The Mind and Body Connection in Competition – Part 1

4 min read

Lets dive in together and see how 4 markers of toughness can help you develop competitive toughness on both competition day and your weekly training alike

The Mind and Body Connection in Competition – Part 1

Lets dive in together and see how 4 markers of toughness can help you develop competitive toughness on both competition day and your weekly training alike

Location: New Zealand

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

It’s common for many of us to associate competition of any nature with all levels of anxiety, stress, self-doubt, and nerves, along with a host of other emotions and feelings that don’t necessarily aid in our quest of realizing our ideal performance state, or our true potential.

Whether you are a lifestyle practitioner who rolls in the gym once or twice per week or an active professional who spends most weekends going from tournament to tournament. The reality is that we are all affected to some degree by this mental warfare going on inside our heads.

The mere thought of competition can wreak havoc on our emotions to the point where they are disempowering rather than empowering. For some, we may find ourselves stuck in a spiral of negative dialogue playing out in our heads like a bad record on repeat that just won’t turn off. Thoughts and feelings of waning confidence, fatigue, helplessness, and fear all start to override our minds, and if left unchecked, can be devasting to our performance.

James E Loehr, W Timothy Gallwey, John Wooden, along with a host of other great coaches and psychologists, have written books and articles on the subject of top-level sports coaches, highlighting the importance of adopting a training regime that deals explicitly with mental development. For instance, Gilbert Enoka, the mental skills coach for the New Zealand All Blacks, has spent countless hours and years helping top-level athletes build mental and competitive toughness. He is also credited with creating one of the most successful international rugby teams in history.

The common theme amongst many great coaches is that a lack of development in either physicality or mentality can be the difference between winning and losing, between freezing, or achieving that flow state in an intense moment during competition. So, is it only top-level athletes and teams that deal with these issues, or does a hobbyist who has no intention of competing, also experience this same mix of emotions during regular training? The answer to this question is yes… anxiety, stress, waning confidence, and disempowering thoughts also plague the average Joe, albeit with slightly different consequences.

So, how do we develop the competitive toughness for not only the elite level athlete, but also the average competitor?

Firstly, let’s look at the meaning of toughness, which is sometimes confused with being mean or ruthless. The definition of Toughness is described as:

“A state of being strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough handling, and the ability to deal with hardship or to cope in difficult situations[1].”

James E Loehr, world-renowned performance psychologist, developed 4 key elements that, in his view, were the markers of mental toughness. And, therefore, if athletes worked on these areas, it would assist them in managing disempowering emotional states, which may present themselves during high-pressure moments in a game.

Four Markers of Toughness

1: Emotional Flexibility – the ability to remain calm, balanced, and non-defensive during an unexpected emotional crisis[1].

2: Emotional Responsiveness – the ability to act under pressure, remain engaged during the heat of battle[1].

3: Emotional Strength – the ability to withstand significant emotional pressure and fight on regardless of the odds[1].

4: Emotional Resilience – the ability to quickly dust ourselves off after sustaining a loss, making mistakes or disappointment, only to return to the battle-ready to fight[1].

Based on the above markers, his findings, and years of trial and error, Loehr discovered that mental toughness was a skill that could be learned and had nothing to do with genetics. He further suggested that our minds were like the body’s software, made up of skill and talent, while the body was the hardware. And in order to obtain an ideal performance state, the mind or skill (software) must be regularly upgraded and improved while the body (hardware), must be maintained and in a healthy state[1].

As an example, we all know of people who have exceptional physical attributes and are absolute weapons in the gym, but for some reason, they just don’t perform well under pressure. Or, perhaps, a person who looks as if they have never touched a dumbbell, is relaxed under pressure and performs amazingly.

You may, in fact, experienced this yourself. I would go as far as saying that this is a universal problem and thus very common for any type of athlete. Therefore, and using the above analogy, if the hardware is in a good healthy condition, but the athlete fails to perform, we must look at whether there is an issue with the software, or at least the current emotions sending the signals to the hardware.

In part two of this article, we will look at the specific tools to train mental toughness and further explore the importance of the emotional.

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