Battle of London is upon us and the time for training is done. All the preparation between now and the big day is mental. More and more athletes are taking their psychological skills as seriously as their physical skills. Performance density is getting greater at the top end of elite sports, meaning that the difference between 1st place and 10th place could be matter of mere seconds. There is a growing appreciation that what separates the winners from the rest are the psychological resources they have to call upon.
As CrossFitters, we know that we are already a breed apart, psychologically speaking. The fact that you not only survived your first WOD but also stayed on to push beyond your limits tells us that you already have an arsenal of psychological skills. However, having those skills and knowing how to call them into play when needed are different things. These pre-competition rest days are a great time to take stock of what you do well and make plans to capitalise on it this weekend.
Although the range mental skills could be as diverse as the range of personalities we bring to the sport, I will focus today on 3 mental skills that are simple and useful for this impending competiton.
1) Anxiety management – being anxious before an event is natural. And to some extent, we need the arousal that anxiety gives us to get the best out of our performance. But anxiety can go beyond the point where it is useful and successful athletes will develop strategies to manage this. This might be listening to music, relaxing, getting support. Anxiety is simply the body’s response to an expectation of a threat, so you can manage anxiety by tuning into your perception of the threat. When you’re next feeling worried or anxious, ask yourself, ‘What am I thinking?’. Do you have negative, frightening expectations of the competition? Do you have a worst case scenario? What is most threatening about the event for you? Once you’ve answered that, write it down, leave it for a moment and return to it when you are a little more relaxed. Then adjust the thought you wrote to something that would be more helpful to you, like remembering your abilities, accomplishments and strengths. You don’t have to believe the new thought 100% but you can practice using it whenever the anxiety comes to you.
2) Tune in or tune out? – it can be useful to know that certain physical tasks work better when we tune out, while others are performed best when we tune in. Typically, athletes are faster at repetitive, endurance tasks when they distract or dissociate from the physical aspects the task – like getting into a rhythm of a long row, run or swim, listening to the music or staring into the distance. On the other hand, skill-heavy, strength tasks are performed better whe we focus on the task. In these tasks, deciding on a mental cue to help you focus can be useful. For instance, thinking the word ‘heels’ when squatting or ‘elbows’ during a clean. Unlike other sports, CrossFit athletes need to be able to switch between tuning in and tuning out even within a single WOD.
3) Got a game face? – some research suggests that smiling before a competition is linked to losing. Other observations suggest that smiling and being relaxed is linked to winning. Annie Thorisdottir is often cited as an example of a smiling competitor whose relaxed attitude helped her to victory. But I am less inclined to believe that there is a one-size-fits-all answer here. Instead, you will have to find the game face that suits your winning attitude the best. Whether it’s smiling or scowling it should reinforce an attitude of confidence. It’s useful to highlight that the research could not tell us why smilers lost. It used fighters and the researchers wondered if smiling indicated an attitude of submission, which may not be conscious to the smiling fighter. Personally, I am more of a smiley competitor. I see the smile and being friendly as a signal of confidence, being un-shook by the competiton. But you would do well to spend a little time deciding where you stand and planning to bring that attitude with you on the day.
I’ll be there cheering you all on! Wishing competitors and spectators alike, a great weekend!