Mental Preparation: A nationally-ranked athlete’s view

By Doug Jowdy, Ph.D.
Sport Psychologist
Former Team Psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating
www.drdougjowdy.com

Do you get mentally prepared for practice? Do you get mentally prepared for competition? How do you do it?

I sat down with a 5th grader that competes nationally in rock climbing. This person has finished as high as 3rd at nationals. I asked him questions about mental preparation.

What is mental preparation for you?

Mental preparation for me personally is basically; well, I don’t know how to explain this. But for me, the way mental prep works for me I just try and not think about what place or the title I will get. I just think about did I have fun and did I feel like I worked my hardest. If I don’t, I know I probably did something wrong and then I talk about it with my coaches and figure out what I did. If I did have fun I did the right thing.

How do you get mentally prepared?

The way I do it is I don’t focus on my doubt. If I doubt myself and I just try to have the most fun I can have. The way I clear my headspace is use something called the “white box.” And so what it is, is basically having a headspace where you don’t think about it if you make a mistake. It just clears your head and personally helps me and will help other people. The other thing I use sometimes is in my profession which is climbing, what I do is I just think about the first problem in a comp and that helps me a lot because what it does is you don’t worry about messing up. I just worry about one problem at a time and then basically what happens on the next problem happens, but I only focus on that problem. The way that works is then you are resetting after each problem. The other thing I do sometimes is if I do fail and get upset I calm down and take deep breaths.

Do you get mentally for practice?

I do not need to get mentally prepared for something like that because I have fun at practice and I do what I do at practice. I don’t treat everything so seriously so I don’t think, “oh I didn’t do this or that.” For the most part you should be calm about practice. It should not be a big deal. That will not get you in a good headspace to do what you need to do. Getting too serious has never really helped. And one more thing, you just need to have fun. Because you could be the worst in the world, but if you are having fun you can feel nice.

What would you say to athletes that don’t think mental preparation is important?

Well, what I would say is you may not think it is but you will realize the hard way and that is never fun. The hard way is basically you may end up crying and getting so upset so what will happen is that it is not a fun experience. It never
has been for me. It stinks when you get really upset and I have never liked that.

As this athlete described, what is important is getting into the right headspace and being able to reset when you get out of that space. Experiment with different ways to get mentally prepared for practice and competition.

Be in touch if you want to learn more about sport psychology and enhancing your performance.