ompetition is a convoluted experience with which people have many issues. The stress caused by competing will make even the most driven individual not want to do what he or she does best. Training, for a lot of people, is an escape; competition, for a lot of people, is a prison. The vulnerability of competitors reveals strange qualities in people; qualities that emerge in the space between one’s perceived reality and the reality that proves to be true. Doubting yourself before an opportunity is natural; to experience inadequacy, regret, or anxiety is natural. Learning to take solace in the controllable factors of competition and training is paramount in achieving the game-day confidence everyone seeks.
When building a puzzle, one focuses on the borders first. This allows the person to develop a sense of the puzzle; to formulate a plan and attack the center, which holds the most challenging pieces. Fortunately, puzzles are under your control, but sports aren’t so simple. So how can we identify the “border pieces” in the sports world? How can we trust the time and energy we put into our preparation without second-guessing ourselves? Let’s begin.
Nutrition is a factor that is under your control. No one forces you to consume anything. You have every opportunity to choose what you put into your body. Problems may arise from traveling, such as being in a new location or a foreign culture, or having limited access to quality food. If you know you’re going somewhere, it doesn’t take much to do a little homework first and find grocery stores or restaurants that fit your needs. I’ve found this gives a new feeling to traveling as well. Touching down and immediately knowing where to go to get what you need seems an obvious advantage, but you’d be surprised at how uncommon it is. Traveling to different countries and cultures also presents problems with unfamiliar food. While I don’t condone relying on the use of supplements, they can be a lifesaver on the road, and can aid in creating a routine in which you can feel confident. The last thing you need on your big day is your stomach disagreeing with something you’ve eaten recently.
Conditioning has been an interesting topic in recent years. From the Low Intensity Steady State norms of the past to the almost blinding focus on High Intensity Interval Training of the present, two things have remained the same: Conditioning is crucial and conditioning is under your control. I’m amazed when I see people gas out on a constant basis and deflect blame towards other factors. The amount and type of conditioning you need to do is going to depend solely on what sport you’re participating in. The area of the body, duration and rest times the sport allows, as well as the total working time, are all factors that need to be considered and are critical to an optimal conditioning routine. Many matches, bouts, fights, etc. have been won solely through conditioning, and it’s generally an X-factor. What’s the best part? It’s all on you. If you doubt the shape you’re in, you’re only going to perform worse. Stress compounds stress, and there’s more than enough of that when you’re competing.
Strength, Power, and Speed
Depending on your sport, you’re going to need a high degree of specialization to be truly competitive. Learning the different speeds, vectors, and timings of the body’s ability to produce force in your chosen sport will give you a huge understanding of how to train properly. Different parts of the body are going to use different intensities and speeds under high-stress competitive situations, and it’s essential to take advantage of this fact in your training. Non-strength sports require a greater mix of power, speed, and conditioning – that’s a given. They also require a mix of other skills such as spatial awareness, cognitive processes, and a wider range of muscle memory, to name but a few. Factoring all these things into your training can leave you standing confident on competition day.
Injuries happen every day, and oftentimes out of our control. There’s not a lot of prehab you can do to stop your ligaments from tearing when a 220lb body projects itself into your knee. However, these injuries are a lot rarer than the usual sports-related injuries. Overuse and imbalances stack stress on the body every day; if left unchecked, these can manifest into debilitating injuries that prevent practice and, worst of all, sap confidence. Making sure you set aside extra workouts in the week to address patterns and muscles that are being used excessively, or are otherwise unbalanced, is a great way to correct these issues. Combining these with other recovery activities – such as tempo skill work, contrast baths, and soft tissue work such as stretching and myofascial release – creates comprehensive recovery workouts that keep the body functioning correctly. Try adding in some envisioning and meditation work to keep the brain as confident and as healthy as the body.
It’s not all that complicated, really. Staying vigilant in your preparation regarding the simple aspects of sports is key when it comes to feeling confident when it counts. The less leeway you give yourself during training, the more freedom you have when it comes down to putting it on the line. Embrace the butterflies, accept the pressure, and welcome with open arms the privilege it is to represent not only yourself, but everyone who helped to get you to where you are. Competition should be a positive experience; it should be a reward for all you’ve put yourself through.You should be hungry. It shouldn’t be a negative experience full of doubt and fear – these emotions may play a part, but learning to navigate through those feelings is just as important as learning to win. Whether it’s a local weekend meet or the Olympics, we should all be so fortunate to be able to compete with the game-day confidence everyone seeks.
Photo Credit: Lou DiGesare