of their sport so as to recreate and maintain their ‘A game’ on a consistent basis. We can all learn from the elite athletes no matter what age, ability level and sport as we all want to perform at our best consistently.

Allira works at the Brisbane Sport & Exercise Medicine Specialists at Hawthorne.