To most, excellence in athletic performance is the result of physical skill and proper physical training. The psychological or mental preparation, which most overlook, can also influence optimal physical performance. Several research studies report that the ideal characteristics for optimal athletic performance are:
The mentally prepared athlete should have an absence of negatives, a strong feeling of self-efficacy, and an adaptive focus on the task-relevant cues. The athlete should be able to trust their skills and just let it happen without any negative interference. Many have described this state as something similar to that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Most elite athletes report that they really don't know how they do the things they do...they just do it. They are able to focus, get rid of the negatives, and just zero in on their sport, just like another personality has taken over.
This phenomenon is explained by what is called the hemispheric shift syndrome. In essence, this is a "mindless state" right hemispheric portion of the brain, which controls visual-spatial processing, increases in activity, while the left hemisphere (the analytical portion), decreases in activity. To the novice, the analytical state is probably more helpful and definitely more useful, but as skills develop, the visual-spatial state is more conducive. Of course this skill must also be developed, just as the physical skills.
As you might expect, there are a number of techniques that can help the athlete reach this optimal physiological state. Most of these techniques utilize methods that elevate the athlete's level of arousal. These techniques are usually referred to as psyching strategies. Some of the more popular phyching strategies are:
There are countless studies done on Mental Imagery and its efficacy in optimal athletic performance. As mentioned before, this psyching technique as well as the others, must be developed. Some seem to have a natural talent with this skill, but most find they must start with the simple and move gradually to the more complex.
Without a doubt, physical skill, training techniques, and nutrition play a very important part of optimal athletic performance. However, by using the appropriate psychological techniques, the experienced athlete will greatly influence the outcomes of hard physical training.
MS, RD, CSCS, MSS
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Sport Nutrition Consultant