With all of your training sessions completed and practices finally coming to an end, it is time to demonstrate what you have learned over the past 8 months. It is time to show off the chemistry and teamwork that you have been building since October. If you were training with Mettle this year, or any other strength company, this is the time that all of those hours of preparation come into play.
When reflecting on the regular season, it is humbling to see how much success our athletes have had as individuals and as teams. The growth that I have witnessed has been truly remarkable and that is the reason for this article.
Our long-term approach to training our athletes is only put on pause for the month so that all of our athletes can express their growth and development over a short 3 (or 6 days) of competition. The question becomes, “How can I compete to the best of my ability on Day 1 and what do I need to do as an athlete to maintain my focus, drive and energy throughout the entire competition?”
To find the answer, I contacted a friend and volleyball ‘mom’, Dr. Kim Dawson. Dr. Dawson is a professor of Sports Psychology as the Wilfrid Laurier University. We had a brief chat and she provided me with some great, last minute tips for athletes as they prepare for Provincials.
Here’s what we discussed…
#1 - Q: When should athletes start preparing for competition?
A: Technically, athletes should always be preparing for competition by engaging in very purposeful practice. This means that athletes should keep training journals throughout the season to help them become aware of their strengths and opportunities for growth.After each practice athletes should write in their journal two things that they did really well that day and two things that they will personally focus on during the next practice. While the coach sets technical practices designed to improve skill at a group level, it is the responsibility of the athlete to identify what they specifically need to focus on in order to increase their tactical ability in competition. Identifying what worked in practice forces the brain to process relevant successful information that improves confidence. Identifying opportunities to grow as a player leads to skill change. Both factors are necessary as an athlete prepares for successful competition.
BREAKDOWN: If you haven’t been doing that - it’s not too late for self-reflection. You have competed enough this season (or over multiple seasons) to know what works and what doesn’t. Remind yourself repeatedly of the skill that you have developed throughout the season to keep your confidence steady in the championships.
#2 - Q: What is the goal of mental training with respect to competition?
A: The goal of mental training is to identify factors that are within the control of the athlete that can be manipulated. By mitigating these factors, the probability of successfully transferring all of the great skill that has been acquired through practice to a successful competition is increased. The more control that an athlete executes, the higher the degree of transference. Some athletes play very well in practice but due to factors that change in competition such as a loss of concentration, over-activation, loss of confidence, etc. they end up performing poorly in competition. An athlete needs to stay constant in their ability to execute their skills in a changing environment. This means that athletes should identify how their minds and bodies change when they enter tournaments. For example, some athletes get over-excited and this causes them to lose their focus and they are unable to see the stimuli necessary to react successfully. Other athletes become overwhelmed by the environment, particularly the vastness of the Provincial championships, and lose their confidence in response to it. Therefore, athletes should become aware of what happens to their body and mind in response to the challenge of Provincials and start practicing their response to these projected challenges now. This means engaging in such things as developing productive self-talk, refocusing cues, breathing exercises, and relaxation exercises. This relates right back to the question of “when” to begin competition preparation. Do not leave it to the night before or the morning of the tournament. An athlete should start preparing now by identifying their successful process for competition and practicing the plan now.
BREAKDOWN: The test is to identify what works for you! I played football, and while other guys were jumping around, yelling and being the “hype-man” I was sitting calmly in a corner with music on, visualizing all of the plays, reads and routes that would help me in the upcoming game. By now, whether or not you have reflected on this in great detail, you inherently know how you respond to competition. So take some time now and begin to write out and practice some cues, breathing or exercises that get you in the right state of mind.
#3 - Q: What are a few things that athletes can do at Ontario Championships to stay mentally focused?
A: Use visualization before the tournament begins. Visualize yourself playing in control and emotionally stable. Imagine various game situations and scenarios. See yourself reacting successfully to these situations. Start doing this the week before competition (sorry to those who have already played). This exercise helps the brain to efficiently find solutions in competition when the body needs to respond quickly.
Have a cue word or body cue within competition that is your mental and physical reset button. For example, if you shank a ball on serve receive, stand up, walk a few steps, shake your arms, drop your shoulders. This process gets the error out of the system. Now move back into position, drop your butt, look at the server and know that you are back in. When you are back in position you are refocused, confident, and capable of making the next play. Train your brain so that when you hear the whistle for the serve, all conflicting thoughts are gone, and only your focus on the serve remains.
BREAKDOWN: You got this! Plain and simple. You have all of the ability to step into OC’s and shine!
Use the preparation protocol on the OVA Champs App to get your body to your optimal zone of functioning. This means that you want a calm mind and activated body. If you are feeling tired, do what you need to do to get pumped. We recommend joining the Mettle team in room 208 to run through the Preparation protocol or work with their partners at Joga (same room). If you are easily excited, use deep breathes, or calming words to bring yourself back to where you need to be.
Whether this is your first Ontario Championships or your last, you can set yourself up now to have success right from day 1.
We look forward to seeing everyone over the course of the month and look forward to watching great volleyball!
Come visit us in the vendor hall, or the Recharge room every weekend in April!
Best of luck!
Director of Performance
Mettle Sports Training