by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Many teams have moved closer in their drive for a championship by winning in the first and second rounds of the playoffs. It is “lose now and the season is over” for the teams still in the collegiate and club competitions. That said, the competition pressure that domestic players face is created more from internal sources than external ones, such as print and television media. For players who earn a birth to the national team, competition pressure jumps considerably. It was during my quest to help players bridge this gap, as the national team coach, that I started speaking with Dr. Goldman-Rogow. I was looking for techniques and strategies to help players deal with the elevated levels of competition pressure.
Cheryl Goldman-Rogow, Ed. D., is a professor at the College of Marin, within the College’s Physical Education and Athletic Department. She is also an Association of Applied Sport Psychology certified consultant and on the United States Olympic Committee Registry for Sport Psychology professionals. She earned her Doctorate in Sport and Exercise Psychology from West Virginia University (WVU). Dr. Goldman also completed a Master’s Degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, a second Master’s Degree in Counseling from WVU, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Cornell University.
Dr. Goldman-Rogow and I have co-presented for the Positive Coaching Alliance and had lengthy conversations about competition pressure and the tools the best athletes use to deal with them. I have posed a number of scenarios to Dr. G-R over the years and here are some of her responses.
Tom Billups; If a player struggles with pre-competition anxiety, what would be one tool he or she could use to deal with it ?
Dr. Goldman-Rogow; One way to reduce pre-competitive anxiety is for the athlete to focus on what s/he can control prior to the event. A commonly used tool is the pre-competitive routine. Pre-competitive routines are developed so they are completely within the control of the athletes who are executing them. For example, rugby players that perform very individualistic tasks that are highly visible, such as kickers and hookers, can easily benefit from performing a pre-competitive routine. Kicking the ball and throwing the ball in at the lineout are very public events. Therefore, due to the complexity of the skills required to be successful and the importance of the moment, a pre-competition routine can be very helpful in settling nerves and keeping the athlete focused on staying within the systems they have developed on the practice field. Ultimately, focusing on what is within one’s control will lead to success.
TB; Being over aroused is common in many contact sports, especially football. I have experienced many cross over athletes who have brought an over aroused mental state to rugby and it has been a detriment to their performance. Can you restate what you have told me on over arousal versus performance and how you can short circuit your performance by being too amped up?
The inverted U hypothesis explains the relationship between arousal and performance.
Dr. G-R; As players continue to develop physically and technically in rugby, they need to make efforts to develop mentally and emotionally when dealing with competition as well. Research has proven that the above graph is an accurate depiction of the relationship between arousal and performance. The earlier an athlete, especially those who participate in contact / collision sports, begins to work on finding the best level of emotional arousal for them, the better. This process takes much preparation and effort on behalf of coaches and athletes, yet once arousal regulation is emphasized as a major contributor to successful performance a few simple steps can be taken. Implementing breathing techniques, applying appropriate self-talk and utilizing visualization can all contribute to effective arousal regulation.
TB: As a hooker, I personally used self talk and self visualization techniques to assist in putting a good performance in the professional and test arenas. Would you speak to these techniques?
Dr. G-R; Self-talk: The type of self-talk athletes utilize will determine whether or not their performance is enhanced or debilitated. Therefore, to enhance your performance make sure to deliberately implement positive self-talk into your routines pre, during, and post practices and competitions. When I say positive I do not mean solely “happy talk”. Positive self-talk also means making sure to tell ourselves what we need to do in the moment versus what we don’t need to do. Focusing on what we don’t need to do brings our attention to exactly that instead of our desired task.
Visualization: There are two types of visualization, mastery imagery and coping imagery. Mastery imagery is picturing you executing a skill perfectly and coping imagery involves picturing yourself dealing well with adversity. Both are important to practice in order to enhance performance.
Always keep in mind that the key to winning championship matches is developing championship mentalities. The way to achieve this mental toughness is by practicing and implementing sound psychological strategies.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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