New research with 160 elite athletes reveals ten peak performance tips.
How do world class athletes get themselves ready to perform their best when the pressure is really on?
What are some of the strategies, tools and techniques they use to tune out distractions, stay focused and remain self-confident when faced with a serious challenge?
My team of researchers and I recently interviewed approximately one hundred and sixty elite athletes from a wide range of individual sports and team sports including: golf, tennis, mixed martial arts, wrestling, track and field, football, soccer, gymnastics, swimming, lacrosse, diving, hockey, baseball, figure skating, fencing, boxing, gymnastics, field hockey, lacrosse, basketball and judo.
The people we spoke to compete at the professional level, the Olympic level, the college level and the high school level.
We asked them about choking during competition, managing pressure and the strategies and techniques they used to perform to their fullest potential. Several themes and patterns seem to be mentioned very frequently.
First, for many athletes, the zone is synonymous with the idea of focus. Focus can be thought of as relaxed concentration where you are absorbed in the task and living in the present.
Second, a lot of the athletes reported listening to music prior to a game, match or performance. Many had very specific songs which seem to “psych” them up to compete.
Third, a lot of the athletes visualization, guided imagery, meditation, guided imagery or self-hypnosis to get their mind into the right gear for winning. Many would imagine a perfect performance in great and vivid detail.
Fourth, relationships with teammates and coaches were a key component to their athletic success. The great athletes seem to have outstanding relationships with the key people in their lives. Conversely, conflicted relationships can create much stress on and off the field for the serious athlete.
Fifth, many athletes reported using the same routines and rituals in their training for many years. Some had developed these routines when they were young competitors.
Sixth, passion for their sport keeps them motivated and excited. Passion pushes athletes to train hard and stay focused when the pressure is on.
Seventh, losses and setbacks are viewed as bumps in the road and learning experiences to grow and to improve from. I learned quite a bit about managing peaks and valleys from a rather surprising source.
Eighth, having fun is paramount. When an athlete is no longer having fun, he or she may be suffering from burn out. It is very hard for an athlete to perform his or her best when one’s sport is not appealing or fun.
Ninth, a great performance can be thought of as a function of hard work and talent minus distractions.
Tenth, choking is the opposite of being in the zone. When an athlete chokes he or she is distracted and they lose focus. Knowing how to manage choking and setbacks are essential skills for peak performers . The athletes we spoke to learn how to activate their inner warriors when they need to get mentally tougher when faced with an athletic challenge.
Many of these mental toughness techniques can be applied to work challenges and to academic challenges that we are apt to face in life.
Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist in River Edge, New Jersey and the Founder of www.StayInTheZone.com