Sport Psychology for Competition Prep – Part 1

I just can’t seem to shake the storm clouds that have been hovering over my head lately.  I finally realized today that the negativity is really stemming from a single thought: “I’m not making any progress.”

Negative self-talk is a cancer.  If left unchecked, it will spread, become stronger, and wreak havoc on your mind and body.  If you happen to be a pathological perfectionist like me, then it’s something you probably struggle with on a daily basis.  Although my negative self-talk comes in many forms, it all boils down to the belief that I haven’t made any progress in the past month (i.e. all of my hard work is getting me nowhere!)mind-gym

First, is it true?  The answer to that question is, I don’t know.  I haven’t done any objective assessments of progress since almost 4 weeks ago, so my perception of my lack of progress is completely subjective.  I haven’t noticed any visual differences, but those can be deceiving.  When you see your body every day, you tend to overlook the changes because they are so gradual.  And let’s face it – 4 weeks ago I was 120 lbs and 15% body fat – drastic changes are not going to be possible for me, even over a 4 week period (especially when I still have more than 3 months left to go).  So, I have been letting a statement of questionable validity drag me down for almost 2 weeks.  Enough is enough.  It’s time to use the tools that 3 semesters of graduate school in sport psychology equipped me with!

I always begin by identifying the areas that I need the most help when it comes to mental skills.  For me, the priority items I need to work on are confidence, managing anxiety, and focus/concentration.  For other people, it might be intensity, consistency, arousal, or any number of things.

Sport Psych Intervention #1: Goal-Setting (see this post for discussion of outcome goals, performance goals, and process goals)

I am generating a lot of negative self-talk because I have been too focused on outcome goals.  My outcome goal has been to get to 10% body fat for the show.  The problem with outcome goals is that they tend to increase anxiety and decrease motivation.  Outcome goals are also generally out of your control.  For instance, I might say that my outcome goal is to win 1st place in my show.  Do I have control over what I do to prepare for the show?  Absolutely.  But I can’t control who else competes against me.  I can’t control the judges’ subjective opinions.  I can’t control my genetics.  So, I might flawlessly execute my competition prep in every way and still fail to meet my outcome goal.

On the other hand, process and performance goals will keep you motivated and map out the steps you need to take in order to support your ability to achieve your outcome goal.  You also have complete control over meeting them or not.  Process goals are typically daily.  Some examples might include drinking a gallon of water every day, getting 8 hours of sleep each night, and logging all of my food into MyFitnessPal every day.  Performance goals can also enhance motivation.  An example might be to keep my heart rate above 150 bpm during my cardio sessions or to bench press 10 lbs more than I did two weeks ago.  I have been assessing progress from a very narrow point of view – body fat percentage.  If I expand my goals to include more process and performance goals, then I give myself more indicators of success and progress, which in turn will help me stay motivated.  The bonus is that if you set smart process and performance goals, they can align with preparing you to achieve your outcome goals as well.

Sport Psych Intervention #2: Pre-Workout Routine

One of the most common and effective sport psychology techniques is implementing a pre-competition routine.  You see professional athletes use them all of the time, and maybe you assume that it’s just superstition, but there really is a practical benefit to it.  Most NBA players do the same dribble and set before every free throw (Steve Nash always licks his fingers, which I think is pretty gross considering everything the ball touches).  They are also abundant in baseball (pitchers and batters alike) and football (kickers come to mind).  Having a pre-competition routine helps you to be consistent, to regulate arousal/anxiety, and to remain focused while blocking out distractions.

Dana Linn Bailey 2For my purposes, I need a pre-workout routine.  Lately when I get to the gym, I’m exhausted and distracted.  I go through the motions in my workout and I know I’m not giving it my full effort.  I complain too much.  I don’t focus on the mind-muscle connection.  I am not wholly present.  So here’s my new pre-workout routine:

  1. Relaxation: Before I go to the gym, I’m going to take 10 minutes of doing breathing exercises to clear my mind and de-stress from the day (I like square breathing – 4 count inhale, 4 count hold, 4 count exhale)
  2. Imagery: I will spend 5 minutes picturing myself on stage in April, looking and feeling phenomenal (and perhaps with a trophy!)
  3. Arousal: I don’t want to start my workout half asleep, so I will put a playlist together to listen to on my 20 minute drive to the gym with songs that pump me up and get me in the mood to work out
  4. Cue word/phrase: I love Rob and Dana Linn Bailey.  They both have killer physiques.  One of the mottos from their Flag Nor Fail line is to Work Hustle Kill.  Whenever, I think of that phrase, it helps me channel their crazy workout intensity.  While I’m warming up for my workout and during my sets, I’ll be repeating my cue phrase in my mind to help me to stay focused and in the moment (it also coincides nicely with my playlist from #3!)

So there you have it – phase 1 of my sport psychology plan for my competition prep.  Performing my pre-workout routine before each workout is one of new process goals.  I’ll set two other process goals and two performance goals (one for lifting and one for cardio).  I still need to give those some thought though…will post those later!

Here are two songs from my pre-workout pump-up playlist:

For getting excited to workout – WORK HUSTLE KILL (Lost Soul Remix) by Rob Bailey & The Hustle Standard

For getting excited to get on stage – Killin’ It by Krewella


2 Comments Add yours

  1. This is Mindy…over at Fit Gal Club (training for figure). Read a part of your post and have a question for you. Will you email me at I have thoughts on a jump start for you (if you feel you’re at a stall!)

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