How to Deal with the Unexpected During Competitions
Conditions aren’t always perfect during competitions.
Rain, excessive heat, poor field or arena conditions, intrusive or obnoxious fans and broken equipment are just a few things that can steal your focus.
You have most likely been in a competition where an unexpected incident occurred… Did it knock you off your game?
Maybe it took you away from concentrating on what you were doing or needed to do… Or perhaps you were unable to regain your focus and, consequently, your performance suffered.
The problem is that most athletes practice and prepare for smooth-running events expecting everything to unfold according to plan.
While there may be ideal conditions for competing, rarely are those competition conditions perfect.
Something unexpected will happen… There will always be a bump in the road somewhere during the course of the competition, if not several bumps.
But an unexpected incident does not need to be an unfortunate incident as long as you prepare for the unexpected.
Most athletes do not plan for the unexpected, erroneously believing this invites unfavorable conditions. There is nothing further from the truth.
Top athletes mentally prepare for some unexpected events, thus, training their minds to cope with distractions and adapt to circumstances.
As athletes gear up for the 2016 Rio Olympics, they are well aware of the unexpected events that have occurred throughout the history of the Olympics.
These elite athletes spend a lot of time getting ready for the out-of-the-blue occurrence and how they will react to those circumstances.
Elite athletes understand the need for training their focus so they are mentally prepared to block out distractions.
Sports psychologist Karen Cogan works with Olympic athletes helping them prepare to deal with unexpected circumstances so they are optimally ready when they hit the Olympic stage in Rio.
COGAN: “It’s not so important that we nail the things that are going to happen, but it’s the process about going through the ‘what-ifs,’ and what would you do. That’s something they take with them, and then they’re ready to deal with whatever comes their way.”
Furthermore, the ability to block out distractions can be improved through training for every athlete at any level.
COGAN: “You can see how [training your brain to focus] is helpful in competition, when [athletes are] distracted by somebody else, or something going on in the stands, or there’s some delay of some sort. They want to regain their focus so their performance isn’t affected. It’s a learned skill, and something they have to practice in competition and develop as part of their skill set.”
The mental skill of focus helps you stay in your “athletic cocoon” where you are fully immersed in what you are doing in the moment. It is this type of focus that produces optimal performance.
Tip for managing the unexpected during competitions:
Create some ‘if/then’ scenarios… For example, “If someone screams out before I am about to do my routine, then I will pause, take a deep breath and re-focus on the first thing I am going to do.”
After you have some scenarios created, rehearse them in practice. Have a teammate cause a distraction by screaming, then perform your re-focusing strategy.
Always keep in mind, peak performance is more than physical training… It requires training your mind.
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