Monday, December 31, 2001 - Perspective
Junior National Team Update: Mental Preparation

- By: Andrew Leoni

Junior National Team Update

Now that the brunt of this year's physical preparation for the race season is completed, athletes everywhere are getting into the main competitive season. If the physical training up to this point has gone according to plan, most of us will be rising towards a high point in our performance for this training year. Important trials races for overseas tours and domestic competitions are soon to come.

With so much emphasis placed on physical prep throughout the year, it is seldom that athletes pay close attention to the psychological aspects of pre-competition prep. Without a good mental plan, no amount of physical training will help a skier cross the finish line in first. These two essentials must combine and work constructively in order for one to acheive their optimal performance.

It's important for the individual to experiment and find what form of mental prep works best for them. This is something that experience only will hone to perfection. As technique work and time trials get your body into shape for racing, they also serve the role to imprint important mental processes into the automatic. In other words, one of the key reasons in which we train day in and day out is to imprint into our minds which mindset or attitude during racing will help us to gain our optimal performace. Come race day, the athlete should naturally fall into the mindset that works best for them. Some people race best at "high energy" (psyched up) while others prefer to maintain very calm and relaxed during a race. However, in order to consistently race to potential an athlete must be able to naturally follow their optimal attitude. Without mental training it is very difficult to put yourself in the right state of mind. If you're not in the right mindset, problems with pacing will soon arise causing a collapse in race strategy. With too low energy, it's easy to slack off and drift away mentally. However with too high of a mental energy level you can end up going too fast without listening to your body, causing you to hit the wall early in the race. Both are devastating to performance, therefore a medium between these two must be found by each individual.

After finding what works best for you, it becomes a matter of doing it over and over correctly. In important races pressure makes it increasingly difficult to execute as planned. Many people "fall apart" not from lack of physical shape, but because of a large change in the stimulus to compete. This is why putting yourself into a simulated race state is so important during even the least important time trial. By the time the big race comes, you will have "done" it so many times that it will feel completely natural. Without over-thinking it or concentrating on distractions, the mental race will run smoothly and the results will come. It's only a matter of repeating this until an athlete is able to consistently race to the best of their ability...when it really counts!

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