How elite athletes keep their heads in the game



In addition to the mound, Trevor Bauer can tell you about moving every stream of air over the base of a baseball. But when he makes a play for the Cleveland Indians, he would not dare to think about physics in the game.

"This game is extremely complex and when I'm in the dock or box, I can not think of these things," says Bauer. "You have to train yourself so that you can quit your mind, you have to train yourself not to think."

Although the physical athletes' attitude may be the most visible part of their game, their mental training is just as important – and it can be just as strict. Disorders are unavoidable, slow failures and the mind has the power to disturb a victory as easily as any physical injury. Thus, professional athletes must be trained to control their minds, regulate focus, control emotional mess, and reach the flowing state that produces roller performance. And it must start early.

"The smaller you can learn these skills the better, as you go through these levels of sport and as pressure and requirements grow, you will be resilient and able to cope with these demands," says Natalie Durand-Bush , professor of sports psychology at the School of Human Movement at the University of Ottawa. "Like any other physical skill, you have to spend time training mentally – you will not develop it overnight."

Focus on your focus

"Focusing is to realize where to pay attention and to be able to make these shifts very quickly, almost on a subconscious level, because everything is happening so quickly," says Durand-Bush. Learning how to do this involves training with different distractions that could make the athlete losing his focus during a critical moment, and then return their attention back to the game.

Tiger Woods applied this method by practicing the golf swing while his father will sing keys or throw coins to make noise. By predicting distractions and creating contingency plans for different seasons, events and even specific competitors, Durand-Bush explains that athletes can avoid losing competition at their center. "All these [training] go to it so that you are fully prepared and minimize the unknown and the effect of surprise. So if it happens in real life, you will not press the panic button and lose your focus. Just go through your scheduled answer. "

To learn this level of focus, Aidan Moran, a professor of cognitive psychology at Dublin University, says he thinks it is useful to think of concentration as a projector. His method focuses on focusing on something you can lose in a mentality that can be practiced and changed. "If you think concentrating, I think this is a very strong idea," says Moran. "You can never lose your concentration, it's always somewhere."

Failure is inevitable

Of course, paradoxically, sometimes the focus may have the opposite effect. It does not matter what an athlete does to prepare, failures will happen, but often the strong feelings associated with competition, disappointment and sadness can blizzard in anxiety. "You are so emotionally investing that you are trying harder and harder and harder, your body is accelerating, your brain is moving at another speed, everything is faster, but it's not better, that's in the drowned experience," says Moran. "People drown when they feel anxious."

Choking usually indicates that athlete's attention to himself, which Moran explains, is often due to a phenomenon called paralysis with analysis. "If you focus on something really technical, while trying to perform a skill, it always leads to a deterioration of this skill."

As a stick on the plate, you may be worried about taking your elbow on your hip before reaching your hand, so you can get enough strength to hit a fastball, says Bauer or how you only got four seconds to to react one step before you have to swing. These things are both true. But then you have a hitter swinging too early or too late, or swatting in bad places.

"You are trying to exercise conscious control over operations that are best controlled automatically," explains Moran. Under the timing of a ball, this causes errors. If an athlete is not careful about controlling his mental routine and regaining his concentration, a game that has been disturbed may fall. It is also true for amateur players who have nothing to lose but a simple game. At pre-levels there is the extra fear of embarrassment (often on national television), the loss of a point in a roster, the loss of sponsorship. And all this causes even more stress.

"Your performance decreases and then your confidence decreases," says Durand-Bush. It's a vicious circle. At this point, he explains, the best an athlete can do is to support external support to cope with stress and return to basics. "You do not miss [your skills] overnight. It's like riding a bicycle. Do not forget how to ride a bike, fight or push.

Even professional athletes need coaches

Central to all this mental training is a great coach, because not everyone is the same. Most athletes practice the elements of the game they already like or excel, says Moran. "What makes some players extraordinary in their performance is that they are involved in a deliberate practice. There are those areas where you can not perform well or not at all and you deliberately work on your weaknesses to improve their game."

The best coaches are those who teach their athletes how to think and play, says Jim Denison, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Alberta. Training for such top performances requires practice that does not always look like success, he says. It's messier, it allows athletes to make mistakes, and it takes more time.

Typical drills – be it a sprint in a pool or a soccer field – are great if you only try to do it, but if you are trying to get a competitive mindset, it is poorly prepared. It does nothing to prepare an athlete for the spikes of energy and emotion or the pain of exhaustion. "To do something amazing," explains Denison, "you must be willing to get into zones that you have never been in the past that are extremely uncomfortable and painful."

To train athletes for this head, a coach has to force an athlete to really experience pain and danger – and that can be scary. "The coach will talk more with the athlete [like], "I want to explore what you feel feeling pain," Denison says. They would talk to the athlete about how to understand their pain and how to get in touch with this mental challenge. It's not just about getting an athlete fit, he says, it's about designing a brain workout as well as a physical.

"The coaches who have been credited as the best in the world expect all athletes to win a PhD at their event," Denison says. "It's an imposing thing to say, take your PhD at your event, but want athletes to think."

The zen of sport

But there is a hunt to become a thinking athlete. The best performance usually comes when you are not thinking of anything, in a place known as flowing. "It's a rare, extremely vague, highly coveted situation where there is no difference between what a person does and what one thinks," says Moran. "The flow state is when everything is met."

Amateurs can have many problems getting to this state. "People who start playing the first golf tea are always very aware of who watches and begins to swing faster and faster," says Moran. But the faster they move, the poorer their play.

Golf professionals have understood how to handle this. Occasionally, Moran says, you will see a golfer talking to the caddy before a shot. "Golf talks with their own locals so they do not get advice, but to get away from thinking." He has seen golfers sing to themselves to stop themselves from over-analysis. Preventing their conscious thinking keeps them full of making the moves they learn to do perfectly and automatically. And it is this ability that distinguishes them from all others.

"Most high-level, amateur or professional athletes have a higher level of intellectual skills and a better ability to use them consistently under pressure," said Durand-Bush. Learning to let go, and just playing the game is a skill like any other in the pro-athlete's repertoire.

"There is a Zen paradox that to get control, you have to give up control," says Moran. "Typically in music and sports, when flow situations occur, top performance tends to follow."