Coaching new athletes at SPARTA is exciting. As long as they come willing to work hard and listen well, they make gains fast, improving dramatically every session for the first few months. After a few months they hit the first significant road-block on the road to becoming an elite athlete. Once an athlete gains experience with high intensity training and they are performing movements at a high level, simply working hard is not enough. Mental focus and intensity become a huge part of training and athletic preparation.
Everyone knows that Olympic level athletes do not set a personal record every time they compete. They know this too, and have to train to peak mentally and physically for key races and events throughout the year. What SPARTA athletes find out is that after a couple months of setting new personal records every training session, the honeymoon is over, and training sessions become even more like competitions. Making gains in a strength or speed movement now takes tremendous effort and acute mental focus. Luckily, these are the same elements that will ensure success in the competitive arena.
Dr. Doug Gardner is a sports psychologist who runs ThinkSport Consulting Services, an applied sports psychology firm with locations in Southern and Northern California. Dr. Gardner spent six years as the Sport Psychology Consultant to the Boston Red Sox. He had this to say about the mental side of training sessions, “The ability of an athlete to focus in athletic competition is dependent upon the individual’s diligence in practicing “focusing” during their preparation. Too often, athletes wait until athletic competition to “focus” yet they have not trained themselves, nor practiced, any of these skills prior to their athletic competition.”
Extremely high-level SPARTA athletes do fewer exercises and repetitions during each training session than the less experienced athletes. This ensures that every movement is extremely high intensity and high quality. Athletes have more time to mentally prepare for each movement, and training sessions become even more like competition. “Mental skills are not something to be practiced in isolation. Every physical action has an equally related mental component. Once athletes learn to integrate and blend the mental, physical and technical aspects of their sport, the better they can utilize all of this knowledge in the athletic arena,” says Dr. Gardner.
So if you are an athlete who is struggling with consistent performance during competition, challenge your ability to focus during your training sessions. Pay attention to the details, make yourself repeat close to personal best results, and give yourself the confidence to reproduce great performances during your games or races.