Athletes, we spend our lives training hard, in the gym on the track we’re pushing our bodies to the limit on a daily basis. Yet one area so many people overlook is the mental aspect of performance. I was also guilty of this until I started sliding skeleton and my word was I in for a surprise.
A little backstory, I grew up playing team sports and it wasn’t until I switched to an individual sport I realised just how much you pull from your teammates, how the group can help push you when you need it. Why the switch? For me it was so rewarding, there’s no hiding in an individual sport such as track or skeleton. Every 0.01 of a second is earned, which is an incredible feeling. So having walked away from the team sports environment and I now find myself in the high speed, high octane world of skeleton I found myself facing a new plethora of challenges.
In Skeleton, like life, the best way to learn is to do, but when you’re standing at the top of an ice track, knowing you could hit speeds of 120kph wearing nothing more than a skin-tight suit that looks like it was bought from the window of Ann Summers that’s a little easier said than done.
So this is when I was opened to a whole new world of development. Mind runs in skeleton is the process of closing your eyes and visualise that you’re on the sled negotiating the track. Like any skill, you develop it in stages when you’re starting off you just close your eyes and try to get the correct succession of corners in order that you don’t get lost when you’re on the sled. You then progress onto trying to remember the steering lines which you’ve learned from track notes, again this is a foundation.
We all know life and sport isn’t textbook and it’s how we adapt to your current situation on the fly which can be the difference between succeeding or missing out. So what I would do is not only visualise what is meant to happen but I would work in my first-hand experiences into it, I would recall how the track looked, how the pressure in the turn felt.
From early on I thought the process of visualisation was strange, learning a set number of instructions based on perfection. How we should enter a corner, how we should apply a steer (remember using perfect pressure and duration) and it just didn’t make sense, I felt what I was feeling on the track and what the track notes said were two different worlds.
It would be the equivalent of giving formula 1 race lines to a tractor. Which when you’re learning is normal, so I took the approach of trying to bridge the gap between the ideal and reality and where I wanted to be.
I would practice the perfect lines, the lines where if life is good I can take them. I would then practice what I would do if I went into a corner wrong, or how I would deal with a mistake. I would throw these into my visualisation practice at home after training was done. One of the biggest returns on working on this skill was how calm I could remain under pressure. The notes would say avoid going late into a corner….and guess where I would find myself doing….yup going late….but now instead of panicking that I have taken the dreaded entrance and that’s everything lost, I would accept it, and work with it.
Just because it’s not ideal doesn’t mean you can’t make it work. Everything has an answer, everything has the possibility of a positive outcome. So I wouldn’t fight to avoid it, I would accept this is where I am, and what I need to do to make the best of it.
Seeing is Believing
These skills are totally transferable to any aspect of life. Be it going into an exam, an interview, trying to quit smoking or trying to lose weight. Not only does visualisation have a number of mental benefits but it actually causes a physical response. When we were kids we practiced tieing our shoes, every time we did it, our brain would create a neural pathway which made the act a second nature. This is why you can tie your shoe while eating breakfast on the phone watching tv and having a conversation.
Visualisation is a piece of the puzzle, it does not replace hard work and practice but with the right plan in place, it can make a massive difference. So whatever your goal is, using techniques like visualisation can be a powerful tool for self-development and achieving goals.