Benefits,Health & Fitness,Mental Wellbeing

Inside the winning mind of a sportsman

5 Jun , 2015  

One of the big surprises of last year’s World Cup was when Brazil, the host nation and a footballing superpower, suffered a humiliating 7 – 1 defeat to Germany. Though on paper the two teams were more or less evenly matched, on the day it was nothing short of a rout. Many commentators tried to explain the loss by pointing to the Brazilian players’ poor body language, unstable team chemistry and overall approach to the game. In short, one of the key reasons why Brazil lost so spectacularly was because they failed to develop a winner’s attitude.

If you are interested in competitive sports, upping your game or improving your fitness, having the right attitude is essential. Without it you’ll never be able to beat your personal best, lead your team into the next division, or reach your target weight. Yet while there are reams of articles dedicated to helping you improve your physical condition, from training tips to nutritional advice, relatively little is written about improving your mindset.

Perhaps this is why despite buckets of investments and amazing new technology being chucked into high street gyms, 80% of Americans that are paying for membership do not go to the gym.

What can you do to improve your attitude?

Empirical research and testimony from gold medalists both prove that developing a winning mindset is an effective strategy for improving performance. Just as they train their body and their skills, the very best athletes also train their minds to gain a competitive edge. More than just a pre-game routine, the development of a winning attitude is something that should be fostered over time. There are a number of key techniques which can help you to develop the right attitude.

Visualisation. Picture yourself making great plays, staying calm in the face of distraction or pressures, or walking confidently along the beach with a body that you are proud of. By visualising positive outcomes, you bring them one step closer to reality. If you think visualisation sounds a little too ‘new age’ for you, I recommend reading these studies where participants were able to gain muscle or lose weight through imaginary workouts alone.

Short and long-term goal setting. Effective goal setting is an excellent antidote to some of the setbacks that you may experience in your fitness routine, such as injury, performance plateau, mental block or training fatigue. By consistently setting, evaluating and achieving your targets, your brain becomes accustomed to success.

Using positive and upbeat language. Are you one of those people that always tells their friends how terribly their diet or fitness plan is going? Not only are you running the very real risk of being boring, but you might also be setting yourself up for failure. It’s time to get into the habit of bigging yourself up, as studies show that using positive verbs related to physical action such as “go” “run” and “move” can increase physical performance.

Using powerful body language. Chest out, torso out, head tilted back, arms raised above the shoulders, hands clenched into a fist – does this sound like the body language of someone about to lose? Amazingly, even blind from birth Paralympians demonstrate these behaviours when triumphant, suggesting that they are not learned but innate. Striking a victory pose causes an immediate testosterone boost, a hormone that leads to increased confidence in both men and women.

Breathing techniques. At the risk of sounding obvious, breathing is very important. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Being mindful of your breathing, as yogis have long known, has a positive impact on physical performance. Recent research has put a number on those gains of 5 – 7%.

A poor mindset can lose you the game before you have even started, by eating away at your confidence and sapping your strength. No matter whether you are performing at an elite level, or are aiming for a more humble but equally important personal milestone, having the right attitude can be make all the difference between success and failure. The next time you put your training shoes on, take a moment to also consider the ways in which you are training your mind.

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