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  • The Performance Plan

Updated: Aug 23, 2022


Which athlete describes you best?

Athlete A: You feel positive in the build up to competition and ready to face the challenge in front of you. You may experience a sense of nervousness or butterflies, but you realise this is just your body’s way of telling you, you are ready to compete. You are confident in your ability and feel in control of your destiny.

Athlete B: You feel a sense of dread and anxiety in the build up to competition. You feel tense and can’t seem to shut up the voice in your head which is telling you “I’m going to fail”. You feel the outcome of your performance is out of your control and at times wish you didn’t have to compete, so you could avoid these unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

Your answer to the above question is a very important first step in understanding your approach to competition and the effect it can have on you. Recently, a lot of sport psychology research has looked toward exploring this idea of “challenge and threat” states. Athlete A represents an athlete who would be in a challenge state before competition, whilst Athlete B, would be in all likelihood perceive competition as a threat. It probably comes as no surprise that we ideally want an athlete to be in a challenge state prior to performance, but how do we achieve this? Here’s a few ideas.

1. Promote self-efficacy - Self-efficacy is a situation specific type of confidence, which can be developed in a number of ways. In the past, I have found getting athletes to think about past accomplishments and draw positives from previous performance experiences can be a great way to promote positivity and optimism in the build up to competition. Other sources of self-efficacy include, verbal encouragement and constructive feedback, control of emotional states and vicarious experience (observing others similar to you perform successfully).

2. Focus on controllable elements of performance - Rather than ruminate or worry about what may go wrong during competition, try and regain a sense of control through considering what you elements of you performance you are able to positively influence. Something that can be particularly helpful is development of a pre performance/pre shot routine. Through development of a robust routine you can take confidence in knowing you have taken positive strides toward ensuring you are optimally prepared for competition.

3. Try mindfulness - As previous articles have alluded to, I’m a big fan of mindfulness. Research has shown that mindfulness helps activate parts of the brain that are exhibited by athletes who experience challenge states (the Sympathomedullary Pathway in case you’re interested). Mindfulness also helps reduce the impact of negative thoughts and feelings which often become prominent in the build up to competition.

Is the threat of competition stopping you from performing at your best? Email us at info@performanceplan.co.uk.


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  • The Performance Plan

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”- Steve Maraboli

As I watched the heart breaking interview with GB taekwondo silver medalist Lutalo Muhammad, it became difficult to imagine the pain he must have been going through. In the gold medal bout, Muhammad was 0 .5 seconds away from being an Olympic champion, only to have his dreams crushed by a well-executed head kick by Cheick Sallah Cisse of the Ivory Coast. It was at this point, I really started thinking about the Olympics in a new light. Whilst I loved watching James Peaty break world records and Usain Bolt achieve the allusive “triple treble”, I tried to put myself in the shoes of other athletes, the ones who may well have fallen short of their goals and expectations. In this year’s Olympics, there are 11544 athletes, however, there are only 350 events in 28 different sports, meaning a majority of athletes at Rio will go home empty handed. So whilst we applaud (and rightly so) those who achieved sporting excellence this summer, it’s also important to think about the other athletes, the ones who missed out on the podium or those who fell agonisingly short of glory and now have to wait another 4 years for their next opportunity.

Having played sport (often badly) for most of my life and having worked on a regular basis with high level athletes, I have learnt a very important life lesson: Things don’t always go the way we plan. We will all experience disappointment at some point. Even Usain Bolt was left feeling disappointed after his win in the 200m final, stating he failed in his aim to run a time of 18.99 seconds. However, whilst I may sound like a pessimist, I actually believe that disappointment or “failure” can be a good thing! Something I often ask athletes to do, is engage in reflection following competition. The reflective process enables athletes to take a step back and challenge themselves by asking questions such as “what did I do well today?”, “What barriers did I experience?” and most importantly “what lessons can I learn from this experience that will help improve my performance going forward.?" This process helps develop what many refer to as “A growth mind-set.” A growth mind-set promotes the idea that success is a process of continual development, which can be achieved through dedication and hard work. The concept of a growth mind-set extends upon ideas such as “post-traumatic growth”, which suggest that when we experience hardship, we actually gain an opportunity to learn important lessons and develop psychological attributes which ultimately make us stronger. GB Olympic winning diver Chris Mears is a prime example of this. Seven years ago he was given a 5% chance of survival after rupturing his spleen. However, despite the odds, he survived and through the experience he gained a new lease of life, which enabled him to come back better and stronger.

Arguably, the most important quality we can develop through adverse experiences , is that of resilience. Resilience is a quality that helps us buffer against the negative effects of stress and respond positively to adversity. In line with the Olympic theme, sport psychologists David Fletcher and Mustafa Sarkar interviewed a number of Olympic gold medalists and found that a positive personality, motivation, confidence, focus, and a strong support network were all key factors underlying resilience. In addition, it was concluded that consideration for these factors would be key in helping athletes achieve optimal performance. Fortunately, all the qualities highlighted within this research can be developed through psychological training techniques. So, with that in mind, Lutalo Muhammad and others needn’t worry. We all have the ability pick ourselves up and come back better and stronger following adversity. All it takes is a little resilience and willingness to grow.

To find out how you can get some resilience, email info@performanceplan.co.uk


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  • The Performance Plan

Updated: Aug 23, 2022


This week, Laura Trott made history by becoming Britain’s most decorated female Olympian, winning her fourth Olympic gold medal (she’s still only 24!). In addition to an unparalleled level of dedication, natural talent and a lot of hard work, Trott recently revealed to Huck Magazine, that her success is largely down to her ability to conquer her chimp. For those of you who might not be aware of Dr Steve Peter’s now famous analogy, the chimp actually represents the emotional part of our brain. But why I chimp I hear you cry?

The reptile, the chimp and the human

Over millions years our brains have evolved, from a reptile, to a primate and finally to the human brain we know and love today. The reptile brain fundamentally deals with our basic drives and instincts, whilst the chimp represents the emotional core, which evolved through our need to develop our freeze, flight, fight, fright, faint responses. The chimp part of our brain is older and therefore more powerful and deeply rooted (in a part of our brain called the amygdala). Over time, we also developed the frontal (human) part of our brain, which deals with logic and information processing. However, whilst we may want the human to be in control, our chimp brain is much stronger and therefore, in certain situations, our brain gets “emotionally hijacked”. In sport for example, intense feelings of anxiety may result in an athlete choking under pressure, whilst a sudden burst of anger may lead to poor decision making. In short, if we can’t control our chimp, our chimp will control us!

Mindfulness: The Chimp Conqueror

If we want to conquer our chimp, we have to learn to live with it and one way we can do this is through the use of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a technique which is being used increasingly in psychology as part of ACT, a form of therapy which deals with promoting the acceptance of unpleasant emotional states. Whilst, I’ll provide a more detailed overview of ACT in future articles, I will try and give you an insight into why mindful practice, may help you on the road to effective chimp management.

Originated from the eastern philosophical practice of meditation, mindfulness was brought to the western world in the 1970’s to help people deal with depressive and anxiety based disorders. The technique itself promotes developing an awareness and acceptance of an unpleasant emotional states, which in turn, allows us to better cope with emotions which may negatively impact on our performance and everyday functioning. Recently, scientific evidence in support of mindfulness has been found though brain scan technology which has revealed the following:

  • Reduced cortisol production (a chemical in the brain related to stress)

  • Increased thickness of areas of the brain which are responsible for attention and awareness

  • Increased activity in parts of the brain which are responsible for positive emotions.

  • Greater activity in areas of the brain which are responsible for effective emotional processing.

Mindfulness in sport

It’s not just in clinical settings, where the power of mindfulness has been well-documented. In sport, mindfulness has been advocated by top level athletes such as NBA all star LeBron James, FIFA World Player of the year Lionel Messi and Olympic diver Tom Daley and if that's not enough of an endorsement, here are some of the benefits of mindfulness which have been documented in sport psychology research.

  • Improved mental processing

  • Increased feelings of confidence

  • Enhanced concentration

  • Increased feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment

  • Reduced anxiety

  • Promotion flow states (the optimal performance mind-set.

So, whilst I can’t guarantee you’ll become the next Laura Trott, I can say from first hand experience, that mindfulness really works. All it requires is 10 minutes a day and a bit of patience.

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To learn more about the power of mindfulness drop us an email info@peformanceplan.co.uk or keep an eye out for one of our upcoming “Mindful Athlete" workshops.


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