MENTAL MISTAKE #7:
OVERTHINKING & SECOND GUESSING
It’s a big competition and you are at the boards ready to step on the ice for your warm-up when your mind begins its predictable pattern of doubting, questioning your preparation, training, ability.
The dreaded “what if’s” are full speed ahead and your fear response is now in full control. Your coach tells you to stop second-guessing yourself, you are ready and capable, that you are overthinking.
- Why do we overthink?
- What causes overthinking?
- How do we stop overthinking?
Let’s start with the “Why” many athletes overthink just before and during competition.
The pressure and anxiety of competition does weird things to skaters. During the weeks and months of training leading up to a major competition, we are confident in our ability and sure about our technique.
But as the competition approaches, the pressure begins to build, expectations rise, nerves begin to flood the body and the confidence that we thought was so solid begins to falter and shrink.
Those feelings of pressure come from a perception of fear, the fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of disappointing parents, and coaches.
Overthinking, second-guessing ability, thinking in the past or focusing on the “what if’s”, on the future and the unknowns. Often, when an athlete is under pressure the brain goes into hyperdrive, speeding up thinking!
A survival mechanism kicks in to protect us, it’s our fear response causing anxiety and nervousness to take control.
To battle back against the nerves, some skaters will try to “think” their way through the competition. Their thought process, “if I just think harder about how much I want to perform well, if I just think harder about my technique, my jumps, my spins” They begin to obsess over the performance of other skaters, they think that by dropping an “overthink bomb” on their performance they will perform their best, all will be well!
And that typically IS NOT how it turns out!
Overthinking eats away at our performance by stressing us out and mentally destroying well-rehearsed programs that have become accomplished and automatic in all the lead-up months to competition of training and practice.
Many skaters overthink by questioning and doubting their decisions when performing, they become indecisive and hesitant, choosing at the last minute to perform a double instead of a triple, hold back trying not to make a mistake only to pop a jump or they don’t follow through with a planned and trained difficult combination jump and because of doubt and hesitation choose an easier element missing out on valuable points they could have earned.
In other words, they doubt their ability, their training, and their well-practiced and prepared plan…
One other form of overthinking is when skaters spend too much time thinking about the outcome.
They forget why they are skating and stop enjoying the process, losing the joy and love of the sport. Overthinking reveals an infuriating paradox: in order to perform your best, you need to turn your brain off.
Think back to the last time you skated flawlessly. What was your mindset? Most likely, it was;
- Quietly confident and joy-filled.
You weren’t overthinking or doubting your technique.
You moved into that wonderful sense of “flow” and barely had to think about what you were doing, your muscle memory kicked in and performing felt easy.
You just did it. And if felt great!
Performing your best under pressure requires that you are able to quiet down the part of the brain that is prone to launching you head-first into overthink-mode.
The main danger that comes from overthinking is paralysis of the mind and the heart. Overthinking causes you to think too much about the future and that’s discouraging to the heart because it makes you realize the monumental task at hand in order to become an elite athlete.
To counter overthinking you need to understand that happiness from your sport comes from the enjoyment of participating in skating, the process, the little wins that you accomplish every day! When you cease to enjoy being on the ice, you simply won’t develop to your potential.
Get out of the mindset of overthinking and into the mindset of doing!
How do you stop overthinking?
As Coaches, we want our skaters to perform with trust in their skills, abilities and not to overthink or second guess their training.
It is important to stay calm and to trust in the months of preparation you have put in. Don’t worry about how your performance looks for feels. Empty your mind of everything except for a few key technical points and your plan. This is what we call a quiet mind and often leads to being in your “ideal state of performance” or more commonly “in the zone” where athletes experience most of their best performances.
1. Be Present!
- A powerful way to counter the “what if’s” and fear of failure and the unknown, is to keep your thinking in the present.
Why is this concept so important and the tools to stay present useful? And how do we do stay thinking in the present?
- Remember, fear can not exist in the present, it is either caused by remembering something in the past or fearing something happening in the future “the what if’s”. When you truly get present, fear will go away.
2. Be Prepared!
- Set short term, weekly and daily process goals for all areas of training.
- Write down a set of goals that you want to achieve in practice and in training at the beginning of each week and work to achieve those goals.
- Keep the list to no more than three goals and make them specific.
- Make sure you have addressed your technical, physical and mindset needs.
Create a plan and stick to it! Being trained and well prepared by competition time will give you confidence in your ability, program, and performance. Stick to your plan! Trust in your training. If you have run your program consistently in practice and during simulations landing your double axel, you have proven to yourself that you have the ability to land it, that’s why it’s in your program, so do it, don’t hesitate or second guess that ability.
Example: Create small goals, write them down, stick to your plan
- Technical process goals: If you are rushing an entrance to a jump or not staying tight in your rotation a technical process goal might be to plan to add specific jump exercises to each session. Remember your technical keywords!
- Physical process goals: If you are fatigued at the end of your long program a process goal might be to run the last section of your program a couple of times after a full long program run through to get used to performing the last few elements of your program when you are tired as well as increasing endurance!
- Mental Mindset process goals: If you are still allowing negative thoughts to creep in, more focus on your mental skills training.
Do whatever it takes to “bit by bit” improve your goal from the previous week. If you achieve your goals with ease and feel like you can improve upon them, then make the next week’s goals a little harder. Push yourself to become better than the previous week. It may not seem like a lot, but over time every small improvement adds up. And don’t forget the celebrate all the little victories!
“Leave no stone unturned” Patrick Chan
3. Enjoy the moment. Remember why you skate! Stop focusing on the outcome.
Example: Stop overthinking and don’t focus on the outcome.
If you’re too worried about where you’re going to be a year from now, how are you going to put in the work to get there? Who is training where and doing what jumps? If you don’t place in this competition how will you reach your goal?
Training can get tough, falls can hurt, if you have forgotten why you started to skate in the first place, if you fail to acknowledge the small wins that every skater achieves, one can easily get discouraged, burnt out and even quit before their time, this is the danger of focusing solely on the outcome.
If you’re an elite athlete or your desire is to become one, choosing to enjoy the journey of getting to where you want to go is much more rewarding than just the outcome. Overcoming challenges and adversity on your journey will make you appreciate the dedication, sacrifice, hard work, and the people around you that helped you get to where you want to be as a skater.
That deep appreciation is a much greater feeling internally and it’s what creates your identity as an athlete. And, even if you do fail, so what? You will have become a much better athlete and will have learned a ton of valuable lessons on the way that will benefit you in all future endeavors.
Always remember – The journey is much more important than the outcome.
4. Trust your skills and let go of the need to control every situation.
Performance = Potential – Interference
This is a foundational concept that is taught in all programs, on my site www.figureskatingtraining.com in my private and group training sessions, and at all my seminars.
FEAR is the #1 interference to performing to your potential, especially in competition, when it counts.
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success
- Fear of disappointing others
- Fear of emotions
- Fear of the loss of control
“Trust Your Skills”
Fear of the loss of control is something that many athletes struggle with. It gets triggered because of a belief program instilled in the unconscious mind that says: “If I can control things, then I can prevent the bad thing from happening.
This is directly opposed to what every good coach teaches.
- Trust your skills. Perform your program as you have trained it, with determination, speed and jump with the power that you are capable of, don’t hold back or hesitate.
- Have trust in your skills and let your body perform in auto-pilot, the muscle memory of all those months or practicing. All the training and preparation is done, it’s time to perform.
- “JUST DO IT”, the Nike logo. Let go of the need to be perfect to control every situation.
Perfectionists tend to panic right before they compete. They start to worry about what will happen and second guess themselves; this can create a feeling of being unprepared and the anxiety and nerves create a feeling of being out of control.
- Your warm-up may not feel right
- Something seems “off” and this gets stuck in your head.
- You then compete without the confidence you need and you are distracted by trying to “fix” what isn’t working rather than focusing on the present, the process.
Recently, I worked with a talented skater not too long ago that would psych herself out right before competing. She would get stuck thinking that her warm-up didn’t feel right and worry that if the warm-up wasn’t perfect than her skate wouldn’t go well. She would be so focused on trying to make sure she didn’t fall and would often create the mistake she attempted to avoid.
Trust in your skills and what you have practiced.
It doesn’t help to continue to work on or master your skills just before a game or competition.
MENTAL TOUGHNESS MIND GYM TRAINING
MENTAL MUSCLE EXERCISE:
Use these tools prior to competing to stop overthinking:
1. Deep breathing.
Learn to use this technique to keep calm and bring your focus back to your breathing.
Box Breathing is a great tool to begin to bring a racing heart rate under control.
- Breath in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts.
“Breath in calm – breath out nerves”
2. Focus keywords.
Train the mind to stay focused only on thoughts necessary to do the job! Training and conditioning specific technical keywords, energy keywords, and confidence “mantra” building keywords during every practice session, in every run-through will help keep random, negative self-talk from flooding your mind right before you compete, allowing you to stay focused and in the present.
Visualization is a powerful tool for athletes. Research proves that detailed visualization can be as effective as physical practice!
- See yourself skating flawlessly, successfully performing your program or specific elements,
- Feel yourself performing as if you were actually on the ice!
- Include your specific keywords, and imagine yourself being mentally tough, staying present and focused. This will give you confidence and feelings of being in control.
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Don’t miss my Fearless Tip #8 next week!
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Christine Reeves Beleznay, CMTT, CLC, CNLP Certified Mental Toughness Trainer, Certified Life Coach, Certified Neuro-Linguistic Practitioner
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MENTAL TOUGHNESS REPS IN!
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