All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor
I’m pleased to announce the publication by Human Kinetics of my latest book: Dance Psychology for Artistic and Performance Excellence (co-authored with Dr. Elena Estanol). This is a follow-up to my first-ever 1995 book, Psychology of Dance, which I wrote with my late mother, Ceci Taylor.
For those not familiar with my work in dance, I have consulted and given workshops with the Miami City Ballet, Hartford Ballet Company, and DanceAspen Summer School, and have written many articles on dance. Elena is a former professional dancer and choreographer who is now a psychologist who specializes in dance.
The book explores many aspects of the psychology of dance confidence, focus, and emotions, as well as stress, injury, and disordered eating. Human Kinetics also provides an extensive online resource with additional materials.
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There are many things that go into developing skilled tennis players. Physical conditioning, technique, tactics, and psychology require years of constant attention for young players to become the best they can be. Yet, underlying all of the information, exercises, techniques, and strategies are some basic and essential concepts that players and coaches must understand for everything else to follow.
Concept #1: Positive Change Formula
In order for any change to occur, whether physical, technical, or mental, in the most efficient and effective fashion, players must follow a three-step formula. One, players must become aware of what they are doing incorrectly and how to correct it. Two, players must control what they want to improve. Third, players must engage in sufficient repetition to ensure that the change is ingrained and automatic.
Concept #2: Prime Tennis
A common term to describe a high level of tennis is “peak performance.” But there are problems with peak performance. First, because a peak is very narrow, there can be few great performances. Second, an inherent part of a peak is that there have to be valleys. From this perspective, peak performance is not descriptive of what athletes should strive for. The dictionary defines “prime” as: “having the highest quality or value.” Prime Tennis means players being able to play their best consistently under the most challenging conditions. Prime Tennis should be your goal with players.
Concept #3: Prime Law of Tennis Training
The purpose of training is to develop effective skills and habits. With this in mind, you should be sure that every time your players train, whether on- or off-court, they are focused on instilling physical, technical, tactical, and mental skills and habits that will enable them to play Prime Tennis.
Concept #4: Prime Law of Match Preparation
Whatever players do in training, that is what they will do in matches. Two corollaries of this law are: If players don’t do it training, they will not be able to do it in a match. And if they need to do it in matches, they must do it in training. All efforts in training are directed toward what players need to do in matches. Two key areas in which this law is most relevant is with focus and intensity. Players must practice playing at 100% focus and intensity, so when they get to the match, they are entirely accustomed to it and the focus and intensity will allow them to play Prime Tennis.
Concept #5: Mental Skills are Skills
Many people think that mental skills are something players are born with or they are not. If not, they can never develop them. But it is important for players to understand that mental skills are skills, just like technical skills, and they can be learned in the same way. Like technical skills, mental skills are acquired with the Positive Change Formula, namely, awareness, control, and repetition.
Concept #6: Prime Tennis Pyramid
The Prime Tennis Pyramid is a progression of mental skills that lead to Prime Tennis. Motivation lies at the bottom of the pyramid because without the motivation to play, there would be no interest in improvement and competition. Prime motivation ensures total preparation. From motivation and preparation comes Confidence, players’ belief in their ability to play their best. Prime confidence gives players the desire to compete. From confidence comes Intensity, players’ ability to respond positively to the pressure of competition. Prime intensity enables players’ bodies to play their best. From intensity comes Focus, the ability to focus properly before and during matches. Prime focus allows players to stay focused and avoid distractions. From this pyramid comes Prime Tennis, players’ ability to play at a consistently high level under the most challenging conditions.
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Almost every dancer has at some time in his or her career experienced the feeling of complete self-confidence. Honed, strong, and relaxed, you know you are dancing well. It is a feeling of invincibility that usually results in a great performance.
Self-confidence may be the single most important ingredient for successful performing. It enables you to extend yourself, to take risks, and reach inside yourself. It can be the difference between performing well and poorly. A distinguishing characteristic of all great dancers is that they don’t think they will dance well, they know it. Yet for most people confidence is very fragile; it is easily lost and tremendously difficult to rebuild.
Though self-confidence is an oft-used term, few people really understand what it is. Self-confidence reflects how you feel about yourself and your abilities. It determines how much effort you expend, your goals, and your expectations of success. Since people rarely exceed their expectations, the dancers’ level of self-confidence can determine how well they perform.
Dancers must regularly monitor their confidence level and be sensitive to changes. Instructors and choreographers should also be alert to this. A loss of confidence usually follows a period of unexpectedly poor dancing and results in depression, irritability and is reflected in severe self-criticism such as “I’ll probably fall” or “I just can’t dance.” These negative evaluations are disruptive both mentally and physically, hurting confidence more and causing tension that inhibits natural ability. A vicious cycle of low self-confidence results in which a poor performance causes lower confidence and on and on in a downward spiral.
There are effective means of building and maintaining self-confidence. Good training, the mastery of technique and the general feeling of competency that results will increase your confidence. The mastery of technique can then be carried over onto the artistry of the stage.
The teacher’s role in helping dancers develop and maintain a high level of confidence is essential. Because of the teacher’s knowledge and authority, dancers look to them for a pat on the back. As a result, teachers should pay particular attention to the quality of their interactions with their dancers.
The “Ballet Master” style of teaching dance is a thing of the past. Teachers who berate and embarrass their dancers will rarely improve their performance. Teachers must be sensitive to the individual psychological needs of their dancers just as they are to their physical needs, and should use feedback that fits those needs. For example, some dancers respond to positive reinforcement and react negatively to harsh criticism. Others may need pressure to motivate them. In general though, it is important for teachers to give feedback that is objective, specific, and positive.
The best known, but most underrated technique dancers may utilize to improve their self-confidence is positive thinking. I have been overwhelmed by the number of dancers who are their own worst enemies. Their behavior and attitudes are self-defeating and self-perpetuating. Positive thinking consists of always evaluating yourself positively and objectively, never thinking or making derogatory remarks about yourself.
If mistakes are made, dancers should say, `I made a mistake, now how can I correct it,’ not `I’m awful and I can’t do it.’ The former is positive and objective, the latter is negative and self-defeating.
For dancers with low self-confidence, these positive self-statements may seem alien and may not be believed at first. But with repetition and reinforcement through success and teachers’ feedback, the self-statements will be internalized and the vicious cycle of low self-confidence will be replaced by a growing spiral of high self-confidence.
To prevent the entrance of negative thoughts and to replace them with constructive ones, cue words such as `stop’ or `positive’ are helpful. These cue words help to halt the negative thoughts and refocus attention in a positive direction.
Teachers should actively combat the use of negative evaluations by punishing their use and reinforcing positive self-statements, thereby fostering a healthy, positive attitude in their dancers. With a little time and alot of effort, positive thinking and the other methods we have discussed can have dramatic effects on dancers’ self-confidence.
In conclusion, there are two points that should be remembered. First, self-confidence should be developed and nurtured prior to performance, just like technique and artistry. Second, self-confidence should be monitored continuously, and if a problem arises, it should be dealt with quickly and effectively to enable the racers to maintain their optimal performance level. Additional techniques to enhance self-confidence will be discussed in later articles.
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When I ask tennis coaches what is the biggest challenge and stressor in their work with young players, the almost unanimous response is PARENTS! Coaches indicate that more often than not parents interfere with rather than facilitate their coaching. This is an unfortunate situation as parents have a powerful impact on players. Considering this, it is important for coaches to do what they can to make their allies.
Why Parents Are Not Your Allies?
Though there are some strong examples to the contrary in tennis, most parents are not mean, malicious, and ill-intentioned. Most want the best for their children as players and young people. Unfortunately, many parents don’t know what is best for their children in their tennis. In other words, they are simply uneducated about how the roles they play can have a positive and negative influence on their children’s tennis experience.
Goals of Tennis Participation
The most basic thing parents need to know and accept are the primary goals that they should emphasize with their children. Specifically, their goals should be no greater than having tennis contribute to their children’s personal and social development, build their self-esteem, learn transferable life skills such as motivation, confidence, and focus, and gain a love of a lifetime sport. If young players achieve these goals, they are going to be happy and productive people. Any other goals like a college scholarship or a professional career would only be icing the cake.
Recommendations for Making Parents Your Allies
- Establish mandatory parent-coach meetings to discuss your program’s philosophy and goals. These must be consistent between the parent and coach for the young player to benefit from tennis.
- Identify specifically how parents’ behavior can help or hurt their child. For example, hugging and encouraging players whether they win or lose vs. showing negative emotions during matches.
- Identify specifically how parents’ behavior can aid or undermine your coaching. For instance, making sure players are properly equipped and on time for practice vs. coaching their child away from your practices.
- Create regular opportunities for parents to give input about their child. For example, establish office hours when parents can stop by or call. You can learn a great deal from each other to the child’s benefit.
- Provide regular written progress reports to parents about how their child is developing physically, technically, competitively, and psychologically. They have a right to know.
- Establish clear guidelines of appropriate and inappropriate behavior for parents like my Do’s and Don’t’s of Tennis Parenting
- When conflicts arise, act like an adult and treat the parents like adults. Your communications will be more amicable and productive.
- Choose the appropriate setting for a discussion with parents, for example, in your office. Never speak to parents about important issues in front of players, coaches, or other parents.
- Enlist parents within your program for advice and guidance about parent issues that arise.
- Most important of all, create and foster an atmosphere of cooperation, mutual support, and communication aimed at providing the child with the most positive tennis experience possible.
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One of the most widely used techniques to increase motivation among athletes is goal setting. Having players establish goals at different levels of training and competition will improve their effort and intensity. In order to ensure the value of goal setting, there are several components that must be included in a well-organized goal setting program.
Long term goals specify what the players ultimately want to achieve in their careers. Examples of long term goals include receiving a college scholarship or playing professionally. These objectives are similar to dreams because they are so far off they may seem unreachable. Due to their distance, these goals should be kept in the back of players’ minds, but not focused on often.
Seasonal goals indicate what the players want to accomplish in the coming season, such as reach a certain ranking or attain a new level of competition. These goals are important because they will dictate all subsequent goals that are set.
Competitive goals designate how players want to perform in particular tournaments during the season. Competitive goals might include a certain placing to qualify for the next tournament or players lowering their ranking to be named to a traveling team. These goals are critical because attaining them should lead to reaching their seasonal goals.
Training goals specify what players need to do in their physical, technical, and mental training that will enable them to reach their competitive goals. Training goals might involve increasing leg strength by 10%, working on down-the-line passing shots, or learning to control anxiety.
Lifestyle goals indicate what players need to do in their general lifestyle to reach the above goals, e.g., develop better sleeping habits, eating better, or being more disciplined studying.
As can be seen, these goals are incremental and progressive from the bottom to the top. In other words, the lower goals lead step-by-step to the higher goals.
In setting goals, it is important to follow several guidelines to maximize their value. First, goals should be challenging, but realistic and attainable. That is, they should be reachable, but only with hard work. Goals that are too easy or too hard have little usefulness because they will be reached without effort or are unreachable even with extreme effort, respectively.
Second, goals should be specific and concrete. For example, an ineffective goal is “I want to get stronger”, whereas a useful goal is “I want to increase my bench press 20% in the next three months”. They also should be objective, tangible, measurable, and time-limited.
Third, athletes should focus on the degree, rather than absolute attainment, of goals. Inevitably, not all goals will be reached, but there will almost always be improvement toward a goal. By emphasizing measurable improvement, changes in performance can be followed and progress can be rewarded.
Finally, goals should be examined and updated regularly. Some goals may turn out to be too easy and must be made more difficult. Other goals are too hard and must be eased. Also, goal setting is a process, there really is no end. When one goal is reached, a new higher goal should be established immediately. In addition, there does not need to be a goal for every aspect of performance all of the time. There are times when certain areas should be stressed and others should be de-emphasized.
In addition to the macro-goals described above, players can improve their motivation and the quality of their training on a daily basis by setting micro-goals. These goals specify exactly what the players want to accomplish every time they train. Coaches may assist players in developing micro-goals by simply asking them what they are working on before each training session. If the players do not know, they shouldn’t be allowed to train until they have a particular objective in mind. Micro-goals are an excellent means of helping athletes stay focused during training and increasing the quality and decreasing the quantity of training.
The role of the coach in the goal setting process is critical. Young players often do not have the experience or objectivity to set appropriate goals. Coaches can provide guidance as to the specific goals to which players should aspire, assist them in developing realistic, challenging, and measurable goals, and help them monitor their progress.
Triathlon imagery is perhaps the most powerful mental skill you can develop to help you achieve Prime Triathlon. There are four factors that will impact the quality of your triathlon imagery: perspective, control, multiple sense, and speed. You can develop each of these areas so you can get the most out of your triathlon imagery.
Imagery perspective refers to where the “imagery camera” is when you do triathlon imagery. The internal perspective involves seeing yourself from inside your body looking out, as if you were actually performing. The imagery camera is inside your head looking out through your eyes. The external perspective involves seeing yourself from outside your body like on video. The imagery camera follows you from the outside. Research indicates that one perspective is not better than the other. Most people have a dominant perspective with which they’re most comfortable. You should use the perspective that’s most natural for you and then experiment with the other perspective to see if it helps you in a different way.
Have you ever been doing triathlon imagery and you keep making mistakes, for example, while imagining yourself swimming, the water feels thick like molasses or while imagining yourself running, your feet stick to the road? This problem relates to imagery control, which is how well you’re able to imagine what you want to imagine. It’s not uncommon for triathletes to perform poorly in their imagery. If bad images occur in your imagery, you shouldn’t just let them go by. If you do, you’ll ingrain the negative image and feeling which will hurt your confidence. Instead, when you perform poorly in your imagery, immediately rewind the “imagery video” and edit it and rerun the imagery video until you see yourself performing well.
Good triathlon imagery is more than just visual. The best imagery involves the multi-sensory reproduction of the actual triathlon experience. You should duplicate the sights, sounds, physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that you would experience in an actual triathlon. Visual imagery involves how clearly you see yourself performing, for instance, seeing yourself having a fast transition. Vivid auditory images are important because sounds can play an important part in triathlon, for example, the sound of your breathing during the run. The most powerful part of triathlon imagery is feeling it in your body. That’s how you really ingrain new skills and habits. To improve the feeling of your imagery, focus on the movement of your muscles as you imagine yourself in each leg of a triathlon.
The ability to adjust the speed of your imagery will enable you to use triathlon imagery to improve different aspects of your performances. Slow motion is effective for focusing on technique. When you first start to work on technique in your imagery, slow the imagery video down, frame by frame if necessary, to see yourself executing the skills correctly. Then, as you see and feel yourself performing well in slow motion, increase the speed of your imagery until you can perform well at “real-time” speed.
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One of the toughest questions dancers can ask of themselves is “What should my goals be for this year?” Deciding whether to perform, teach, or attain a certain level in class can influence significantly what level is ultimately reached. In a recent post, various ways of increasing motivation through a well-planned training program were discussed. The present post will focus on how a sound goal-setting program can be used to enhance motivation and improve performance.
Often, dancers’ level of success will depend upon the type and difficulty of their goals. So what kind of goals should be set? First, goals should be realistic and challenging, yet attainable. That is, goals should be able to be reached only with hard work and commitment. Goals that are too low inhibit motivation because they can be accomplished with little effort. Goals that are too high also have little motivational value because they are too difficult to reach, so it will not motivate dancers to work hard to achieve them. As a result, goals should be reinforcing and should encourage effort and commitment. Goals should also be flexible, i.e., able to be raised or lowered as new information becomes available, such as an unexpected improvement or a role that exceeds initial goals.
There are three primary types of goals: long-term , short-term, and measurable objective goals. Long-term goals such as “I want to become a member of the American Ballet Theatre” should not be emphasized. They are too distant to be judged realistically. Long-term goals should be maintained in the back of the mind and brought forward as the goal approaches year by year.
Short-term goals involve yearly aspirations, what dancers want to accomplish during the upcoming year. Short-term goals are the foundation upon which the goal-setting program is built. There are several things that must be considered in developing goals.
First, how committed dancers are. Given the amount of time and effort dancers are willing to expend, what goals are reasonable? Second, do dancers have the opportunity to attain their goals? These opportunities include dance training facilities, adequate instruction, and sufficient time and finances for training and travel. For example, it would be unrealistic, given his or her present opportunities, for a 17-year-old taking ballet twice a week to have a goal of joining the New York City Ballet Company.
Third, the most difficult factor to measure in developing goals is a dancer’s potential. Even the best teachers can not always judge how good a performer a student will be in the future. Perhaps the best method for gauging a dancer’s potential is to look at results over the past several years, chart the rate of improvement, then project it into the future. This method, however, does not account for the late bloomer.
With these factors considered, it is possible to make a variety of measurable objective goals which, in turn, will help dancers attain their short-term goals. Life-style goals include eating, sleeping, work, and social habits. Training goals describe the type, amount, and intensity of the dance classes. Technical goals involve the new skills that must be acquired to reach the short-term goals. Lastly, performance goals will specify desired levels to be reached during the course of the year progressing toward the short-term goal. Once these various goals have been established, they may be used to increase motivation and commitment through the use of a written contract.
Goal-setting contracts are organized statements of a dancer’s goals and the specific means of attaining them. Research suggests that the following guidelines are necessary for these contracts to be most effective: (1) The contract must be written by the dancer. Teachers may help in setting realistic goals, but the goals must be accepted by the dancer. (2) The goals must be specific and explicit. Concrete statements such as “I want to perform in the school concert” or “I want to master an arabesque”, are important. (3) The goals stated in the contract should be made public among the dancer’s peers, teachers, and other significant individuals.
So far we have described all of the aspects of a goal-setting program. Now let’s put it together into a cohesive formula that will enable dancers to design, organize, and write their own goal-setting contract. The following contract has been useful to dancers we have worked with:
1) Specify short-term goals. Dancers can ask themselves, “where do I want to be in my dancing one year from now”? Dancers should be sure to consider their level of commitment, their opportunities, and, most importantly, their potential. These goals should pertain to issues such as desired roles and advancement in a school or company.
2) List the steps that must be made during the course of the year that are crucial for attaining the short-term goals. These steps should refer to goals such as a particular role that is desired or acceptance into a more advanced class. It must be emphasized that goals are reached by a step-by-step progression. One goal builds on the previous ones in small steps, not unrealistically large jumps.
3) Once the performance goals are determined, dancers, along with the assistance of their teachers, should conduct what is called a task analysis. That is, determine what must be done to attain these goals. What life-style, training, and technical goals should be set to accomplish the task? Note that these goals should be specific and measurable.
4) The goals should be written down and signed by the dancer and his or her teacher.
5) Teachers may want to hold class meetings to enable the dancers to discuss their goals among themselves, or have the dancers post their contracts for others to see. An excellent motivational device that could result from this is to take two or three dancers at a similar ability level and with similar goals and have them work together.
6) Another useful tool for maintaining commitment is the training diary. Such records keep track of sleeping and eating habits, and technical improvement. The logs can act as reinforcers as progress toward the life-style, training, and technical goals is made.
Finally, we would like to point out a few precautions in undertaking a goal-setting program. First, reaching goals should not be black and white, win or lose. Rather, the degree of attainment should be emphasized. Goals are not always reached, but in almost all of the cases there is improvement and deriving satisfaction from those gains is essential to continued motivation. Second, the effort involved in striving for a goal is as important as reaching it. Personal and artistic growth comes more from the effort than the attainment. Teachers should constantly stress this notion. Third, not accomplishing goals should be viewed objectively, i.e., as information to be used for future goal-setting. An important aspect of a good goal-setting program is that the goals are flexible and can be modified (either up or down). Goals, and progress toward them, should be re-evaluated on a regular basis. As goals are re-evaluated, the causes for not reaching them should be sought. It may be that a change in training or technical goals will make it possible to attain goals that were unreachable initially.
Ultimately, a sound goal-setting program will enhance motivation and produce better performance which, in turn, should reinforce the habits and routines first adopted in the program. Thus, the ideal outcome to such a program is a spiraling effect of greater motivation, improved results and increasingly higher goals.
Routines develop consistency in all areas that impact triathlon. By consistently going through your routine, you train your mind and body to respond the same way regardless of the situation. At the same time, consistency does not mean rigidity. Routines are flexible. They can be adjusted to different situations that arise, for example, a delay in the start of a triathlon. Flexibility in routines means you won’t be surprised or stressed by changes that occur during your preparations. Flexibility means you will be better able to perform your best in a wider range of race situations and conditions. The goal of routines is to ensure that when you enter the water, you’re totally physically, technically, tactically, and mentally prepared to perform your best.
The first step in designing a pre-race routine is to make a list of everything you need to do before a triathlon to be prepared. Some of the common elements you should include are meals, transition area set-up, physical warm-up, equipment check, and mental preparation. Other more personal things that might go into a pre-race routine include going to the bathroom and using mental imagery.
Then, decide in what order you want to do the components of your list as you approach the start of the triathlon. In doing this, consider race activities that might need to be taken into account. For instance, how long it takes to register and the length of time it takes to set up your transition area can influence when you accomplish different parts of your pre-race routine.
Next, specify where each step of your routine can best be completed. You should use your knowledge of race sites at which you often perform to figure this part out. For example, if you like to be alone before a triathlon, is there a place near the start where you can get away from people?
Finally, establish a time frame and a schedule for completing your routine. In other words, how much time do you need to get totally prepared? Some triathletes like to get to the start only a short time before their start. Others like to arrive well advance. All of these decisions are personal. You need to find out what works best for you.
Once your pre-race routine is organized, try it out at triathlons. Some things may work and others may not. In time, you’ll fine-tune your routine until you find the one that’s most comfortable and best prepares you for a race. Lastly, remember, pre-race routines only have value if they’re used consistently. If you use your routine before every triathlon, in a short time, you won’t even have to think about doing it. Your pre-race routine will simply be what you do before each race and it will ensure that you are totally prepared to perform your best.
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Recently a young dancer came to us with a problem. It seems that she always danced well in class, but on stage she got so nervous she would dance poorly or lose her balance. She and her teachers believed she had the ability, but they did not know how to deal with her anxiety.
This reaction is not uncommon among dancers. In fact, anxiety, or nervousness, is one of the greatest obstacles to optimal performance. Anxiety results in extreme muscle tension, butterflies in the stomach, and difficulty breathing, among other things. The term “choking” is common, but few people realize that it is an actual physical reaction to stress.
When people are nervous, the muscles in the breathing system contract, blocking off air passages, resulting in insufficient oxygen intake. So, in this condition, people are choking in the real sense of the word. In this nervous state, the body loses strength, coordination, and flexibility, and, quite obviously, can not perform at its highest level.
Such responses are found not only in young dancers but also among experienced dancers. A former student who went on to become a successful dancer was so nervous in her first major performance that she was in tears and did not want to go on stage. Only the experience and sensitivity of the choreographer enabled her to gain her composure and give a good performance.
This illustration demonstrates an extremely high level of anxiety. However, I do not mean to suggest that the opposite of this state is ideal either; being totally relaxed can be just as bad for performance. Clearly too much or too little anxiety is not good for performance. Recent research indicates that a moderate level of anxiety is necessary to perform at a high level. Moderate anxiety boosts adrenaline and diverts energy to necessary parts of the body such as the legs, thereby enhancing strength and coordination.
So far I have told you about things you have probably experienced many times in the past. Now, like the young dancer we talked about earlier, you want to know what you can do about it. Because few dancers suffer from too little anxiety, we shall focus on dealing with excessive anxiety.
One of the most effective techniques to control nervousness is known as progressive relaxation. Its benefits are twofold. First, this method teaches your body how to relax. Second, it shows you how to control and regulate aspects of your body such as muscle tension and breathing. When you get into a stressful situation, you have the ability to calm down and relax.
The following outline describes everything you need to know to use this technique effectively:
- Progressive relaxation involves tightening and relaxing four major muscle groups: legs, chest and back, arms and shoulders, and face and neck.
- Start with the legs and work your way up. Tighten your legs for three seconds, then relax (do twice). Repeat this for each muscle group. Then tighten your whole body for three seconds, and relax.
- During these exercises pair cuewords with the tightening and relaxing. That is, say ‘tight’ just before you tense your muscles, and say ‘loose’ before you relax. Feel free to make up cuewords you are most comfortable with. The object of this phase of the exercises is to condition your body to the cuewords so when you get nervous, you can say the cuewords and your body will respond accordingly. We should point out that this can be used for increasing anxiety (if you are too relaxed) in addition to relaxing.
- Breathing is an important part of progressive relaxation. During the relaxation phases, take several deep breaths. A good defense against “choking” is to force yourself to breathe slowly and deeply.
- After the exercises, make a mental checklist of each part of your body to see if you are relaxed. If you find that you have chronic tension in one particular area, do extra relaxation exercises on that area.
- During the exercises feel the relaxation and gain an awareness of the difference between tension and relaxation. When you get into an anxious situation, you will then be able to sense your anxiety and you will be able to take positive steps to relieve it.
- Like any form of training, there is no such thing as instant improvement. Change takes time and effort. So include progressive relaxation in your training program and make it routine.
In summary, look back on your past dance performances. Find the performances in which you danced well and poorly. Then compare how you felt in these performances. Were you relaxed in the good performances and nervous in the bad ones, or vice versa? Look for differences and find your own optimal level of anxiety. Then use progressive relaxation to reach and maintain that state.
Developing focus control is essential if you want to achieve Prime Triathlon. Being able to focus on things that will help you perform your best and avoid distractions that hurt your performances are critical to achieving your triathlon goals. There are several simple strategies you can use to ensure that you are focused on what you need to perform your best.
The Eyes Have It
We obtain most of our information about the world through our eyes. The most direct way to develop prime focus is to control our eyes. If you want to minimize the external distractions during training and before and during races, keep your eyes down and focused on your equipment, your pre-race preparations, and your race efforts. If you’re distracted by something, either look away or turn away from it. If you’re not looking at something, it can’t distract you.
If you find that you’re thinking too much or being negative or critical, raise your eyes and look around you. For example, watch the triathletes around you or talk to other triathletes with whom you are riding or running. By looking around, you’ll be distracted from your thoughts, you’ll be able to clear your mind, and then you can narrow your focus back to the race.
Outcome vs. Process Focus
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to prime focus is having an outcome focus before a race. Outcome focus involves focusing on the possible results of a race: winning, losing, rankings, or who you might defeat or lose to. Many triathletes believe that by focusing on the outcome they’re more likely to achieve that outcome. What most triathletes don’t realize is that having an outcome focus actually hurts performance and makes it less likely that they will perform well. With an outcome focus, triathletes are no longer focusing on things that will help them do their best. The way to achieve the desired outcome of a triathlon is to focus on the process of the race. Process focus means focusing on aspects of the race that will enable you to perform your best, for example, pace, technique, tactics, or intensity.
Focus On What You Can Control
A major focusing problem I see with many triathletes is that they focus on things over which they have no control. Triathletes worry about their competition, the weather, or the conditions, to name a few things outside of triathletes control. This focus has no value because they can’t change those things. This kind of focus hurts performance because it lowers confidence and causes worry and anxiety. It also distracts triathletes from what they need to focus on. The fact is, there’s only one thing that triathletes can control, and that is themselves, for example, their thoughts, intensity, technique, and tactics.
I have a general rule you can follow that will help you identify what kinds of things you should focus on in a triathlon. The first P is positive; focus on positive things that will help you race and avoid negative things that will hurt it. The second P is process; focus on what you need to do to perform your best. The third P is present; focus on what you need to do right now to perform well, not on the past or future.