Time and time again, we have athletes, coaches, and parents contact us and express why they or their athletes can't take their practice game to competition.
Its common amongst young athletes and especially common in individual sports.
Most athletes play really well in practice, simply because there is no pressure, fear or anxiety to perform. But, as soon as you take that athlete out of their comfort zone instead of looking like a star in practice, they play scared and tight. Ask yourself - Do you look like a star in practice, but choke or freeze up in competition?
Does your performance feel tight, controlled, or lack freedom when you compete?
Do you worry about how others are perceiving you whilst you compete? Many hard-working and mind you talented athletes experience this at some point.
Athletes who get lots of confidence from practice get in their own way (mentally) when they compete...they do this because of a variety of factors.
Most times – there practices are too easy, they don’t get out of their comfort zone and the practice requires zero problem solving or fatigue implementation to affect decision making or performance requiring mental toughness. Why do athletes tense up and lose trust in their skills when they compete?
Other factors include the following - Athletes commonly Lose Trust for Many Reasons
They are anxious or scared to lose; there is an underlying fear of failure
They worry too much about their competitors; there is a level of intimidation
They become too analytical about their performance; over control
They can't transfer their hard-earned practice confidence to competition as they aren’t exposed enough to competition scenarios
They try too hard to perform perfectly in competition; they want perfectionism
These are all mental no no’s. All of these coping mechanisms are relatable to the deficiency in education toward the mental game. They together or isolated, lead to under-performance when it counts.
The bottom line is that performance is a recital under pressure.
When your mind does not allow you the freedom to perform up to the capabilities you have shown in practice, it says something about the way you practice and what language and scenarios are being exposed to you. This is so because of the way you train and the language coaching mechanisms that are being applied to you directly affect what you think.
Be honest with yourself - Is your mind getting in the way during competition, does it inhibit you to perform at your potential - what's the solution?
The first step is to understand how you are sabotaging your game?
Are you afraid to fail?
Is it your training environment?
Is it intimidation by your opponents?
Is it a fundamental lack of self-belief?
Do you worry too much about what others think?
Are you trying to be too perfect? These are just a few of the statements we here from our athlete
Once you understand how you're getting in your own way, you can address it and make changes.
In Elite Sports, if nothing changes, then nothing changes. You in-fact go backwards. Great athletes are always improving, finding new ways to get better. Here is a great example... Several athletes ATHLETE IQ work with continue to practice within their comfort zone when they are in season or within a competition block.
Whilst that is normal – the flaw or the problem is nestled in their mindset of how they approach practice.
They simply can't let go of the "practice mindset" in competition.
The transfer that mindset into their match or game. They worry more about how it looks and feels rather than getting the job done. If you or your athletes do this, know that you are not alone, and this is very common. However, you must learn to separate your practice from your performance.
Brad Gilbert, a former professional tennis player, and commentator for ESPN calls it ‘winning ugly’. How To "Win Ugly" Even more important is finding a way to win. You have to commit to ‘winning ugly’, and push past the discomfort of how it looks or feels and just get the W. Have the mindset ‘to get the job done’ when you compete or another common language us coaches use is…. ‘whatever it takes.
You have to believe that you can adapt and pivot your game to get the result. Perfectionism doesn’t exist. You must have faith in your practice and the skills you bring to competition! Ask yourself - Why do I practice so hard? It is because its an investment into learning how to perform under pressure. Added pressure from your own thinking leads to sub optimal performance. You have to develop the mental tools to perform, under any condition and circumstance.
You practice hard so you can have confidence and trust when you compete. Period. You may still lose, but at least you put yourself in the best possible position to perform at your best.