Taking your hobby or passion to a professional level is not easy. Apart from the increased demands on your time, energy and money, there’s also increased pressure on your grey matter.
Doing a competition of any sort is stressful. Just the demands of training and meticulous nutrition planning are enough to bring a generally sane person to tears. Of course having a full-time job doesn’t make it any easier!
And that is why it is important to not only train your body but your mind as well. Being a mental ninja is essential for anyone considering to compete. There will be ups and downs. There will be obstacles and challenges. There will be struggle and days where you feel the whole world is against you. But you need to be able to face your fears and insecurities full on.
Many elite athletes are thought how to to build mental toughness because no matter how skilled and experienced you may be a speck of self-doubt can be the difference between winning and losing.
There are several elements to mental toughness – confidence, focus, composure/control and commitment are just a few. Your confidence levels should remain more or less consistent regardless of outside influences. You need to trust your skills and believe in your ability to perform well – this will help you build and keep your confidence (yup, time to have some internal conversations – convince yourself that you are capable of achieving your goal!)
Focus is necessary not only during your competition but also during training. Focus on your end goal, perform during practice as if you were to perform during your competition. And then, on the big day itself, focus in the moment to perform at your best and avoid distractions (whether from the audience, other competitors or that little voice in your head!).
A good way to help you focus during a competition is to remind yourself what your role (during the competition) is and to predict the possible distractions, then choose a refocusing statement to help you overcome these distractions. For instance, it could be a question such as “What should I be focusing on right now?” Or “What would the best athlete do in this situation?” It could also be a single word, such as “tough” or “confident”. Remember, no one is perfect when it comes to staying focused, yet everyone has the ability to refocus.
Staying composed in times of errors and adversities is also an important aspect for competitors. Everybody makes mistakes, but not everyone will notice your mistakes. Learn to anticipate challenges and think how you can cope with them. Prepare yourself for adversity – don’t plan out the competition to go according to your perfect scenario, but think of all the ways things could turn out. This will help you be mentally prepared to face unexpected challenges and to handle setbacks (believe me, there will be some… And then some more!). However, having some sort of a plan B will ease your mental stress and allow you to remain cool and in control.
Finally, as an athlete you need to be committed. You must refuse to give up. You must also know why you are competing – is your reason a strong enough motivating force to pull you through all the challenges ahead? Learn to see adversities as challenges rather that threats. Consistency is key – aim to maintain a consistent level of effort and remember your end goal is to win!
What does this all mean? To win any competition your mental game has to be strong. You have to have a lot of positive qualities (focus, persistence, self-belief) to your mindset. This will help you perform at your best, despite the high amount of internal & external stress.
As they say, the darkest hour is before dawn.