By Michelle Pain
This is the title of my recently launched eBook, and as it says, I’ve spilled the beans on I, as a sport psychologist of over 25 years of experience, work in the sport environment. In it, I have tried to address many common issues faced by athletes and coaches, and demonstrated how the tools I use can be used by them as they prepare to compete at their highest level. It’s written in a user-friendly style so that the material is accessible to everyone.
In my life, I’ve tried to travel a different path. I’m not afraid to take a (calculated) risk if I can back myself. Sport is like that. You have to forgo many things that ‘regular’ people take for granted, and trust that you’ve got the right stuff to show the selectors or the judges (or whomever has control) that you are the goods.
In an Olympic year, my mind turns to the issue of ‘selection’. Of course, this issue is faced by many athletes even in non-Olympic years, but as the Olympics is a once-in-four-years occurrence, the pressure is greatest for people in those sports for whom the Olympics represents their sporting pinnacle. Selection trials, by their nature, are stressful. Those who ‘survive’ the selection ordeal would be well prepared to cope with the rigours of competition at the highest level. What can an athlete do to help cope with this sort of stress?
Firstly, it is important for an athlete to see him- or herself as being more than just an athlete (and by extension, to see the selection event as one step in the journey of their sporting life; not building it into the ‘be all and end all’ of their whole life). From a very early stage in their sporting career, it’s a good idea to have ‘Plan B’ (and ‘Plan C’) in the back of their mind in case ‘Plan A’ doesn’t come off. This doesn’t signal ‘acceptance of failure’; it is good planning.
Sport psychologists talk about ‘controlling what you can control’. This means that you oughtn’t worry about things you have no control over (eg. how well your competitors have trained, whether the selectors ‘like you’, your age or gender etc). Your job ought to be to prepare yourself (body and mind) so that you can show the selectors that you are worthy of selection. Your energy ought to be focused on the things you can do right now that will help you perform to the best of your ability (eg. the quality of your training and recovery, the diligence you pay to your coach or the medical staff, your nutrition and sleep patterns etc).
When you are in the middle of a major competition (or immediately in the lead up to the selection trial), you might find yourself thinking negative thoughts. Things like “I don’t think I’ll make it this time”, or “I don’t think I’m ready”. Negative thoughts have a tendency to become self fulfilling prophecies if you don’t stop them as early as you can. Somewhere where you can see it (maybe on a piece of paper stuck to your mirror, or on the back of your toilet door, or on a piece of sporting equipment you might use regularly) I suggest you put up a sign to remind you of good thinking behaviours. The one I’d put up would be: Is what I’m thinking or doing right now helpful to me performing my best? This question can remind you to stop thinking or doing activities that are self destructive and to do something more useful.
What about the athletes who are out there, who just seem to have been born in the wrong era? No matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to knock off the athlete or player that seems to always have position sewn up? If you are playing for a team, I would ask you to recognise the role you are playing. I believe that there needs to be a ‘critical mass’ of players pushing forward for selection that (a) keeps the chosen ones performing at their best, and (b) creates an atmosphere that leads to great development for their team in particular, or for the sport in general. Just as there can only be one leader in an organisation, the strength of the organisation depends on there being good leaders throughout the organisation at every level. And while the ‘leader’ might be the only one who gets the kudos, the whole organisation can bask in the knowledge that their combined efforts is what is driving the organisation forward (and a good leader will acknowledge that).
So, no matter where you are in your sporting journey, keep enjoying the friendships and the hard work. These are the things you will remember long after you are retired from sport, much more so that any titles or trophies (which are so fleeting). Finally, I also love the sentiment of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’, published in 1895. It never hurts to have inspiring messages that you can call on, to ‘dig deep’ when you need it…
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Michelle Pain is a registered sport psychologist in private practice in Mentone (Melbourne’s south east). You can see some sample pages or purchase her new eBook ‘Sport Psychology Tools for Every Coach and Athlete’ on her website at www.pocketpsychology.com.au
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