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Self-Awareness for Elite Performance

By Seth Kaplan

The way athletes think and feel during competition largely influences the way they perform in athletic events. For example, tennis players may believe that they have all the tools to dictate play to their opponents (thoughts) which leads to high levels of confidence (feelings) on the court. This combination of positive thinking and heightened self-confidence often translates into positive performances (i.e. executing a passing shot with the expectation that you’ll hit a winner). Or, golfers may believe that they do not have the abilities to hit difficult bunker shots (thoughts) leading to self-doubt on the course. This combination of negative thinking and low self-belief often translates into negative performances (i.e. poorly executing the bunker shot with the expectation that it will end up back in the trap).

Developing a greater self-awareness of your thoughts and feelings during competition can give you the mental edge to perform at elite levels. One effective way to gain this awareness is to document (after the event) what you were thinking and feeling in certain situations during competition. This should be done soon after the event (if possible) to increase the probability of accurately recalling these thoughts and feeling in various situations. For example, during a tennis match a player may lose a crucial point because he/she played it safe (keeping the ball in play) rather than playing his/her usual aggressive game. This hesitancy to “go for their shot” during big points may have resulted from a belief that an error might be committed if they “play their normal game.” Equally important is to document and recall thoughts and feelings that influenced exceptional play - so players can replicate their mental and emotional states for future positive performances.

By writing down your mental and emotional states during competitive situations, you can gain greater insight into your thoughts and feelings on the court and see how these thoughts and feelings positively and negatively influence performance. Once this awareness is established mental skills and self-regulation strategies can be employed to give players the advantage to perform at high levels in key situations.

Certainly, athletes must be sound technically, tactically, and physically to be good players, but they can also use mental strategies to enhance their performances.

Mental Performance Coaches/Sport Psychology Professionals are trained to help players to enhance self-awareness and develop these strategies by examining the though-feeling-performance relationship.