The big meet is right around the corner. Maybe it’s the conference meet, maybe it’s states, maybe it’s even NCAA’s! Whatever that meet is, you are laying in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering how you can prepare for the big event. The intensity is seeping through your joints, you can sense the anxiousness of all the throwers before the meet and you are still 5 days out! You can smell the chalk, you can hear the grunts and the music blaring...how are you going to prepare mentally for this massive event? How can you be as optimally prepared mentally to enable your body to take over and do its job?
Mental preparation is rooted in a few aspects of training and competition. One of the most important pillars behind the foundation of mental preparation is having a coach that fully believes in their system of training and fully believes in their ability to manage the individual based on their own personal character traits.
When the coach believes in their system, their charisma should pass on enough confidence in training to elicit a positive response from the athlete. Another pillar to the foundation of mental preparation is having a positive relationship between the athlete and coach in training. When the athlete and coach can handle stress on a unified front in training, they can in turn conquer any type of external stress thrown their way during competition!
The final pillar to the foundation of mental preparation is having positively established habits, both physical and mental habits. When athletes execute the same habits EVERY SINGLE DAY over a very long period of time, they create and establish their identity as a thrower. Do they go to practice and write down their 1-2 cues? Do they visualize and focus daily? Do they eat well for optimal recovery? Do they know the focus of each session? When these habits are established, the identity of the thrower is essentially forced into the elite echelon of training and competition!
Tools of the Trade
Coaches often forget that being “mentally strong” must be an aspect of training that is also cultivated and trained. Having mental strength and having an ability to manage stress accordingly is all related to having the necessary skills to manage the external perception of stress. Often times we hear coaches saying, “Get out of your head,” with those same coaches neglecting to recognize that a statement of that magnitude is just as idiotic as proclaiming, “Just throw the shot further!” The individual athlete must-have skills and tools developed throughout training to enhance their mental preparation.
Outside of actual therapy (which I recommend for everyone, especially cognitive behavioral therapy), I believe there are a few ways to educate athletes on handling competition, external stressors and mental development.
To begin, it is important that every single day prior to training that athletes take 5-15 minutes to gather themselves mentally. It is important to clear the mind and recognize what the tasks are at hand. For the next two hours of training, what are the habits in the circle that need to be established, what is the best way to respond to positive execution, what is the best way to respond to negative execution, what is the personal mantra for that individual thrower?!?!? By taking 5-15 minutes every single day, the athlete is able to establish their own internal focus. They can also connect with the coach to gain a better view of what needs to be established from a technical perspective.
Having a mantra or personal message to reflect upon is greater than most athletes realize. A simple saying or message goes a long way! It gets the athlete in the zone and prepares them for the intensity they are about to experience. Adam Nelson's alter ego, Christian Taylor has his saying of “close the door” to get him on top of the international podiums!
In training, these are skills that can then be developed and cultivated over time. By having a discussion with the coach prior to training about the technical focus, the coach can establish those 2 BIG cues that can trigger a big throw. Now in training, the coach can force a mock competition setting.
During training, it can be very effective to say, “Ok, the next 8 throws are a competition. Two warm-up throws and 6 competition throws!” Now the throwers have to resort to their two main cues they wrote down or remembered from their pre-training routine, then when it’s time to compete, they can pull out their mantra to trigger some intensity.
While this is happening, it’s also important to understand that the athlete understands where they are from a LOGICAL perspective. Coaches forget that LOGIC must play a part in throwing results and training. If the thrower is not throwing as far as they want in a mock meet, it can 100% be explained with logic. Maybe they lifted heavy the day prior or two days prior, their technique is off for some reason or maybe they got a poor night's rest?!?!? This is where the coach must explain the issues away with a logical response and not harp on an emotional/judgement based pattern.
When coaching is approached from a logical process, the judgmental questions like, “What are you doing?!?!” or “Get out of your head!” or even “Why are you throwing like this?!!?” will no longer exist. Those questions are legitimately STUPID and have no place in proper coaching. Instead, we see perceived “failures” during competition as a lack of preparation on the coach's part and on the athlete's part. Did they always write down their cues, their goals, their mantra, did they visualize, did they use the tools needed to handle stress? If they didn’t, it is likely because they haven’t had enough reps to imprint those tools into their performance!
The takeaways are pretty simple and must be laid out in a simple manner for proper understanding.
Prepare for practice with a 5-15 minute mentally focused timeframe. During this time, write down 1-2 cues, visualize the positions needed to hit and focus on the goals for the day. This habit is then repeated before every single big competition, making competing more comfortable.
Establish a personal mantra! Mantra’s can be used all day, everyday. Use a mantra before each training session, use a mantra before higher intensity training throws, use a mantra before competition and practice this THOUSANDS of times!
Have a logical competition plan. Go out and take the first throw at 80%, then GET AFTER IT! Doing a mock meet? First throw 80%. Competing at states? First throw 80%. Throwing at a big dual meet? First throw 80%. This throw creates confidence and establishes a competitive rhythm!
Use non-judgemental thought processes and practice these thoughts throughout training. Just because you miss a big throw, doesn’t mean you are a bad person. A throw that doesn’t go as far can be explained logically. There was a position missed from a technical perspective, you are physically more fatigued than you were in days prior OR your intensity was slightly lower (use your mantra).
Mental training and focus takes YEARS to develop. The right triggers and thought processes must be learned and trained over and over again. Every single session is an opportunity to get better. Have a focused plan created prior to each training session and then use that habit to create a like-minded plan prior to competition. By having a coordinated competition plan, throwers will improve their performance and overall well-being!