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The make-or-break performance triad of thoughts, emotions and behaviour


Undoubtedly, athletes at all levels commit and sacrifice vast amounts of time and effort when preparing for their performance. A massive gap in what we see is that athletes spend much time training on the physical and technical aspects of their performance with little to no time spent on the mental side.

When it boils down to it, and you ask them, in the heat of the moment, how much of your performance is mental, the answer is always the same; it's all mental!

Where the threats come from.

The threat is that if these elements are left unattended, even the most talented can be found out when the pressure is on. The general landscape of this is that most coaches and athletes have looked at it in a way that if it's not broken, why try and fix it? The opportunity is that when it's treated as a skill instead of a problem, the game changes rapidly.

When the triad attack.

The attacks can come from within our own castle. Thoughts, emotions and behaviour are indistinguishably in how they are connected. Many athletes will look to address these elements when they feel uncomfortable, and worse still, will see how these can come into play and unravel during their performance. Or they may never recognise it at all.

As an athlete, you will experience a range of emotions without knowing at any one time. This will usually have a knock-on effect, adding more complexity to your situation.

  • Emotions can cause experiences.

  • Be caused by experiences.

  • Or create loops.

Mix these elements with interactions and behaviour, and what it can transform into is very complex.

What can be done to tackle this?

Every athlete and team will always be different in what they experience. One researcher who has looked heavily into this field is Yuri Hana. He developed a method to ensure an athlete's emotions are collected before the performance. Over time the individual can begin to identify the Zone of Optimal Functioning.

What's the reward?

Hanin has tested this and has shown in comparison studies that athletes in-zone perform significantly better than those out of the zone. It's a good start for getting to grips with this mental landscape.

Other lines of attack.

Hanin teamed up with Nieuwenhuys and Bakkar to extend the ZOF model by also looking at how the performer deals (or doesn't) with the challenge. In that study (Nieuwenhuys et al. 2008), they used the Awareness, Acceptance and Action model, giving the performer a more straightforward overview of how elements are linked together. Even though this is a significant step, we'll look more in-depth into other ways to control emotions and their influence.

Hanin, Y.L. (Ed.), 2000. Emotions in sport. Human Kinetics, Champaign. IL

Nieuwenhuys, A., Hanin, Y., Bakker, F.C., 2008 Performance-related experiences and coping during races: a case study of an elite salor. Psychol. Sport and Exerc. 9, 61-76


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