Off-Season Motivation and Mental Preparation
By Dr. Michelle Cleere
You are coming to the end of your season and may be wondering how to stay motivated until next year. This is a good time to reflect on what you need to do to improve your overall performance for next year. It is during these periods of reflection that we decide what’s necessary to move forward: rest, developing an off-season training regime or revitalizing old training regimes. It’s during these periods of time that we rate whether or not we are reaching our goals and if we aren’t what is it that we need do differently. The reflection, rest, and off-season training are important elements to being an athlete; the key to becoming a better athlete. Staying motivated during this time can definitely be challenging but that’s what makes it a great time to develop your mental training program. Not only will this help to help keep you motivated during a slower (physical) training period but you will have a mental training plan for next year.
What is Psychological Skills Training (PST)
PST is a systematic approach for developing a mental game plan. It is designed to help athletes acquire and practice psychological skills that have been shown to be useful for improving performance and enhancing enjoyment of sports. Research has shown that PST can give athletes an edge over competitors.
Where to begin
Think about how much of your sport is mental. Next compare how much is mental with how much practice time you spend training mental skills. What did you come up with? Generally most athletes find that their sport is pretty demanding mentally yet they spent virtually no amount of time practicing these mental aspects.
Now that you are aware of how of your sport is mental and how much time you spend practicing mental skills, let’s take action. Determine what psychological skills you think are necessary for you to be successful in your sport. Write them down on a sheet of paper. If you have more than five, circle the top five, write them down the left side of a piece of paper in order of importance so that each skill has its own dedicated line.
Determine what physical skills you think are necessary for you to be successful in your sport. Write them down on a sheet of paper. If you have more than five, circle the top five, write them down the left side of your paper underneath your psychological skills in order of importance so that each skill has its own dedicated line.
Spaced out across the top of your sheet of paper write a rating scale of 1-10; 1 has a meaning of “not at all” (I am not at all positive) and 10 has a meaning of “very much” (I am very positive). If you have colored pencils, markers or crayons now is the time to bring them out and have some fun. Choose 3 different colors. First, decide where you are currently with each of the skills you listed. Choose a color for “current skill level” and put an X in the area corresponding with where you think you are with each of your skills. For example, you are pretty positive so you might put an X in area 8. Second, decide where you think you want to be to further succeed in your sport. Choose a color for “success” and put an X in the area corresponding with where you think you need to be with each of your skills to be successful. For example, although you are an 8 on positivity you think you need to be a 10 to be successful in your sport. Third, determine the difference from where you are to where you want to be. Use a third color and draw a line to differentiate between what your “current skill level” is and where you think “success” is. This will give you an idea of what you need to work on to get to where you want to be.
This is called the performance profile because it ‘profiles’ where you are and where you need to be for success. It gives you information about what you feel is important and provides you feedback on those skills letting you know what needs attention.
How do I use this information?
Hopefully going through this exercise gives you some mental goals to strive towards. Since you can’t possibly work on everything, start with the top one or two on your list of psychological and physical skills. In the above example, the top psychological skill on the list is positivity. How do you get from (say) an 8 to a 10 in positivity? At an 8 you recognize that you are occasionally challenged with negative self talk. What does that look and feel like? How does it play out? How does it affect your performance? Go deeper into why you feel you are an 8 on positivity which will help you figure out what to do about it.
For mental and physical skill building and improvement and enhanced motivation in the off-season take the top one or two psychological and mental skills listed in your performance profile and set goals around how to get from where you are to where you feel you need to be. The benefits of goal setting are to improve performance, improve the quality of your training, clarify expectations, and relieve boredom, increase pride, satisfaction and self confidence. When written realistically, goals also allow you to see your successes which lead to increased motivation.
For goals to work really well the research suggests using SMART goals:
Specific (versus general)
A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. It includes who, what, where, when, which, and why.
Measurable (performance versus outcome)
Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each goal you set: how much, how many and how will I know when it is accomplished?
Goals should change as you reach them so that you continue to advance and stay motivated.
Some goals are a little out of reach and need to be changed to something more realistic.
Your goals should be within your control and if not, then they need to be changed.
Realistic (versus unrealistic)
To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. Be sure that every goal represents substantial progress. A high goal is frequently easier to reach than a low one because a low goal exerts low motivational force.
Your goal is probably realistic if you truly believe that it can be accomplished. Additional ways to know if your goal is realistic is to determine if you have accomplished anything similar in the past or ask yourself what conditions would have to exist to accomplish this goal.
Time based (long term versus short term)
A goal should be grounded within a time frame. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency.
Goals are meant to motivate you and are an indicator of progress. Goals can be written and re-assessed every day, week, month, or a year as long as you are flexible and know they will change as time passes.
It is during the off-season that you have an opportunity to rest and reflect on what you need to do in preparation for next year’s season. This is crucial to becoming a better athlete. Staying motivated during this time can definitely be challenging but setting goals and finding success in those goals will help to keep you motivated.
Remember that it’s not only what you do physically that matters but it’s what you do mentally that probably matters more.
Dr. Michelle Cleere (PhD, Certified USA Triathlon Level I Coach, NASM-CPT) has coached hundreds of amateur and professional athletes who compete in sports that require a high degree of mental endurance, toughness and focus to get more out of their training, obtain better results and lead more balanced lives. You can find her at drmichellecleere.com