When it comes to the Olympics, the USA is a formidable competitor. But in the 2012 London Games, the USA surpassed itself, breaking some impressive records and earning a few firsts. Kayla Harrison won America’s first-ever gold medal in Judo, and Carmelo Anthony broke the record for most points in an Olympic basketball game by scoring 37 against Nigeria.
So what gave these athletes (and others like them) their mental edge? What sport psychology techniques did they use? When you get a clear picture and distort a losing reality, you can take full advantage and win the mental game of your sport. Here’s how:
Visualizing a Clear Picture
Kayla Harrison could have been held back by her past. At the age of 13, she was sexually abused by her coach. But even if this tragic event was still in her head, Harrison knows how to stay clear. She had a detailed picture of what she wanted to happen in competition. She saw herself taking home the gold.
Although visualization is not new, most people approach it wrong. Many athletes visualize what they don’t want to happen more than what they do want. This trains the brain and body to react to unwanted actions. The second thing that often plagues athletes when visualizing is the inability to shut off their internal dialog. Allowing a nagging, negative voice and thoughts of failure to remain front and center causes the mind to lose focus on desired results. Harrison is a perfect example of an athlete who is adept at keeping her mind clear and focused.
In the 2012 Olympics, Carmelo Anthony shattered Stephon Marbury’s record of 31 points in a game. So how did he distort reality? How much easier would it be to make a basket if the rim were the size of a hula-hoop?
It may sound silly, but most amateur basketball players imagine the hoop to be smaller than the ball. Then they wonder why their shots don’t go in.
When sports psychologists work with athletes on winning the mental game, we commonly change reality to improve performance. Learning to trick your mind is a powerful mental weapon you can use to defeat your opponents.
Photo: Tim Shelby