By Anthony Mayatt, 29-Nov-2011 18:19:00
Hello all and welcome to the latest blog. We are honoured here to have a guest blog by top UK Sports Psychologist Rebecca Symes.
This article was originally published at YourMMA.tv, a site that is well worth checking out for all UK MMA news as well as training tips and features.
Training with a purpose is a bit of a mantra of mine, every session you put yourself through should make you better in some way, otherwise whats the point doing it!
In this article, Sports Psychologist Rebecca Symes puts her spin on the phrase.
How many times have you rocked up to a training session, walked through the venuedoors, got changed, had a few random conversations and got started? I suspect the likelihood is that this has been your experience on at least one occasion, if not on regular occasions, and I even suspect that many of you might be thinking, “yeah and what’s wrong with that?” Am I right?
In short, nothing is wrong with that approach – that is if you are happy with giving little thought to your training and simply going through the motions. It’s an easy position to fall into, to assume you know exactly what you’re doing and to assume that you’re making progress simply by the very nature of the fact that you have been training. However, how many times in the past week or the past month, have you had a specific purpose towards your training sessions; how many times have you consciously stopped to think about what you are trying to achieve in those sessions; and how many times have you actively taken the time to prepare not just physically but also mentally? I challenge you to consider the notion that all training sessions need PURPOSE.
P is for Plan
Taking time to plan exactly what you want to get out of your training session could be one of the most valuable uses of your time. What specifically do you want to achieve? You might consider this initially from a longer term perspective (e.g. delivering your best performance at your next fight) to give you your overall purpose, which is important to keep in mind. However, on a short term basis, the focus needs to remain on each individual training session (which is ultimately helping achieve your longer terms aims). Prior to each session ask yourself two simple questions:
1. What am I trying to achieve?
2. What is my measure of success? (i.e. how will you know if you have achieved what you are wanting to achieve?)
U & R are for Utilise Resources
We all have a number of different resources that can help us to achieve our targets. These can range from the specific support team around us e.g. technical coaches, training partners, strength and conditioning coach, psychologist etc. to a wider support network which includes family and friends. Resources are not just people however and can also include getting your sleep right, eating the right food, ensuring you are taking on enough fluids, training equipment and so on.
A great question I often like to ask my clients is: “what resources do you currently have that, if used to their full potential, could help enhance your performance?” And I ask you the same question right now.
To help you with this get a piece of paper and some post-it notes (just a small amount of writing required I promise). On each post it note write down the resources you have at your disposal (e.g. different people names; training equipment you use etc.) and as you’re doing so begin to think about how each resource helps you and if you’re using it to its full potential. Once you have done this, get your main piece of paper, and write your name, or put a photo of you in the middle, then stick your post it notes around this – place the resources which you utilise most effectively closest to you, and the ones you use least furthest away.
Take a few moments to reflect on this – think about how you could make more use of the ones furthest away and what benefits this might bring. The beauty of using post-it notes is that, as time progresses, you can shift them around when you feel you are making greater use of certain ones.
The key to this is that prior to each training session ensure you have a clear understanding of which resources you are going to make the most of, since you won’t need all of them all the time, but unless you know what they are in the first place, you’ll find you don’t make use of what is available to you.
P is for Prepare
I have no doubts that all of you reading this will take time to warm up physically during a training session, but how many could say the same for warming up mentally? It is just as important to ensure your mind is in the right gear too. One way of doing this, as already mentioned, is ensuring you have clarity over your targets for the session, but additionally another great way is through the use of visualisation / imagery.
Our brain does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. When you are imagining something, all the neutral pathways are still being stimulated, just to a lesser degree. Therefore visualisation is helping to prime your body so that when you come to do it for real it is easier and the outcome you have imagined is more likely to occur. I encourage you to use visualisation prior to each training session – the best way is to incorporate this into what you are currently doing e.g. as you are getting changed into your training kit imagine yourself doing the training session you have planned.
O is for Optimal (arousal)
Getting your levels of arousal right for each training session is vital so that you can get the most out of yourself, and you don’t find your performance suffering because the levels are too low or high (underperformance can occur if we have too little or too much arousal).
The first step in this is actually knowing where you want your arousal levels to be and ensuring you adopt the appropriate levels of intensity. For example, if you are having a sparring session, you are likely to want to have slightly higher levels of arousal than if you are trying to work on a particular new technique for example. However, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and how one person likes to be during a particular activity will not necessarily be the same for the next person, so it’s a matter of knowing what is appropriate for you.
Two simple tips to help – if you are trying to increase your levels of arousal, music can be a great way of doing this but be aware that our heart rate synchronises with the rhythm of the music so ensure you choose your tracks wisely….and if you are trying to calm yourself down, then deep breathing through your core (your central point of gravity behind the belly button) works very effectively at quickly reducing arousal. This is also where we get our sense of power, balance and control from, so taking time to ‘centre’ through this breathing exercise works well.
S is for Strengths
If I asked you right now to give me a list of your strengths, how many of you could give me an answer that rolls off the tongue? It might sound counter intuitive, but I often find athletes struggle to answer this question – not necessarily because they aren’t confident but because they spend so much time working on things they aren’t so good at and want to improve that they pay little attention to the things they are good at.
When it comes to performing under pressure, the only things you can rely on are your strengths; therefore it is absolutely vital that you have a clear understanding of what these are. Don’t get me wrong it is also important that you work on areas you want to improve so that they can become strengths, but during this don’t forget your current strengths – train these too so that they become super strengths. As a simple rule of thumb, start each training session working on your strengths aimed at making them even stronger, progress onto areas that stretch you, and return at the end to your strengths again.
E is for Evaluation
Think back to the original questions of ‘what am I trying to achieve?’ and ‘what is my measure of success?’ Having taken the time to answer these, it is just as important to review your progress at the end by quite simply asking yourself ‘how did I do?’ and ‘how do I feel’?
Evaluation is great for storing things in memory for confidence (the elements of the training session that have gone well) and also for progressing forwards (the elements of the training sessions that you want to continue working on next time). This is a really important way to finish your training session and one that often gets forgotten about, but value it highly since regular evaluations will help keep you progressing and moving in the right direction.
So all in all the key message here is to make sure that every training session you do has purpose – take time to Plan what you want to get out of the session; ensure you Utilise your Resources and Prepare mentally through visualisation; consider how you can get into your Optimal arousal state; train with your Strengths in mind and always remember to Evaluate at the end.
Rebecca Symes, M.Sc., CPsychol
For more bite-size tips and information, also follow Rebecca on twitter at @SportingSuccess.
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