Blog 22.5

In our work with student-athletes, we often hear about how fear, doubt, and self-judgement get in the way of optimal performance. Living in the Sweet Spot: Preparing for Performance in Sport and Life by Amy Baltzell, PhD, gives readers a variety of tools to prepare performers to think more effectively on the way to achieving big goals. Specifically, Baltzell discusses reconnecting with the joy, passion, and love for your sport or performance area in order to be your best. The book offers tools to build a championship approach, prepare for performance or competition, and how to approach competition day. Over the next six weeks, we will tackle different concepts and strategies to help you to find your sweet spot. In our next blog of this series, we discuss strategies to think effectively and manage emotions on game day.

Baltzell describes the goal of thinking effectively to be prepared for the challenging thoughts that can emerge during a competition and to create a habit of empowered thinking. “Empowered thinking is using your mind purposefully so you can most effectively cope with upset or focus on the good of what is occurring. Empowered thinking can help you achieve your goals and take joy in the good that surrounds you as much as possible.” Baltzell suggests developing some go-to thoughts for competition day so that you will focus on empowered thinking to include focusing on what you love about your sport or performance area, knowing your strengths, and maintaining perspective on the bigger picture. Baltzell also suggests developing thoughts for what might go wrong in order to prepare to compensate and adjust. If we have a solid plan to deal with things that could go wrong, we won’t feel unprepared if and when they happen. For example, the physical experience during competition including pain, fatigue, and discomfort, the disappointment we might experience over making mistakes, fear of what might or might not happen, and also the pressure of others’ expectations for us. The most important part is choosing possible go-to performance day phrases ahead of time so you can practice using them in training and then be ready to use them in competition.

Our emotions can be another challenge to manage during competition day. According to Baltzell, “game day is notorious for conjuring such intense emotions. On the positive side, game day can increase our sense of hope and excitement. On the negative side, game day can also elicit doubt, dread, and unwelcome anxiety.” But both positive and negative emotions can actually facilitate our performance if we interpret them in the right way. In fact, based on a research study by Hanton and Jones, they found that top-level swimmers identified feeling early and unwanted negative emotions prior to competitions. But they also discovered that the top-level swimmers learned to accept the negative emotions and channel those emotions into physical energy that helped them race their best. Another tool we can use to manage our emotions effectively is mindfulness. “When we are fully focused on the moment of racing, competing, and performing, our fears dissolve and we are able to allow our bodies, minds, and souls to create their magic.” What a great way to think about competition!

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