Why Relaxation and Visualization Doesn’t Work for Athletes

Why Relaxation and Visualization Doesn’t Work for Athletes

How do You Cope with Nerves? What do you or your athletes do when feeling nervous or scared before competition? Naturally, you want to relax so you can feel less nervous or tight, right?

You or your athletes might use breathing, stretching, and mental rehearsal to cope better with pressure moments in competition. But is this approach working for you?

Relaxation techniques or positive visualization might not be the answer. However, this is what most athletes do to cope with the nerves.

Using relaxation techniques and visualization is often a Band-Aid for the tension and anxiety–not a long-term solution.

Relaxation May Not Always Work

Here’s a recent example to highlight how relaxation training is not always the answer to anxiety. Michael wrote in to say:

“My whole life I’ve been regarded as having an excellent physical game, but in the big moments, a lot of the time I come up short mentally. I struggle with confidence in big tournaments. I use breathing techniques, visualization, and self-talk to try and consistently bring out the best in my game. Occasionally this works, but more often than not I see myself succumb to the pressure of big moments. What’s the best approach?”

Why are relaxation techniques not working for Michael? Two reasons. He lacks confidence and he’s afraid to lose or perform badly.

My Philosophy About Mental Toughness

If you are a regular reader of our mental game tips, you know my philosophy about improving mental toughness…

High confidence, focus, and composure help athletes develop mental toughness in sports.

Relaxation training is not a long-term solution. Michael needs to work on his confidence and understand why he struggles in pressure moments.

Michael, like with many athletes, has been competing most of his life. Why do many athletes lack confidence despite having great physical skills and 10 or more years of practice and experience in sport?

Michael under performs in completion and now sees himself as a choke. And his solution to the problem–relaxation and visualization–is not working for him.

If you can relate to Michael’s situation, what steps can you take improve confidence and cope better with pressure?

4 Tips for Competitive Confidence

1. Rely on your years of experience for confidence, not the last play or shot. Confidence is based on several years, not immediate performance.

2. Uncover what’s killing your confidence, what I call the confidence-killers, such as doubt, high expectations, self-critical thinking, etc. and over come them.

3. Take greater control of your confidence; don’t leave it to chance. Be proactive with your confidence instead of reactive: allowing your last shot or play affect confidence.

4. Understand that self-confidence comes from within and not other people, that’s why it’s called *SELF* confidence.

If you want to improve your mental game quickly, check out our sports psychology coaching programs for athletes.


Science and football: evaluating the influence of science on performance

Science and football: evaluating the influence of science on performance

Science and football: evaluating the influence of science on performance

The scientific study of football has its origins in the early research completed in the 1970’s. Since these early efforts the available scientific knowledge base related to football has developed substantially. The ability of this scientific information to influence practice in the day-to-day activity of football organisations, especially elite teams, has been largely taken for granted. The close examination of this impact can lead to more uncertainty regarding the usefulness of the scientific data to the sport. Few articles are available that have attempted to critique the link between science and football practice. As such, the aims of this article are 2-fold; (i) to examine the historical background to “science and football” and to analyse the influence of sports science research on the current practice of coaches and practitioners within the sport and (ii) to identify potential ways to increase the influence of scientific research on practice in the “real world”.

Do differing types of training have different effects on biomechanical risk factors for ACL injury?

for full article and charts Do differing types of training have different effects on biomechanical risk factors for ACL injury?

Resistance training programs can help reduce anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury risk by helping athletes perform “softer” landings after jumps.

However, can core stability programs or plyometric programs also help reduce ACL injury risk by modifying the biomechanics of drop landings? If so, how do they work?

This study set out to find out…

What’s the background?

Non-contact ACL injury is much more common in female athletes than in males. Indeed, studies indicate that females may be up to 3 – 4 times more likely to incur an ACL injury than males when playing the same sport (e.g. Grindstaff, 2006).

Certain biomechanical features of jump landings have been identified as more risky for ACL injury and some of these are more commonly observed in females than in males. Very generally, greater transverse and frontal plane joint angle ranges of motion (ROMs) and joint moments at the hip and knee (i.e. greater knee abduction, greater hip adduction and greater hip and knee internal rotation) are thought to place athletes at a greater risk of ACL injury.

Moreover, knee valgus is often considered a significant risk factor, as this involves hip internal rotation and adduction with knee abduction. On the other hand, greater sagittal plane joint ROM at the hip and knee (i.e. greater hip and knee flexion) are thought to reduce the risk of ACL injury by allowing for a “softer” landing.

Consequently, most injury prevention programs are constructed in order to help reduce the extent to which these biomechanical conditions are fulfilled during athletic movements. Such programs frequently include balance, lower body strength, plyometric and agility training in order to improve neuromuscular control. However, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of the various elements of such programs and it is unclear which aspects are most useful for making positive changes to jump landing biomechanics and which are superfluous.

In the previous study review, we saw that resistance training can indeed increase the amount of knee flexion. This suggests that resistance training is a valuable part of an ACL injury prevention program. Some previous research indicates that plyometrics may be similarly helpful.

For example, Lephart (2005) tested the effects of a plyometric training program and of a resistance-training program on lower body joint angle movements over an 8-week period and found that both programs led to significantly increased hip flexion ROM at initial contact, peak hip flexion ROM, peak knee flexion ROM and time to peak knee flexion ROM. They also noted that both programs led to decreased peak knee flexion moments and peak hip flexion moments.

This suggests that we might expect plyometric training to have a similar effect as resistance training on sagittal plane lower body joint angle ROMs and joint moments.


What did the researchers do?

Who were the subjects?

The researchers wanted to compare the effects of a 4-week core-stability program with those of a 4-week plyometric program on lower body and trunk biomechanics during a drop jump. They therefore recruited 23 girls from 3 area high schools, aged 14.8 ± 0.8 years. The subjects were not randomly allocated to the groups and the control and core stability groups comprised athletes from both lacrosse and soccer teams, while the plyometric group comprised only lacrosse players.

What was the intervention?

The groups performed a 4-week intervention involving either no additional training (control), additional plyometric training (plyometric group) or additional core training (core stability group). The researchers designed the plyometric and core stability programs to last 20 minutes and to require no equipment.

What did the plyometric program comprise?

The plyometric program comprised a series of bilateral and unilateral jumps and skipping exercises focused on takeoff and landing form involving soft, balanced, and controlled movements. The exercises in the first 2 weeks comprised: forward/backward single-legged line jumps, side-to-side single-legged line jumps, high skips, distance skips, broad jumps, tuck jumps and alternating single-legged lateral jumps.

The exercises in the second 2 weeks comprised: forward single-legged hop, hop, hop, and stick, squat jumps, single-legged maximal vertical jumps, single-legged jump for distance, broad jump, jump, jump, vertical jump, 180-degree jumps, and single-legged lateral jump.

What did the core stability program comprise?

The core stability program was intended to improve coordination of the abdominal and lumbar stabilizers and hip extensors, external rotators, and abductors. The exercises in the first 2 weeks comprised: abdominal draw-in, side plank knee bent, side-lying hip abduction, side-lying hip external rotation (clam shells), crunches, lumbar extension with hands on head and walking lunges with hands on hips.

The exercises in the second 2 weeks comprised: hamstrings bridge with abdominal draw-in, side plank legs extended with abdominal draw-in, quadruped hip extension with external rotation and abduction, crunches with opposite elbow to knee, lumbar extension with upper extremities straight, squats with upper extremities overhead, and lunges with ball toss.

What tests did the researchers perform?

Before and after the 4-week training intervention, the researchers tested a number of variables during jumping including lateral trunk-flexion angle, hip-flexion, adduction, and internal-rotation angles, knee-flexion, abduction, and internal- rotation angles, hip flexion, adduction, and internal rotation external joint moments, and knee flexion, abduction, and internal rotation moments.

Some Big Reasons Why Your IT Band Hurts

click link for full article and video – Some Big Reasons Why Your IT Band Hurts

I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where someone doesn’t complain about either a knee problem, hip problem, or direct pain associated with the IT band. A lot of the time, lateral knee pain right below the joint tends to correlate really highly to tight IT bands, and when hit up with some SMR and maybe some tac and stretch kind of stuff, although really really, ridiculously painful, it tends to end the knee pain once the person can regain consciousness and not hate life.

How To Simulate The Pressure of Competition in Training

click link for podcast How To Simulate The Pressure of Competition in Training

Dr. Patrick Cohn, golf psychology expert and author of the “Golfer’s Mental Edge” CD program, teaches amateur to tour professional golfers how to improve their mental game of golf using golf psychology strategies developed over the last 20 years of his career.

In this week’s golf psychology session, mental game of golf expert and author of The Mental Game of Golf, Dr. Cohn, answers a question from a golfer about how golfers can simulate the pressure of competition in practice situations, particularly in putting .

Individual Qualities vs Positional Demands

Individual Qualities vs Positional Demands

One frequent question I get from coaches and try to resolve myself is whether the conditioning should be based on individual characteristics (MAS, YOYO, VMAX, etc) OR based on position demands?

Regarding the position demands: how do we quantify them and what is the worthwhile difference (SWC) between positions that warrants different training prescription? Most of the studies focused on p values instead of SWC and TE. Speaking of TE (Typical Error) there is a huge %CV (coefficient of variation) in game-related data (which means that distances covered vary as much as 30% from game to game). This further complicated applicable positional differences from practical and physical preparation standpoint.

Ok, suppose we know the positional demands for our level of playing – should we focus on where we are in these demands or where we want to be (play)?

Suppose that we don’t take individual qualities into consideration and we impose positional demands based on where we want to be on the players. How are we certain they are not being loaded too much or too little?

In ideal world player physical qualities should coincide with his positional demands. Look at this as thelaw of supply and demand (supply~demand) or potential~expression. Sometimes this might not be the case because players don’t play certain position solely on their physical qualities, but also technical, decision making, mental and so forth.

I believe in complementary approach. I also love the approach by Carlo Buzzichelli –

INTENSITY: Individual Quality
VOLUME: Position Demands
ORGANIZATION: Positional Demands
WORK:REST: Positional Demands and Individual Quality
SITUATION/POSITON: Positional Demand

Again certain drills might be more ‘suited’ for certain positions, but in short if FB are running longer distances (see GPS data on duration and length of efforts in certain velocity zones) than FW, then FW might perform conditioning in shuttles and FBs in straight line [for example]. Another might be the volume – all positions run at certain %MAS, but MFs might do some extra set.

Again, this is not static picture – the emphasis might shift over time and over pre-season/season.

When it comes to blending technique with conditioning [e.g. doing conditioning with finishing for FWs, conditioning with heading the ball out for CDs, etc] I believe positional demands will dominate [and not his technical/tactical qualities, yet again it depends]

Another way to look at this [dichotomist] problem is to use SSGs and games overall to put certain individual into the most position specific context. Thus, if this is solved with practices, is there a need to do it with conditioning too? And why are we splitting these two anyway? [see my presentation onPeriodization Confusion].

How much specific work is too much? When does the specific work fails to provide overload and adaptation? When does the adaptation/overload fails to bring transfer to specific work?

Unfortunately I don’t have THE answer, except stating that coaches should learn to reconcile and juggle with these two dichotomies [I solved it by using Squiggle Sense] and not to lean too much on pre-made solutions and philosophies. What I mean by the latter is that one needs to take complexity of biological adaptation and skill acquisition of each individual into consideration instead of pursuing certain rigid approach. The solution is smart monitoring and predictive analytics for each individual. This is the work in progress – take the empiricist/experimental stance and test your hypothesis for each individual, instead of rationalizing things based on who said what.

Unfortunately again, taking a stance of empiricist is not easy – it demand knowing what to measure, how to analyze it, how to compare it to other measures and how to make reliable action steps.

Junk Food May Limit Children’s Intelligence and Learning Ability

Junk Food May Limit Children’s Intelligence and Learning Ability

There is a clear impact of nutrition on the potential development of Alzheimer’s diseaseand other late-life cognitive disorders.  Green vegetables, berries, and other plant foods reduce risk, whereas animal products and processed foods increase risk.1-4  However, the damaging effects of unhealthy foods on the brain occur throughout life.  Research now suggests that the typical American childhood diet including burgers, pasta, pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries, processed sweetened cold cereals, sweets and soda negatively affects school performance and learning. Overall math performance in the U.S. lags far behind many other developed nations5, and it is likely that the nutrient-poor American diet is a significant contributing factor.

French fries. Flickr: stu_spivack

We as parents are strongly committed to supporting our children’s academic achievement. We want the best for our children, and we take an active interest in their schooling; we do everything we can to make sure that they will be well educated and able to compete as working adults in our increasingly technological world. However,how many parents think about the impact of the foods they give their children on their academic performance?

Early childhood:

Parents must give their children’s brains the right raw materials with which to learn – and start early. Breast milkprovides a DHA-rich foundation for a healthy brain, and when solid foods are added, their nutritional quality is of paramount importance for the brain’s continued development. Several studies have now found that dietary patterns in early childhood affect IQ scores years later. In one study, greater consumption of fruits and vegetables upon introducing solid foods was associated with higher IQ and better memory skills when at 4 years of age.6 Similarly in another study, children who regularly ate cookies, chocolate, other sweets, soda, and chips during the first two years of life showed decreased IQ at age 8 compared to children who did not eat these foods. Nutrition during this formative period has a meaningful long-term effect, providing building blocks to construct the growing brain.7 The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, so a healthful, antioxidant-rich diet is especially beneficial for the brain and is likely involved in this link between natural plant foods and higher IQ scores.

Teenage years:

Young children who are fed processed, nutrient-poor foods are likely to become unhealthy teenagers, and eventually unhealthy adults. Now twenty-three percent of teens in the U.S. are prediabetic or diabetic, 22% have high or borderline high LDL cholesterol levels, and 14% have hypertension or prehypertension.8

A recent study tested cognitive abilities and performed brain MRIs on teens with and without metabolic syndrome, a combination of at least three diet-related metabolic abnormalities among a list including insulin resistance, high triglycerides and hypertension. The teens with metabolic syndrome had lower spelling and math scores, lower IQs, and reduced attention span. Their brain MRIs showed a smaller hippocampus, especially in those with insulin resistance – extremely important since the hippocampus is a part of the brain involved in learning new information.9  This means that our American obesity-promoting, diabetic promoting diet actually can cause parts of the brain to shrink.  The researchers concluded that insulin resistance and other components of the metabolic syndrome, as a result of a poor diet, may impair teenagers’ academic performance, and maybe even their learning abilities throughout their lifetime.

The time to feed your children healthfully is now. A diet rich in greens, berries, other fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds is the only way to ensure that children get the array of phytochemicals, antioxidants, fatty acids and other micronutrients to adequately supply their growing and constantly learning brains.  Junk food is not for kids.