Whether you're a beginner looking to plan your career, an amateur struggling to realise your potential or an athlete at the top of your game, developing a deeper understanding of both your mental and physical strengths is key to enhancing and maintaining performance.
What is the most important thing to achieving sporting success? Your coach? The hours you spend in the gym? Your physio and support staff? You could set out an argument for all of these things and of course, they are all critical. Without support and dedication to physical ability, many athletes wouldn't have the success they have. But how often do you think about the part your mind plays? How important is the way you behave? The missing piece to sporting success is often mental strength.
So what is mental strength and how can you use it to your advantage? It all begins with self-awareness.
Athletes come in all shapes and sizes, but each one is wired in a different way. Despite an athlete's composition, having the drive and desire to do your best is an essential part of sports performance. Some people have a natural instinct and understanding of themselves, but for some people it's harder to understand why they prepare and perform the way they do.
Developing an understanding of your own emotions and behaviours is a vital step in enhancing self-motivation. The more you know about yourself, the more chance you have of making improvements to your game, building relationships and breeding motivation.
If you are able to accurately identify your own motivators and your strengths and limitations, you have a much greater chance of understanding those of people around you, enabling you to modify your behaviour and communication methods accordingly. This could give you the edge during a competition.
How many times have you set yourself an unrealistic target? What impact does not meeting your goals and objectives have on your performance? Dr Edwin Locke, in his research into goal setting, found that setting clear goals and working towards these is a major source of motivation for athletes. Get goal setting wrong and you could be looking at a damaging period of demotivation.
While an important part of goal setting still relies on setting SMART objectives, the mental side of goal setting is becoming increasingly important. If your self-awareness is high, then you're already on the right track. By understanding yourself, you're far less likely to set yourself unrealistic and unachievable goals.
By taking a step back and thinking not just about what you want to achieve, but how you're going to get there, you've set your chances of success at a much greater level than if you were going in with no self-awareness.
Sport is about much more than winning. Former professional basketball player Michael Jordon once said “I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” Talk to sporting professionals at every level and you'll hear something similar. Having the ability to pick yourself up and carry on after a failure or a knockback is a quality that could set you apart from the rest.
Digging deeper into your levels of emotional intelligence could flag potential challenges in your ability to cope with high pressure situations or negative results. Behavioural assessments and emotional intelligence tools act as a snapshot in time and can be used to evaluate an athlete’s performance, helping to identify ways in which players and athletes may want to adapt their style, or develop coping mechanisms in order to be more effective.
In any environment, continuous evaluation is a critical component to aid self-improvement and performance enhancement. Relying on your own thoughts, or those of your coach, will only get you so far. As will evaluating performance based only on the result of a competition in isolation. Open your development opportunities further by considering the feedback others may have on your performance.
Opening yourself up to feedback could highlight areas for improvement that you might previously have not uncovered. With the right tools, this analysis can be objective and non-confrontational, providing you with a solid foundation to move forward, improve on limitations and enhance strengths.
Regardless of your level of ability, by complementing physical training with a comprehensive understanding of behaviours and emotions, you have access to all the tools needed to take ownership of your own performance and make a real impact on your focus, achievement and success. With hard work, dedication and the right tools, you will put yourself on the right road to developing your performance potential.