Comfort and Mental Practice

Nabil and team SS at the 2013 NC Regional. While we prepared well for this event, I remember we had to scoot back almost a foot because the platform was like squatting on a downhill ramp! Nice shades, Nabil!

We’ve written many posts and cited lots of articles on improving our mental game. While I’m not an expert on sports psychology, after years of coaching, you can start to notice trends of how athletes work and how they tend to react or respond in different competitive situations. You’ve heard me speak about “Suppressive Imagery/Focus”. This is when you see yourself missing right before you make an attempt, worrying about “choking”  or how you will look after a play or attempt when the pressure is on. Competition for many can simply be looked at as a battle against your own self-doubt or negative imagery. A big chunk of this is genetic, but self-doubt can also stem from lack of preparation, not having a true grasp of a skill itself, or an inability to handle or adjust to performing the skill in different environments, such as the ones on the competition floor. So what does practice have to do with it? Literally…EVERYTHING! While everyone is wired differently in handling nervousness and self-doubt during competition, we all have an ability to work on our weaknesses and an ability improve our mental game by facilitating game-like situations in practice.

I’ll never forget speaking with Kendrick Farris at the SPS meet last year. While I think I’ve shared it with you before, he drove the point home about his mindset of practice and that if you don’t mentally prepare for the competitive environment, your PR’s in practice are just teasers and not, by any means, guarantees. As a coach and as an athlete, this resinated with me in how I approach practice mentally. It can be easy to give yourself a false sense of accomplishment with how you set up your practice environment. In practice, you can make it as comfy as you choose….your weights, your coach, your music, your cheering squad, no judges, and you can take all the time you want. But, as a competitor, you know it really means nothing if you can’t produce the same result out on the playing field. So what does it truly mean to be “competition ready”? How can you get a better idea of how you’ll actually perform out there? It simply boils down to is how well you facilitated this in your practice. Ask yourself these questions. Do you practice with this big picture in mind? During practice, do you “seek out” and address these external factors that may effect your performance? Do you try to make things harder or more challenging in practice? Do you hold yourself to the judging standards of competition in practice or do you let things slide? How comfortable do you need to be to hit skills? Can you hit a skill in multiple environments (different equipment, higher rings or bars, people moving around you, distractions, or without loud, blasting music)? Can you perform the same on a hot or cold day or with any gear of your choosing? In terms of analyzing your practice performances, how do you determine what a “good session” was? Is it beating your fellow competitors on the field that morning, or with how things “felt”? Do you think about or follow an intended strategy? Do you write down things you think you should do better on? Do you cut things short in practice just to get a faster time or do you try to mimic the exact game day scenarios?

As a competitor, it’s about putting in the work. But HOW you put in that work on a day-to- day basis gives you the truest gauge of how you’ll perform on the floor. So keep this in mind. If you haven’t accounted for these things, don’t expect it to be smooth sailing out there. If you have accounted for them, you can expect to do better when the time comes to shine. Be accountable for your weaknesses but don’t put so much weight on the outcome of performance when you are just simply working on them. At the end of the day, it is just practice. Lastly, keep your mind on the “Bigger Picture” as Marko eluded to in his post this week.

4 replies
  1. Nabil
    Nabil says:

    Good post James! What do you think about how we perceive “game day” and how that effects our performance? If “game day” is always viewed as this super stressful event unlike anything else, do you think that adds an additional layer of difficulty to making our practice relevant to our game day performance? Is there also benefit to addressing/modifying how we view “game day” so there isn’t a huge discrepancy between our performances during practice, and our performance during competition?


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