Athletic Self-Awareness

Today’s blog comes to you from John Cullen. This is awesome information that John is sharing here — information that you can apply right now to have an immediate impact on your performance. Trust me some times it is the smallest change that can have the biggest impact. Read carefully and be certain to tell your friends about this one! It is really amazing stuff, enjoy!

“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment” -Lao-tzu

Think back to your most recent personal best performance . . .

What were you feeling right before you began; in that one or two minutes before you started? Were you nervous? Excited? Worried? Confident?

How about your body? Were you loose? Did your muscles tighten up? What were you thinking about? Your key performance cues? Your last performance? That you left the stove on?

Many athletes can’t honestly answer these questions. It doesn’t matter whether your performance was the best one ever, the worst you can recall, or somewhere in between; if you’re like most of the athletes I work with, you probably don’t remember what your mental, physical and emotional state was at the moment you started your performance.

The thing is – knowing what you were thinking about and feeling (physically and emotionally) right before you compete can have a huge impact on the quality of your performance – If you can’t recall them, it can be difficult to repeat a personal best performance. Worse than that, you might find yourself starring in your own version of “Groundhog Day” – repeating poor performances, over and over again.

What is your Ideal Performance State (IPS)?

Understanding your IPS is like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. When Goldilocks is looking for a nice comfortable place to take a nap, she tries out Papa Bear’s bed – too hard; Mama Bear’s bed – too soft; and Baby Bear’s bed – just right! Now, when you look at your mental, physical, and emotional states, instead of looking for a place to nap, you’re looking for the place that gives you your best performances.

Let’s consider your physical state. You try getting energized. Your heart is racing. Your breathing quick. You feel like jumping out of your skin. Your performance; not so good. You are too high.

Next you logically try being relaxed. You listen to calming music. Take slow deliberate breaths. You visualize calming images. Your performance; not so good. You are too relaxed.

Now you try to get your physical state somewhere in the middle. You have a slight increase in your heart rate. You are listening to some fast paced, happy music. Your performance; good. You are just right. This is your IPS.

Importance of Awareness

Everyone has their own unique IPS. One that allows them to perform their best.You need to be aware of what you’re doing to figure out what your best mental, emotional, and physical states are for peak performances. Having this awareness allows you to compare your current state to your IPS. If they match, you’re good to go. If they don’t, you need to take action to get yourself there.

Executing a Performance vs. Experiencing a Performance

The difference between performing with awareness and just performing, often makes a huge impact on your success, whether in practice or in competition. I remember as a young athlete taking the “long ride home” after a hockey game with my parents. I know that these car rides were common for my teammates too, and I know that they still happen today.

Maybe you’ve been there too? After strapping on your seatbelt, you faced the 20 to 30-minute replay of the game through your parent’s eyes. I got to hear this line a lot, “You looked like you were just going through the motions.” And my response was always the same. “But I’m doing what the coach told me to do.” I wasn’t wrong, but I missed the point my parents were trying to convey.

I was participating in practices and games focusing completely on the outcome – Did I do what the coach asked? This caused a lot of problems for me. Worrying about whether what I was doing was right, led to anxiety and lack of confidence, and in turn, many, many uninspired performances. I was going through the motions to get to the outcome.

What I wasn’t doing was experiencing the performance. This is what happens when you have athletic awareness. Your focus is no longer on the outcome. It’s firmly planted in the now. It’s about paying attention to your body and mind at the instant you are performing. When an athlete experiences their performance, they are faster to recognize things like poor movement execution or increasing levels of negative self-talk and take corrective action. When you experience your performance, you aren’t merely executing the movements you need to achieve some outcome. You are connected and in harmony with your body and experiencing the now of a passioned and flowing performance.

Developing Awareness

Have I sold you on the merits of Athletic Self-Awareness yet? Below are some strategies that you can use to help develop your own athletic awareness. And just like any skill, you can learn it and put it into practice with a little bit of guidance and some attention.

1. Use a sports journal Your sports journal is a place for you to record your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours about yourself and your training and competitions. Use it to monitor the techniques you used to reach your IPS and their effectiveness You can put anything you think might be useful down but consider addressing the following things:

What do your peak performances feel like?

What do you need from your coach/trainer?

How can you help your teammates?

How can your teammates help you?

What things distract you on the field?

What off-field distractions affect your performance?

How do you handle pressure situations?

How are you preparing for competitions?

How are you preparing for practices?

Use performance feedback Actively seek out feedback about your performances. Work with teammates, colleagues and your coach to get feedback immediately after some of your performances. Don’t just wait for the competitions. Get honest feedback a practice. Video can be a tremendous help, especially if you frequently train on your own. Make sure you video your practices too.

Use psychological questionnaires Using these tools immediately before and after an event can help identify your IPS. By rigorously assessing your mental, emotional, and physical states and then correlating them with your performance ratings you can pin down what you need to be your best.

Monitor physiological signs Some insight into your readiness for competition can be gained from monitoring some physiological signs such as heart rate and breathing rate. When you’re in your IPS, these measures should be within a certain range. If you check and they aren’t there, you know that you have to take action.

Use imagery and visualization You can use visualization skills to “replay” your peak performances and focus on your mental, emotional, and physical states. You can also recreate some not so great moments and experience how it felt so that next time you’ll recognize the feelings and take action.

Now that you’ve got some tools to get you started, it’s time to experience your sport in a whole new way. If you have any questions, drop by the Cognitive Edge website and send us a note. We provide one-on-one consultation services and seminars on the improving your mental game, and soon we’ll be adding some cool new programs to help you reach your goals.


John Cullen

John has got a lot of great tools to share and I today am soooo grateful that he is so generously sharing his knowledge with all of us.

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