From USOC's Dr. Sean McCann: How Coaches & Athletes Can Build Stronger Performances


The USOC’s Coaching Newsletter – An Article on Performance Enhancement

By Sean McCann, USOC Sport Psychologist- Strength and Power

When an athlete prepares well, has the talent, but simply doesn’t execute, it is frustrating and often puzzling to figure out what went wrong. At the Olympics, it is relatively rare to see a total performance collapse. When athletes underperform at the Games, the most common phenomenon is a series of small, atypical mistakes and changes in performance. Added up together, these changes and mistakes derail the performance just enough to create a below-average performance. Over the years, in my work as a sport psychologist, I have tried to determine what factors are present when athletes underperform and what it is that allows some athletes to perform at their best, time after time. After eight Olympics, I have observed a few consistent factors that result in strong performances.

Key to Strong Performances – Being in “Execution Mode”

When you’re out there in the big league pressure cooker, a pitcher’s attitude — his utter confidence that he has an advantage of will and luck and guts over the hitter — is almost as important as his stuff.” Bill Veeck

Athletes do not have to be “in the zone” or having a “peak experience” to perform well under pressure. But there are some basic characteristics of an athlete’s mindset when things go well. I call it “execution mode”, a state of mind in which an athlete has simple thoughts, a very clear idea of what she needs to do, and complete confidence that executing this clear idea will mean success.

  1. Simplicity and Clarity of thoughts. For best performances, athletes are operating with a stripped-down, uncluttered mind. Technique has been reduced to a shorthand. Strategy is a simple idea. The internal mind is quiet, but the senses are open and aware. Thoughts are almost completely in the present.
  2. Certainty regarding focus. During best performances, there is no confusion or uncertainty about where the mind should be. Athletes are sure they are on the proper performance path, which makes it easier to keep proper performance focus. Certainty and the absence of doubt reduces self-consciousness.
  3. Confidence in approach. Athletes who perform well are completely confident that what they are doing is correct. With this confidence, they can fully commit to the simple, clear ideas above. They know exactly what they are trying to execute, and they trust. They trust that executing this plan will be enough for success. This trust and confidence decreases the tendency to become defensive, and increases the ability to stay relaxed, athletic, and aggressive.

Virtually every athlete in every sport I have talked to about these issues agrees that these three factors are present in great and good performances. Most consistently strong performers will agree with these ideas but they often say that they hadn’t really thought about these factors or given them a name. For most successful athletes, they discovered how to get into that state of mind by trial and error. I believe coaches can help a much larger number of athletes get into execution mode by setting it as an explicit goal for competition and explaining that there are three steps on the path to execution mode.      Read on………

Click here to Read McCann’s Article – Scroll to MIND GAMES

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