Three key areas of competition mental toughness are– handling the pressure, belief and the ability to regulate your performance. Developing your mental toughness allows you the advantage to be able to deal with challenging situations and change your approach – something which can set you apart from your opponent.
How you view the pressure of competition
Many performers will train hard for a competition such as the Olympics – yet when they actually get to the Games feel that they don’t want to be there and they want to get it over with. This is after probably a minimum of four years of training. When so much time has been invested in training, many athletes forget why they started the journey in the first place. The joy and fun they used to feel doing their sport are put to the side and replaced with fear of failing on an important stage. They feel the pressure and this takes away any sense of pride or pleasure.
Mentally tough performers tend to view these events as an opportunity and are eager to be there. This is highlighted by Billie Jean King, who aptly said: “Pressure’s a privilege”.
Coping with and channelling anxiety in pressure situations
One thing is certain in any sport – challenges and obstacles will come at you in all sorts of guises. If you expect things to always go smoothly you’ll set yourself up for huge disappointment. Mentally tough athletes are seen as being able to cope with high-pressure situations and to channel anxiety in order to enhance performance. It’s about accepting that competition anxiety is inevitable and knowing that you can cope with it.
Rugby player Johnny Wilkinson, a real thinker of his sport, commented “Nerves…I can’t get rid of them. It’s the way I’ll always be. I want to know that everything is going to turn out fine…The reason I go out and work is to ensure that whatever happens, I have a better chance than anyone else”. So Wilkinson acknowledged and accepted that he’d be nervous and focused on working hard, as much as a distraction technique.
Serena Williams tries to focus on the enjoyable part of a competition, reminding herself why she plays – “I am going to try and just have some fun. I do my best when I just have fun”
Next time you feel anxiety come on at a competition, rather than doing your best to avoid it, take some time to acknowledge how it makes you feel, accept it and then take some time to remind yourself why you play your sport. All the things you enjoy about it. Remember a match or occasion when you competed and it was really fun…where were you? Who were you with? What happened? By reliving some previous successful moments you can help yourself get back there mentally.
You can develop your competition mental toughness by reframing pressure into a positive and learning to relish and enjoy it.
Ask yourself why you compete and you’re not somewhere else?
Why do you play your sport and what are the most fun things about it?
What is it you love about what you do?
Remind yourself of how many people would love to be in your position.
Making the correct decisions and choosing the right options that secure optimal performance under conditions of extreme pressure
The US Navy Seals train their recruits to deal with volatile and potentially dangerous situations so they make better decisions under pressure. By developing your mental toughness using their Big 4 techniques (goal setting, visualisation, self-talk and arousal control) you’ll also be able to make the right decisions and choose the right options under conditions of extreme pressure, even when the situation contains uncertainty.
We look at belief in detail in the Confidence modules of MYND App. For the purpose of relating belief in competition with mental toughness we’ll look at two further elements:
A total commitment to your performance goal until every possible opportunity for success has passed
This element highlights a mentally tough performer’s belief in their ability to find a way to succeed; these performers don’t give up easily and when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They will draw on every resource available to them in their quest to achieve their goal. It’s like the tennis player who finds himself love-four down in the final set, doing everything he can to stay in the match, or the soccer team 2-0 down with a few minutes on the clock striving to find a way back into the game.
Not being fazed by making mistakes and then coming back from them
Life is full of ups and downs, and by expecting a little adversity, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it. Mentally tough performers have a great ability to be able to regain composure quickly and ‘hold it together’ after making a mistake. As one of our more successful performers said..“It’s definitely about not getting unsettled by things you didn’t expect or can’t control. You’ve got to be able to switch back to control mode”
Legendary basketball coach Pat Riley would tell his players to expect ‘thunderbolts’ to come when everything seemed to be going smoothly. This was to ensure they didn’t panic but instead, took the event in their stride and simply worked their way through whatever it was.
Mentally tough performers have the ability to be able to recognise and seize the opportunity to win and to increase their effort when it’s required.
Having a killer instinct to capitalise on the moment when you know you can win
This killer instinct enables mentally tough performers to realise when the opportunity to snatch victory is presenting itself. It’s the tennis player that capitalises on an opponent’s unexpected error to increase the pressure at a vital time. Mentally tough performers don’t hold back when they know that victory is within their grasp they immediately capitalise on that opportunity with a “cold-blooded killer instinct” in order to win.
Raising your performance “up a gear” when it matters most
Mentally tough performers can find ‘that little bit extra’ when needed most. One of the worst things in sport is that feeling, coming away from a competition with the thought that you had an opportunity but by the time you realised it, it was gone – The mentally tough performer has the presence of mind to realise “this is the moment, do it now, take it”