A Creative Way to Build Confidence and Increase Focus

affirmation alter-ego anxiety confidence empower focus mindset performance Mar 12, 2020

How to Prepare for a Big Competition

Last week, I did a fun project with one of my young clients at Top Mental Game. She is an elite swimmer preparing for the Junior Olympic swimming trials.

In the past couple of months, we’ve worked on goal-setting, focus, positive self-talk, visualization, and pre-practice and pre-competition routines.

We’ve also talked about how the creation of an alter-ego can enhance performance. Sparked by a conversation where we discussed Kobe Bryant’s use of his Black Mamba Mentality, I asked her what animal she’d like to transform into when competing in the pool. She instantaneously said a Great White shark. 

I had her write down what words described her alter-ego and we brainstormed on more. She came up with adjectives like fierce, ferocious, unafraid, fast, deadly, confident, and scary. 

At the time I thought of this idea, she had 11 practices before the big event. I created a collage comprised of her “hero” pic that was used from her goal-setting exercise we did in the beginning and I surrounded that pic with photos of menacing sharks. I cut the final picture into 11 pieces and numbered them 1 through 11. I then created a map using numbered push pins on a cork board where each of the pieces went when it was fully assembled.

On the back of each segment, I wrote some motivational phrases that are personal to her, and put them in 11 separate envelopes. I told her to open up one envelope and read the back before each practice, and then put the numbered segment on the corkboard.

The finished product will look like the last picture below. 

Benefits of This Project?

1. Many young athletes who are participating at an elite level often feel anxiety before practices and competitions. A project like this helps ease that anxiety by providing a consistent drumbeat of positivity and confidence every day, and in a fun, exciting way. For those of you who are familiar with Advent calendars at Christmas-time, it is sort of like that, except the athlete is building a picture instead of opening compartments. And of course, there is no chocolate treat - the “treat” is a new phrase that builds confidence and positivity, not to mention the realization that they are one step closer to achieving their overall goal.

2. One way to combat pre-practice and pre-competition anxiety is to empower the athlete to take control of the controllables. Instead of worrying about feeling unprepared or constantly going over worst-casing scenarios in their mind, this exercise gets the athlete in the right mindset. The metaphor of building a complete picture gets them to look at the future in a positive manner. Practice before a big competition becomes something to look forward to, not something to fear. And when the final picture is completed, putting that last piece of the puzzle into place also gives the athlete a sense of accomplishment. They are ready to go.

3. Putting a meaningful, positive statement on the back of each puzzle piece also focuses the athlete on what’s important. Many of these phrases were affirmations created by the athlete in previous sessions. Others were mantras and imagery that I thought were most useful given our discussions from previous sessions. All were designed to inject her with more focus and positivity before practice. 

We perform better when we are focused, loose, and confident. A creative project like this is an excellent way to get your athlete in the right mindset before a major competition.

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