In order for athletes to become elite and perform consistently at a high level, they must exhibit mental discipline. They must create and follow productive routines. They also must control their attention.
In creating routines, elite athletes get a full spectrum of information from quality, trustworthy resources. These can be strength and conditioning coaches, mental coaches, technical coaches, nutritionists, as well as agents, physicians, and loved ones. An elite athlete takes into account the three aspects of preparation and performance. These include: technical-mechanical movements, such as how one moves in the sport and completes certain strategies; physical components, such as sleep, nutrition, health, etc; and mental components, such as confidence, focus, and intensity.
Aside from bigger picture of seasonal, weekly, and daily schedules, elite athletes lock in on two time frames before competition, 1 hour before performance and 5 minutes before performance. During these two crucial moments, elite athletes take inventory of their “eyes and ears.” They ask the question, “Where is my attention?” This systematic routine will ensure that the athlete is paying attention to actions, thoughts, and emotions that are productive for them to compete at their peak. If they discover that they are distracted, they can simply change their view (sometimes visualization is needed), their feelings (breathing is key to gain control over their heart rate), and/or their actions (follow their set pre-game “to do” list).
This process can occur at times throughout the competition, depending on the sport (possibly at every timeout or halftime). This process can also occur after competition, when the athlete is evaluating his performance, cooling down, or speaking with teammates or media.
The key to any productive routine is that the athlete must be aware of why they need to follow it to perform at their best, accept that these actions must be followed for consistent peak performance, and commit to this process.
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About John Couture
Director of Sport Psychology at Kinkaid School in Houston and Private Mental Skills Coach for amateur and professional athletes. BA Psychology/Physics, Amherst College; MA Psychology/Coaching, Towson University; American Board of Sport Psychology Certified