London, 2012. 100m butterfly stroke – men.
The US-American swimmer Michael Phelps is preparing himself for the start of the race. He seems a little introverted as he goes to the pool and takes two or three deep breaths. He is wearing big headphones and is listening to ´Lil Wayne´. Apparently, he is somewhere else with his thoughts. He is standing on the starting block, the start signal rings. There are a lot of screaming spectators and there is a lot of motion in the water…
Michael Phelps wins gold. Not for the first time. He is the most successful olympic swimmer of all time with 22 medals, 18 of them in gold. Beside excellent physical condition and ideal circumstances he names a another factor as crucial for his success. Mental strength achieved by mental practice – Michael Phelps is considered to be a perfectionist in this field.
But what are the features of mental practice?
The answer is quite simple. Mental practice is the generic term for techniques and strategies you can use to work on your performance and ideally improve it. Equally, mental practice can be used to work on setbacks and to cope with stress.
Specific targets which are in the focus of mental practice can be emphasized:
A kind of movement-practice with the mind´s eye. Movement imagination without actual physical movement. By that you can learn important aspects of the motion for example which you were not aware of before. This causes less mistakes and fails in movement execution as the motion is effectively better known and controlled.
-Level of activation and attention: For every action there is an optimal level of activation. If you are too aroused or excited you will not be able to focus the attention on the important processes (e.g. a specific motion-technique). Relaxation can help. This can be triggered by mental techniques and strategies. The rarer, but still existing case is that you are not aroused enough through tiredness or lack of motivation for example. In this case, mental practice can help to mobilize and to activate.
If you set your goals too high you will not be able to reach them because of the lack of skills. If you set your goals too low you will not use your full potential. Therefore, it is important to have realistic perception of what you are capable to do. Having an awareness of your strengths and capabilities but at the same time of your weaknesses and limits. This is the only way you can set appropriate goals, motivate yourself to reach those and learn how to cope with obstructive thoughts.
-Dealing with injuries and mental blocks:
The doctor says the injury is healed up completely – technically everything is supposed to work 100%. But it does not, because the mind still remembers the injury and everything that was and is associated with it. With mental practice, phantom pain can be treated and mental blocks can be solved. But this depends on the severity of the trauma.
Mental practice is not just applicable in sports. It has a high importance in clinical psychology and in treatment of (physical) diseases. But what is interesting for most people is the usability and the corresponding value for everyday life. Especially with regard to work and career. Techniques to encourage your motivation or creativity training, also known as brain jogging, are useful tools for example. But principally, mental practice can help you to cope with stress, pressure und fears, at work or in your everyday life. Even here techniques and strategies that can be used are not really different from those a professional sport athlete uses. However, they are chosen for and tailored to individual needs. So if mental practice helped Michael Phelps win gold – it is not that unlikely that it can help you win your personal gold.
- Bboy since 2000
- Sports scientist with focus on health, BA
- Sports consulting, MSc
- Expert for psychological coaching in sports
Silvester Kiunka is a sportpsychologist and founder of the coaching & consulting-network „1-Schritt-Voraus“. In the 90´s he began to learn different styles of Urban Dances, focussing on Bboying. In the last decade he gained a lot of success and reputation in the international urban dance scene by solo-projects and with his Crews „Lost Kidz“ & „Urbanatix“. Beside his work as a sportpsychologist he is the sports director of a training-centre for street-artistics.