This month we’ve taken you behind the scenes and shown you the ins and outs of mental training with some real cases from me, Emily!
Last week we featured a basketball player learning how to internalize confidence to enhance consistency. Make sure you check it out!
And at long last, here if our final case of this summer series!
Case 4: Using Imagery to Manage Pre-Race Nerves
I started working with this high school swimmer – lets call her Cara – when her coach suggested she reach out to me. Her coach noticed some of Cara’s competitive struggles were beyond simply physical training. She needed some help developing her mental toughness.
I met with Cara in my office for a one-on-one session. It lasted close to an hour. I learned about who she was as a competitor and athlete, as well as what was going on in academics and life at home.
By the end of our first session, I knew this athlete:
Was highly competitive, motivated, and committed to getting better
Set very high expectations for herself
Felt pressure to perform (mostly coming from within, and not placed on her by coach or parents)
Was very passionate about her sport
Struggled with pre-race nerves
Struggled with inconsistent confidence
Right off the bat I enjoyed working with Cara. She was very self-aware, reflecting on questions I asked her with thoughtful insight. I was motivated by how motivated she was to succeed in her sport.
Cara was already competing in her club season, so my plan was to work on both her nerves and her confidence in tandem, attacking them both from the start. I knew she would benefit from having strategies to manage both of these areas if she was already competing regularly.
This is how our work together progressed over the next few months:
For the first month we met weekly for 45-60 minutes as we built our program working together.
As she got more comfortable with the skills and strategies, our sessions moved to twice a month, and then to once a month for maintenance.
Throughout our work together, she was completing objective evaluations after practices and meetings, writing down what went well, what she wanted to work on, and her plan to work on it.
She also started journaling about her strengths as an exercise to enhance confidence.
Together, we worked on developing an imagery script which we edited and refined until it worked for her.
Further, we worked on a pre-race routine that would help her combine all of this, and ultimately, lead to feeling more confident and mentally prepared prior to races.
On paper, this plan seems solid, and it was. But, it was not without hiccups. When Cara and I dove into imagery, I initially had her visualizing both positive and negative scenes. For example, she’d envision herself competing well and finishing strong (trying to feel all of her senses as they related to that experience), as well as how she’d respond between races after underperforming or dealing with some kind of unexpected stressful event.
Her first session back, we realized this plan wasn’t working for her. Like I said, she was very committed. She’d done what I said, and carved out time 3-4 times that week to go through her imagery scripts. She very openly said that the negative images were making things worse for her. They made her more anxious (even if she pictured her productive responses to them); she just wanted to focus on the positives.
An important thing to note here is that I always openly encourage my clients to be honest with me. If something I suggest doesn’t seem like it jives with you, or if you give something an honest try and it just doesn’t work, speak up! Mental training is all about finding strategies that will come through for you, specifically.
So, we adapted. She continued to focus on the positive imagery, and over time, I worked some of the other situations into our discussions and exercises. Although the negative imagery itself didn’t seem to work for her, it was still important for us to plan for possible stressful situations or setbacks. We just had to do it in a way that worked for her.
Cara committed to the process and in time, strengthened her mental game and improved consistency. Importantly, she learned how to go with the flow a bit more and not put so much pressure on herself.
If you’re interested in giving mental training a go, head over to our website and contact us to get started! Or email me at email@example.com, or Theresa at firstname.lastname@example.org!