What do I know about being an athlete and sports psychology? Probably not a lot. However, I’m also not writing a comprehensive review, only speaking from experience.
A musician in an audition, a public speaker on a stage and, in my case, a powerlifter on a platform all have something in common; The expectation to perform your best under a high degree of pressure.
The reason some thrive in competition while others choke comes down to their preparedness. But preparedness isn’t just about how many practices you show up to and whether you followed your program perfectly.
Peak performance is about one’s ability to perform in spite of obstacles and pressure.
That requires you to hope for the best, be prepared for the worst and wholeheartedly trust that you have done everything in your power before the competition to allow for good execution.
Expectation vs. Reality
Michael Phelps didn’t win a Gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games with water-filled goggles because he’s actually an animorph and used echolocation. Instead, he had already practiced competing with water-filled goggles before that race … in his mind.
My own list of suboptimal situations include: getting my period with accompanying cramps 15 minutes before a 10K, sweating pounds off of my body at a meet because the gym was not air conditioned and containing a mixture of rage and sadness when my boyfriend was late coming to my first meet. (let it be know that I’ve forgiven him)
We sign up for competitions and expect to wake up refreshed with sunshine radiating out of our ass and hitting PRs across the board. Instead we wake up with diarrhea and struggle with our second attempts.
And even if neither of those things happen, something else will.
You hate to hear it, but performing well under difficult conditions actually requires you to practice… performing well under difficult conditions. (*gasp*)
Visualize the struggle, not just the glory
Instead of visualizing your third attempt flying up, imagine it borderline crushing you. Instead of visualizing all your equipment being on your body, imagine forgetting your belt or wrist wraps.
Go over every scenario, no matter how unlikely and decide on a course of action before you are forced to do it on the day of the competition.
Train through the hard days
Outside of visualization, a headache, muscle ache/pain, sinus congestion, heart break, work stress and even your period can easily throw you off from bringing your best in training.
I’m not saying you should be bleeding out of your face, starved and sleep deprived every time you hit the gym, but there’s something to be said for showing up even when all your ducks aren’t lined up in a row.
So yes, being in a mental funk, being sore, being hungry, dealing with conflict, job stress and poor sleep all make for potentially bad training days, but try seeing them as opportunities to find a way through. The point isn’t to be perfect, the point is to do your best given the circumstances.
So that next time you hear “the bar is loaded,” you know exactly what needs to be done
…no matter what the day has in store.