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Align your mind: Improve your results with mental performance training

By Andrew Delaware

Stuck at a plateau in your training or competition? Breaking through that barrier may be less about your working your body harder and more about harnessing the power of your mind. The mental performance industry is on the edge of a boom, with increased holistic awareness in athletes of all levels leading to dramatic improvements in performance. What's the buzz about? Whether you are an elite, masters, or recreational athlete—or even someone who works out to achieve fitness or lifestyle goals—mental performance training can maximize the benefits of your physical training.

In the world of competitive sports, developing and utilizing mental skills is increasingly recognized as an integral part of any serious athlete's training. Athletes no longer rely on chance to ensure they have a relaxed, confident performance. Working with mental performance trainers, these athletes learn to make getting into the zone—the feeling you get when you are at the peak of your ability, and not surprisingly the most researched element of sport psychology —a controlled practice rather than a random event.

Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player, phrased it differently, tongue firmly planted in cheek: "Baseball is 90 percent mental—the other half is physical." Yogi's math may not have been all that great, but he recognized what most coaches and elite athletes will tell you: that sport is 80 to 90 percent mental. This is especially true in sports where hundredths of a second or tenths of an inch separate the champions from the mediocre athletes. Here, the mental edge is crucial.

Mental performance training covers a variety of skills. The most obvious is controlling your mental state while in competition—referred to by athletes as playing in the zone. When you play in the zone, your actions are competent and smooth, your performance at its best. Many athletes are surprised to learn they can control both relaxation and arousal—important factors to playing in the zone—to take them to a higher level of competition.

Mental performance training does not focus on competition alone. It covers all aspects of sport, including learning to gain the maximum from your practice and workout sessions. Appropriate mental training helps you learn technique more effectively and develop strength more rapidly.

Learning to focus appropriately and block out irrelevant thoughts is valuable in both performance and practice. Imaging, which means learning to practice physical skills and performances mentally, helps you develop not only confidence, but also improve your physical skill itself.

Many people think that mental performance coaching is only for elite athletes. That's like saying that only professional bodybuilders should hire personal trainers or nutritionists. A growing number of people working towards more general fitness and lifestyle goals have begun turning to mental performance training and achieving high success rates.

Has your mind worked against you in the past? Mental performance coaching provides the opportunity to learn to align your mind powerfully with your goals, comfortably and naturally. Sessions focus on inspiration, motivation, and exercise adherence. Mental performance coaching is a powerful boost for those who have goals in the area of weight management, exercise, healthy eating, lifestyle management, and/or stress management.

Knowing that the mental side of your sport or your workout contributes 90 percent to your success, what do you do to align your mind with your goals? Here are three quick tips to get you started:

  1. Remember your best: Study your best performance. Develop an awareness of the elements that contributed to that peak performance: your thoughts, your physical state, and your feelings at the time. Try to narrow down what got you there. Was it your warm-up routine, your music, or something else entirely? Re-create these conditions to help move yourself into that state naturally every time you practice or compete.
  2. Get goal-oriented: Set specific, realistic, and measurable goals for both practice and competition. Make your goals even more powerful by making them time-bound.
  3. Focus on process instead of outcome: Successful athletes focus on the joy of improving and utilizing their skills, rather than specific outcomes, and on continuous self-improvement, rather than comparison to others.
You've heard it everywhere these days: mind/body. So how do you engage your mind? Check back here regularly for upcoming tips to get your mind in the game.

About the author: Andrew Delaware is Director of Mental Performance at the Canadian Centre for Performance Training, in addition to running his own mental performance coaching practice. A former competitive athlete, Delaware's clients include athletes of all ages and abilities, from elite athletes to weekend warriors, all of whom who are looking to improve their performance and sharpen their mental edge. Delaware is a Master NLP practitioner and member of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology. He is also a certified hypnotherapist and member of the International Coaching Federation. Delaware conducts performance coaching sessions both in person in the Toronto area and remotely using innovative coaching technology. For more information about his services, visit www.delaware.ca.