It was an Olympic year this year and I’m sure you were all glued to the skating wondering if Plushenko could pull off a golden finish before he retires (will he ever retire?) and left reeling over the controversial results in the Ladies’ Freeskate.
What is it that makes some skaters world class, while others struggle ever to achieve a podium finish? And if the practice time and the quality of coach is relatively equal, what is it that’s missing for those who just never move up the finishing table?
Just confidence. Plain and simple. Confidence. Self belief. Just knowing and realising one’s own potential without setting artificial limits on it – either optimistic or pessimistic limits. We Brits are very good at being modest. We are taught that it’s not nice to boast and borderline arrogant to assume we can win. We are consumed by what other people will think of us if we do or don’t do this or that and these values are embedded deep within our national psyche. Values are hard to break. They dictate many of our life choices – friends, work, even school subjects because they are deep rooted within us. But we don’t have to compromise our values to turn our thinking around. We just need to remember that the mind plays a huge part in our performance, whether we like it or not, and until we start to give it equal attention to that of our physical practice we will continue to get the same results.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”
- Recognise your Gremlins for what they are
Let’s take for example, ‘I’m not good enough – they’re all better than me’ thinking. Until you can rid yourself of this negative self talk (or ‘Gremlin’ as I like to call them) you will prove to yourself that you are right. Remember that Henry Ford quote “if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right”?
We all have potential. We can practice and work hard at something with the assistance of a great teacher or coach, but unless we work with our minds at the same time, we might as well give up. Have you heard the saying “you get what you focus on”?
“If you constantly focus on the negative, then that is what you will attract all round you. If you go into a competition or a test thinking ‘I can’t do this, I’m going to fall or pop the jumps…’ then that is what you will get as a result.”
- Deal with the distractions
You probably aren’t competing with a programme you can’t do. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. Fact. So deal with the distractions – your Gremlins, the crowd, the other competitors, ‘stuff’ not going according to plan – and get on with it. That’s the secret.
Plushenko is a fabulous skater. Actually he didn’t get the top technical score in his team skate. But does he have confidence? You bet he does! And what about the poor skater that had to skate immediately after him, in a crowded arena with Plushenko’s home crowd looking on? Expecting him to be stricken with nerves, I was struck by how confident he looked. And he actually put in a better technical score. There was no arrogance there. Simple self belief. This moment is what he had been working towards for years, he had skated this programme many times and his job just then, was to go out and do the best version of it that he could. Simple. Letting the other competitors or the crowd get to him would be doing his hard work a real injustice.
- It takes practice
It isn’t easy for some to rid themselves of the idea that self belief = arrogance. So let’s look at it this way. This is your job. It’s what you do and what you do well and love doing – or you wouldn’t continue to pursue it. Richard Branson is great at what he does. Johnny Depp is an amazing actor. There are other great business tycoons and there are other fantastic actors, but they don’t go out there thinking ‘I’m not good enough’. They face their day-to-day job with a ‘this is what I was born to do’ attitude. And if they make mistakes along the way, they pick themselves up and carry on.
You can’t expect to do this mind stuff now and again and perform perfectly. It takes daily practice. Because just as you struggle physically with the rotations for a jump, you will be struggling in your mind with negative self talk gremlins trying to convince you that you’re wrong, with values that may be uncomfortable with telling yourself you are good at this, and with your ability to focus and keep distractions at bay. Hey… look, a squirrel…! Discipline yourself to keep your mind as much in shape as you do your body. Once you have the belief in your ability to skate a clean programme it will do wonders for your confidence – and that will show in your performance.
Your three or four-minute programme is akin to an entire project for Richard Branson or a whole film for Johnny Depp. As a skater you have to pack your absolute best into an intensely, focused fraction of the time others get to display their excellence. Why waste it by telling yourself untruths? Don’t let your gremlin find excuses for not doing it again. Because you can do it. You know you can. You’ve done it before.