Every athlete, regardless of their level of performance, needs to know and apply hacks for mental training. Success in sports is a complex combination of many factors. However, it becomes more achievable if we master effective tools.
The tricks cover breathing management, visualization, and goal setting, among other techniques. Let’s review a series of exercises that are helpful in the preparation of athletes.
Hacks for mental training and success in sports
These hacks are designed to be applied strategically in common situations in sports. That is, they make sense in this context, not as an isolated tool. Therefore, you have to pay attention to both the technique and the specific moment in which you execute them. Now, let’s discover the best tricks for mental training in sports.
The Art of Breathing
1. Diaphragmatic breathing before competing
The feeling of having a knot in your stomach, your heart racing, or the slight trembling of your hands are very common reactions of the nervous system before a competition. It’s easy for these sensations to invade us quickly.
When our nerves play tricks on us, they may undo months of hard work. In this scenario, you can gain control over your anxiety with the application of appropriate breathing techniques.
The goal of these practices is to find a calmer physiological state. It’s one of the strategies most used by sports psychologists due to its high effectiveness. For example, a study from the University of Murcia in Spain found that this technique reduced stress levels in a sample of boxers. The instructions to apply diaphragmatic breathing are as follows:
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position in a quiet environment, then inhale air slowly through your nose, trying to bring it to the lower part of your lungs (the diaphragm). Take advantage of your entire chest cavity and completely fill your abdomen.
- Hold the inspired breath for five seconds.
- Release the air very slowly through your mouth until you completely empty your chest.
- Little by little, practice this breathing pattern in different postures and situations in order to get used to it and integrate it into your pre-competition routine.
2. Setting goals for motivation
Motivation is one of the pillars of sports performance. However, there’s often an erroneous view of what it is and how to cultivate it. Many people understand it as if it were an accelerator pedal: If you press it, the athlete accelerates, but if not, they tend to slow down.
However, motivation is rather the gasoline that fuels behavior. Without it, there would be no action; it provides energy in a constant and balanced way.
Continuing with this comparison, the best way to cultivate motivation isn’t with speeches or mantras that provide acceleration but with tools that allow you to find a stable level throughout the entire season. Setting goals is the most appropriate technique for this.
It consists of setting different goals in the short, medium, and long term and examining to what extent you meet them or what’s going wrong if you don’t. This increases motivation, in addition to providing you with feedback regarding the rate of your progress.
In order for objectives to be effective, they have to meet a series of characteristics. You can use the acronym SMART to help you remember them:
- S: Specific
- M: Measurable
- A: Achievable
- A: Relevant
- T: Timed
“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.”
– Mark Spitz, former competitive swimmer and nine-time Olympic champion –
3. Visualization to mentally review your movements
Visualization is one of the most well-known techniques in the field of sports psychology, not only because of its ease of learning but also because of its numerous applications, from reviewing your routine to visualizing victory in order to increase your confidence.
In both cases, what you need to do is seek to take advantage of the power of imagination, a capacity that we all have, in order to promote performance. Visualizing consists of creating a specific scenario through imagination.
The key is that it has to be as realistic as possible in order to differentiate it from a fantasy. Furthermore, it must be a delimited situation. For example, review a synchronized swimming choreography before going out to the pool.
Through this mental scenario, the athlete reviews the movements they’ll execute in order to improve them. It even has positive effects on other psychological variables. Research published in the Journal of Sports Psychology highlights that this tool increases motivation and reduces pre-competition anxiety.
“If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”
– Muhammad Ali, former professional boxer –
4. Operations to warm up the mind
Before carrying out any physical effort, it’s very important to warm up well in order to avoid injuries. The brain also needs to be warmed up so that it performs at its best. But this part of mental training is often overlooked.
Cognitive abilities, such as attention or memory, need to go little by little. We can’t expect to go from 0 to 100 in an instant. Therefore, some technique is needed to put the mind to work.
Each athlete discovers their ideal trick after a lot of practice. The most basic technique that we recommend and that gives good results is to perform simple mental operations.
For example, while warming up, you can think about a series of additions or multiplications that aren’t very complicated. This task demands attention and memory capacity, staying active without interfering with the physical part of your routine.
5. Write what you feel in a journal
Emotions are an essential part of any human experience, and that goes for sports as well. However, sometimes, it’s a matter of putting your emotions aside as if they were an obstacle to your performance.
The reality is that having a greater knowledge of your feelings will allow you to improve and feel more satisfied with what you do.
A simple and effective trick is to write everything you feel at certain moments in a journal. For example, the day before a big event. Writing down your feelings and emotions is a way to organize your head and give names to sensations that are often confusing.
This emotional diary tactic has proven useful for regulating emotions, according to a study from the Complutense University of Madrid. In this case, it was used to regulate both positive and negative emotions.
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Apply these hacks, and success in sports will be within your reach
Knowing the recipe for success in sports is one of the most frequently expressed wishes of athletes. We’d like to have an answer to this concern, but unfortunately, there’s no single way to achieve this goal. As we mentioned earlier, victory is a combination of physical and mental factors.
Both of these factors complement one another, as our body and mind aren’t separate entities. Rather, they work together. Therefore, all mental training has repercussions on your physical condition. Now you have enough arguments to start putting these hacks into practice. You’ll soon see that the results will be very positive.
“The body achieves what the mind believes.”
– Unknown –
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