A quick index of common problems athletes talk about and their possible solutions. If you have a topic to add to the list, please let me know! Keep in mind that most of these are overlapping concepts and some of them are actually almost identical, so many of the solutions overlap as well.
Failing in high-pressure situation is actually a quite complicated problem. The reasons could be various and the best approach is a long-term Multi-Action Plan intervention. However, a quick fix might be enough to carry one out of a slumping situation. First it is important to understand the term choking, what it refers to, and how to counter it. For pre-game issues check out pre-performance and emotional control. For in-game issues check out relaxation and performance.
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.” ~William Shakespeare
The inner critic can cause serious performance problems in terms of drastic changes in play style and lack of team synergy. Fixing self-talk is the best way to address this issue immediately. See the self-talk series.
Lack of focus in the game can come in two forms. Too much anxiety and too much relaxation. Anxiety causes the brain to try to control actions that are typically automatic in elite athletes, thus leading to a chain reaction where failing movements leads to more overt control which leads to more failed movements. The situation is similar to choking (see Choking above) and uses the same solutions and quick-fixes. Too much relaxation is usually the result of poor preparation pre-game, and the best fix is to look closely at pre-performance routines.
Sometimes practice makes perfect. Sometimes practice engrains bad habits and bad behaviours that come back to haunt athletes during an important competition. The best way to solve practice problems in the long-term is action-focused coping through the Multi-Action Plan. For short-term fixes the motivational climate (forthcoming) of the team and goal setting (see also “A class of athlete lacking goals“) are crucial elements to look at. Remember, practice like you play, so that you can play like you practice!
Lack of motivation can come in many forms, most commonly in terms of inefficient practice or lack of desire to win in a competition setting. Goal setting is a great approach to address both of these issues, and pre-performance routines, focus exercises, and self-talk can help with the in-game setting.
Does your team fight a lot and seem to lack cohesion? Good news! Statistical studies say that group cohesion doesn’t have as large an effect on group performance as one would think. However, if communication is bad, then that’s another thing. So make sure to have goals to build established routines so that communication happens in-game regardless of how cohesive you feel with your teammates. And if practice time sucks, then consider doing more social and team building activities as well. Cohesive groups can surpass performance limits!
Not having goals can lead to symptoms such as low motivation, unclear focus in training, stagnation of skills, and reversion to older styles of non-optimal play. Whereas keeping and tracking goals to lead to a more reflective and mindful athlete who is able to handle in-game stressors like anxiety during competition in a more consistent manner. Goal setting is a good step towards mindfulness, which is a key skill in many successful sport psychology interventions.
Consistency in competition is the ultimate result of physical and mental training, and there is no quick fix for achieving it. However, if you look at your worst breakdowns you can start by addressing some of the more serious issues, especially if they are related to common mistakes or anxiety.
Sometimes you know you have negative self-talk; you just keep beating yourself up over things and you want to know how to stop. Sometimes you have no or ineffective self-talk; you just can’t seem to get yourself pumped up when you know it really needs to count! See the self-talk series for how to fix these issues.
A lot of athletes make their first mistake of the game before the competition even starts. For some reason the other team just comes out of the gate stronger. The pre-game room is the best place to prepare for those first few minutes of the game. Check out the various articles on preparing for a match.
Communication breakdowns in competition and practice
Many people tie in social aspects or group cohesion and team atmosphere with good communication. But the fact is they just are not that connected. Fantastic groups can talk a lot without really saying much of anything important. On the other hand, completely dysfunctional groups can have incredibly effective competitive communication. Communication in a game and training setting for achieving victory is all about setting and keeping personal goals on helping others to do the same. When you find yourself not being able to focus on those goals, consider self-talk as your reminder too.
regaining momentum in-game
not losing momentum in-game