Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Inner Game of Sailing

Team GBR’s Psychologist, Dr. Ben Chell, to learn a little more about the world of Sports Psychology and about how we can better prepare for those big races.

Part one – Mental Toughness in sailing
What is Performance Psychology and how does it work?

Performance Psychology seeks to understand the psychological processes that influence human behavior and performance in sport. A performance psychologist can offer a range of strategies and skills to help athletes maximize their potential. The main aim of a Performance Psychologist is to create an awareness and understanding within the athlete of how his/her mind works and then to work with that athlete to develop skills to enhance performance.

In sailing, particularly at elite level, the ability to cope with high levels of pressure and stress are what can make or break a sailor’s performance. For example, a sailor about to start the last race one point away from a podium finish will be under pressure to perform at their best. With this amount of pressure to perform mounting, the sailor may begin to feel stress. Stress is one’s appraisal of whether those demands can be successfully met or not.

The by-product of one’s perceived inability to cope with such demands can lead to worry and self-doubt, which in turn can have a negative or sometimes catastrophic effect on performance. Sailors that not only cope, but thrive on the demands of competition are renowned for their ‘Mental Toughness’.

Mental Toughness – Just what is it?

Mental Toughness is a phrase that is used consistently throughout the world of sport, but what does it actually mean? In simplistic terms, ‘Mental Toughness’ encapsulates an individual that is able to consistently think, behave and perform optimally in a pressure environment. Ben Ainslie’s famous Laser victory over Brazilian Robert Scheidt, in the final race of the Sydney Olympic Games, epitomises this.

Conversely, a sailor who performs consistently well in training, but just can’t seem to get it together and convert their performance into regatta results is one who seems to be without ‘mental toughness.’ More often than not it is these sailors who lack the mental skills required to bridge the gap between training and the demands of competition.

Contrary to popular belief, we are not born with ‘Mental Toughness’ but rather it is something that we develop over time. Mental Toughness is a skill that, with commitment, hard work and tenacity, can be developed just like developing the perfect roll tack or kite hoist. Anyone and everyone can develop their Mental Toughness. -
Stay tuned for part 2 on Friday