|By knowing how to manage energy, knowing yourself and recognizing the symptoms people can come back from the brink and avoid the choke. (Shutterstock)
Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day in sport, when all eyes turn to those 100 yards to see a sporting spectacle unlike any other. The pressure on athletes to perform is higher than most people could imagine, let alone handle. So what will they be thinking tomorrow morning?
According to Peter Jensen, the man who helped Canada's women's Olympic hockey team win their gold medal in Vancouver, thinking is actually one of the worst things you can do on game day.
"You get into paralysis by analysis," the mental preparation expert says from his Toronto office. "Some people are naturally over-analyzers, and it's the worst way to play the game."
Instead, he says, the mental legwork all has to be done before players have a chance to freak themselves out about the main event. And that's also true for everyday life, whether it's for a big job interview or a wedding day.
Jensen focuses on managing energy levels. By controlling energy levels, he says, you don't run into the hurdle of figuring out the perfect response to your clients' needs ten minutes after they've left the room.
"The more pumped you get, the narrower your focus gets," he says. "When you're that pumped and your focus is that narrow, you literally don't see things."
That's what we call choking.
Jean Cote, head of the school of kinesiology and health at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, agrees.
"This is where you get into that spiral out of control where your thoughts are starting to wander and then your behaviour is changing and you feel some anxiety and you feel some stress," he says. "It's hard to come back."
By knowing how to manage energy, knowing yourself and recognizing the symptoms, though, Jensen can train people to come back from the brink and avoid the choke.
"For some people, it was a breathing technique, and some it was reminding themselves what they wanted to do," he says, adding that a client of his used to have his shoes shined right before every big pitch. Not because he liked shiny shoes, but because it gave him ten minutes alone to review his strategy, visualize, and prepare himself for the big game.
"Before you walk into the interview, you'd just spend a few seconds running through your mind how you want it to be. Then you literally walk into it," Jensen said.
So by the time players are gathering in locker rooms for the Super Bowl tomorrow, the mental preparation is all done. They know themselves, they know the game and they know the stakes. The coach will pump them up, and they'll just walk into it.
AVOIDING THE CHOKE
Blood pressure will rise, you'll miss key information and make poor decisions. But all is not lost yet. Here are key strategies to bring yourself back from the edge of an epic choke:
- Breath. Take a deep breath. Sit down. Remind yourself not only why you're where you are, but also why you can succeed.
- Get a glass of water, preferably cold. Take the time to re-focus on your goals. Calm your heart.
- Stop thinking about what your client or your boss wants. Remind yourself that you have the skills to be where you are. Remind yourself that you trust yourself, and so does your client.
BRINGING IT ALL HOME
Laura Farres is a mental performance consultant for the Canadian Sport Psychology Association and has worked with hundreds of athletes to get them ready for the big game. For her, there's a specific list of things people should accomplish before their event, and the day of their event.
Before the big day
1. Strategize. Practice goal setting, imagery, thought management and emotional control. Get in the right head space.
2. Learn to refocus. Not everything is going to go as planned. Learn some technique to get back to optimal performance quickly when that happens.
3. Plan for distractions. You won't be working in a vacuum. Learn to deal with environmental irritants effectively.
4. Less is more. Don't over-prepare. Be well rested. Taper off activity leading up to the event to reduce stress levels.
The big day
1. Arrive with a clear goal. Know the answers to 'How can I achieve my goal' and 'Why can I achieve my goal.'
2. Be familiar with your surroundings. If possible, scout the location in advance, know where everything is so you feel comfortable in the space.
3. Prepare a schedule for the day of. Part of mental preparation is knowing what to, and adhering to a schedule can help a lot. Prepare for anticipated downtime like waiting rooms, bring a book so you don't make yourself nervous waiting.
4. Whenever possible, keep your normal routine as much the same as possible to avoid shocking your body with change.
5. Expect the unexpected and know how to roll with it. Something you didn't think of will present itself. Don't panic. Deal with it. You've prepared for this.
6. Schedule a recovery opportunity. Whether it's a short visit to your favourite store or a cup of coffee with friends, taking some down time to recover is the follow-through of mental preparation.