Cheerleading nationals is one week out. Right now our team has been running two practices each day, most days of the week for almost two weeks with one more staring them in the face before they leave for the competition. It is this point when you have to throw multiple full outs (the two and a half minute routines that require lots of energy, power, precision, etc.) at each practice that it starts to grind a bit on everyone.
I wrote a few weeks back about what you can do to help enhance your recovery and try and keep it together. Hopefully, if you read that one you got something out of it. Now is the time that no matter how good of a job you’re doing with recovery you are probably starting to feel beat up. This is normal, however, how you react to it is up to you. You can get soft about it, start your pity party, or you can toughen up and keep hitting it hard.
I often tell my training partners and my students: “The greatest limitation put upon the human body currently rests behind your eyes and between your ears”. You can use your mind to talk to you in to doing things or talk you out of it. Use your mind to help you accomplish your goals, not stand in the way of your progress. Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about how to use your mind to help performance. A few mental tricks that I use when things get hard are as follows:
Every time the music is on (for your routine) you go full out. No holding back, no being milk toast about it, but going as hard as you can. This is simple old school conditioning like Pavlov’s dog, giving yourself a simple stimulus that after that your body becomes conditioned to going full steam each time. This is a lot harder than it sounds, and yes you do need to learn some pacing, but the key is to commit fully in your mind each time that when the music starts you go full out. No thinking about anything other than the task at hand. Empty your mind and go for it.
I use the same concept with music when I’m preparing for a meet when I’m lucky enough to have walkout music (The Raw Unity Meet that Eric Talmant puts on (thanks again for everything Eric)). So I will use that same song for all of my heavy sets in training to keep me dialed up and never outside of it. This is just another way to help your focus and performance.
The mind imagining things happening can be a very powerful tool for performance. The simple act of doing a very immersive visualization (imagining what you will do) has potent effects on your ability to execute the skills on a neurological level. Take the time to imagine yourself hitting each part of your routine perfectly. How the mat will feel under your feet, how your uniform will fit, how bright the lights will be and the music in the room, how the arena will smell. The more realistic you can make your visualization the better it will be to carry you over to your performance. Now you still need to practice your craft, but doing this can help improve your performance.
Act As If
Notice in any group how you will always have that hard working athlete that is as tough as nails. You might also have some of them that are made out of papier-mâché. I’ve had a few athletes say things along the lines of; “but I could never be as tough as so and so”. And they are right, with that attitude they surely won’t be.
We all start off soft crying little masses that are completely incapable of taking care of ourselves. Some people never leave this stage. The key is to act accordingly to what we want or need to be. If you consistently act tough you will in turn become tough. Everyone feels pain, fatigue, etc. It is how you react to these factors that makes you into who you are. Yeah you might not be that tough in two minutes, but if you act accordingly for two years or two decades you are surely going to be tough or at least way tougher than what you started off at.
These pictures show the same guy (me). The only difference between the two is time. During that time turns out I worked and toughened myself up to be able to do things that a lot of folks can’t. If you had a time machine and could go meet me at age 16 you could wipe the floor with me easily and be decidedly unimpressed, but after years of hard work I can at least make it a bit more challenging. Some folks are naturally a bit tougher than others, but we can all work to improve in this area (and many others in life). Just act as if you were the person you want to be and be consistent.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” ― Kurt Vonnegut
There are a number of ways to use your mind to make you a better athlete. This is just three simple ways that I use my mind to do so. If you are interested in learning more in this area please read up some of the work online by my friend Bryan Mann. He has a lot of great stuff in the sports psych area with easy application. Just remember, you are who you choose to be.