Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance.
“Good At Practice But …”
By Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)
There are literally hundreds of reasons why people contact us and just as many reasons why many of them decide to get us to assist them with their performance(s) but the most common is the athlete / performer who excels in practice (preparation) situations and then struggles to reach anywhere near this level during actual competitions (“when it counts”).
It’s worth mentioning that there is always a risk when writing about psychological aspects of performance of oversimplifying matters and this is certainly the case here. Be aware of this when I suggest that although there are potentially hundreds of causes of the old “good at practice but …” phenomena most can be attributed to either a practice environment that is mentally too easy, a competition mindset that is unnecessarily taxing or “the perfect storm” combination of both of these at the same time.
Quite simply most of those who are better at executing their skills in practice are better as they are doing so is a much more relaxed environment – one where more often that not there are little or no consequences involved. Go to any golf driving range in the world and you’ll see dozens of golfers (if we can call them that) smashing balls into the distance without caring about where these balls end up. Take the same golfers and plonk them onto the first tee with three other golfers and watch how suddenly smashing this particular ball into the distance makes them tighten up and duck hook it straight out of bounds.
Even those who practice smart and try to replicate the mental processes of competition into their preparation often struggle as they fall short of being able to mimic feelings of extreme pressure. The result is that they then have to try and execute their skills in competition whilst experiencing feeling like nerves or stress that were not there during practice.
There are a number of tried and tested ways around this and although reading this blog should never take the place of working 1-on-1 with a qualified sport / performance psychologist the below might be enough to get the ball rolling.
- Make your practice mentally harder
And by harder we mean mentally harder not physically harder. The easiest way to try and do this is by replicating situations that you don’t like / find hard. For example you might prefer to practice in the morning so you intentionally switch some practice sessions to the afternoon or you might enjoy practicing with others more so you’d do some sessions alone.
- Make your competition as relaxed as possible
Is is possible to be too relaxed whilst competing? Not really (don’t confuse tiredness with being relaxed) so we suggest you do what the great Usain Bolt does – only “works on things” in training freeing up his competitions to just be, enjoy and let his training express itself without a worried mind to get in the way.
- Use performance routines
Action-only pre performance routines can be a great way to keep you grounded at certain key moments both in practice and during competitions. The reason they work so well is because they’re built using the only controllable aspect of performance – present actions – and therefore should remain both easy to do and consistent regardless of the thoughts and emotions of the current situations.
As always, if you’d like to find our more about our 1-on-1 sport psychology / mental toughness training services then shoot us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) after having gone through our frequently asked questions here.