"I like that Doc Ali teaches the kids that fears are normal and healthy. I feel that her goal is to teach them how to manage their fear. She does that by comparing the mind to a muscle. Tight mind = tight muscles. Loose mind = loose muscles. Athletes work hard to strengthen their muscles and they need to work equally as hard to strengthen their minds."

Figure Skating Articles

Get Psyched! Doc Alison's Mental Preparation for Competition Countdown

It's very simple.
You Compete how you Train.
If you train well,
you compete well.
It's not about who's lucky,
It's about who's prepared.

It's that time of year again. Time to work in those new blades, put your combinations together, turn up the music, and get ready to shine! It's competition season. This article will give you six basic steps to get your mind ready for competition. Count back six weeks from your next major competition, and do one exercise each week. These exercises will help you tighten your mind to perform your best! Ready? Here we go.

To begin this process, it is very important you create the Vision of the skater you want to be in competition. This is your goal at the end of the six weeks when you are getting ready to go out onto the ice. What do you look like? How are you acting at the rink? What do you do on a good day? A bad day? How focused and aggressive are you during practices and competitions? I call this your "Vision" with a capital "V". It is your perfect image of how you want to compete. Here are some examples or words other skaters have used to describe their Vision: motivated, strong, determined, having fun, aggressive, fearless, doubtless, positive, a leader, confident, relaxed, consistent, and happy. We know that the mind is the creator of all things. Everything in the world starts with a vision. Your Vision will help guide you for the next six weeks. Keep this image close to you. Remind yourself of your Vision every day.

On a piece of paper, write as many words as you can that describe your Ideal Vision for Competition. Hang this poster up in your room or locker to remind yourself of the athlete you want to be every day!

Countdown to Competition Week #5:
Mental Choreography Short and Long Program

The mind is simply another part of the body. In skating, you spend countless hours training your body for proper position, alignment, and technique. The mind must also remain in proper alignment in order to achieve success. One of the most important skills for any athlete is the ability to pull one's mind back into proper position when it goes off course. Mental choreography is an important drill to tighten your mind. You Mental Choreography (MC) keeps your mind on track. Keeping your mind on track, keeps your body on "automatic"! Mental choreography is the blinders for the mind. It keeps your mind tight and provides a resting place when it goes off course. We know that the biggest cause of poor performance is out of control thinking. Keeping the monkey-mind occupied and "out of trouble" is key. Using mental choreography enables the mind to stay focused, centered, and ready to go.

Mental Choreography words are verbal cues words used to keep the mind tight during performance. These words are used before, during, and after performance, not only during difficult areas of your program, but style areas as well. When you do these words on every program, jump, or combination, the words will later serve as a resting place for your mind. This is the secret gift of mental choreography. Once it become second nature and automatic, it will carry you through your program during the difficult or trying times. Your words will allow your mind to become "non-thinking", thus in the zone. Your mental choreography becomes automatic and will virtually carry you through your entire program. If a mistake happens, mental choreography will anchor your mind on the present and get you out of past and future thinking. When practicing, think of your mental choreography as a running tape. If a mistake happens, the tape doesn't change. It simply continues with the cue words, keeping you in the present and not re-hashing mistakes of the past. Commit 100% to mental choreography. Work on it now, and it will work for you later. Your programs will become more effortless, clean, and fluid. Your mind will become more focused, confident, and recover from mistakes easier.

There are three types of MC thoughts you want to choreograph in your program. They are:

  • Technical Statements: Statements or corrections ("lift", "tight", "shoulders square")
  • Energy Statements: Statements that bring energy up or down ("go!", "push here!", and "relax" "breathe")
  • Confidence Statements: Statements that encourage and build trust (i.e. "I can do it", "I've done it before")

Use these statements to choreograph programs, jumps, and combinations. Choreograph cue words before, during and after. The key is to do mental choreography in every practice program, during every jump, during every combination. To make your words automatic, do extra off-ice "walk throughs" with your words. Commit 100% to MC

On blank pieces of paper outline your short and long program. Draw the ice with an diagram of how your program flows. Then, on the line, write MC for each part of your program. Your MC should be clean, and tight. You should be saying specific statement or corrections at specific times. Even on spins, footwork, and dramatic parts of your program. Keep your mind choreographed and occupied. Be sure to create the words and actions for the time you skate on to the ice and before your music begins. It's a good idea to go over all your MC with your coach. Many times, the words you are saying are the corrections your coach is giving you. Your coach can help you be certain you are saying the words that will get you the result you want.

Countdown to Competition Week #4:
Mental Rehearsal Schedule

How strong is the power of faith and vision? Without faith, a skater is covered in doubt. Doubt as thick as an unbreakable wall. Faith and vision have turned simple people into heroes and dreams into reality. Do you have faith? Can you see yourself being the champion you want to be? This week we will focus on the power of visualization. Imagining yourself create the performance you want is the first step to making your dreams happen. The clearer you see your dream, the sooner it manifests as reality. I have been amazed how people have done super-human feats simply because they believed they could do it. Don't let doubt hold you back. In this exercise, visualize perfection. See yourself better than you even thought you could be. No limits. Break out of doubt. Whenever you do visualization be sure to use all of your senses. Really see yourself out on the ice. Hear the sounds of the competition. Feel the feelings of excitement in your body. Smell the smell of the ice. The more vivid your visualization, the more accurate your rehearsal is. Consistent visualization is an important part of any mental toughness training program. Visualizing yourself performing perfectly helps build confidence and consistency. The most important by-product of mental rehearsal is the pairing of cue words (Mental Choreography) to ideal performance. Many research studies have shown the connection between visualization and improved performance. Research findings support athletes can experience almost as much improvement through mental rehearsal as they do with physical practice, giving they are in equal physical condition.

A mental rehearsal schedule can be done at any time during the day, although most find it more helpful before they go to bed at night. This is when the body is most relaxed and open to suggestion.

Be sure you include mental choreography inall mental rehearsal. This links cue words to perfect performance.

Exercise: Mental Rehearsal Schedule

On a piece of paper, write out your Mental Rehearsal Schedule. Put it up in your room to you can remember to do it at least once a day. Here is an example of a typical Mental Rehearsal Schedule:

Mental Rehearsal Schedule for the week of September 14th, 2003

Monday: 3 of each jump combination
Tuesday: 3 short programs with MC
Wednesday: off, elements, trouble shooting, or make-up
Thursday: 10 double axels
Friday: 3 long programs
Saturday: 1 of each program in competition with pressure and MC
Sunday: off, elements, trouble-shooting, or make-up

The "One-Point" is my term for a state of mental focus without distraction. It is simply being in the present, without dwelling in past (what happened) or future (what if) thoughts. Just as the perfect body position or alignment makes any element a lot easier, the "tight mind" creates confidence and consistency. Learning to control your mind and pull it back when it gets off track is a skill. Many times it feels like our emotions control us, when in actuality we control our emotions. Learn how to bring your mind back to "one point" first by identifying what your one point feels like. What do your feel like when you are totally doubtless in competition? When you are not thinking about what happened in warm-ups or what could happen if you mess up. Visualize yourself on your one-point. A time you felt you were in the "skating zone". Then, practice bringing yourself back to one-point whenever you lose focus. Bring yourself back with a word and a breath. This is called your "one-point anchor". It is the cue that brings your mind back to focus whenever you feel distracted, frustrated, nervous, or upset. Practice getting back to one-point by visualizing a bad day, and see yourself turn it around in your mind by changing your thinking. Practice turning negative thoughts around during training. This will train your mind BEFORE your need to use it in competition.

Exercise: The One-Point

Create your one-point anchor. It could be as simple as a breath and a phrase. For example, "Stop, breathe, make it happen" or "Breathe, relax, back to one-point". Practice this in practice and competition whenever you feel out of your Ideal Skating Vision or zone.

Here we are. Two weeks before a major competition. It is crucial you are mentally focused just prior to competing. Too many times fear, stress, and pressure, shake up your confidence right before you skate onto the ice. Your goal is to get yourself into your Ideal Vision State. That is, feeling confident, focused, excited, and ready to skate clean. Your pre-competition ritual is what you are saying to yourself and doing beginning two people before it's time for you to skate. It's important to choreograph two people before you compete, one person before you compete, while you are waiting to skate out, and right before your music. Elements in your pre-competition ritual could include, visualization, positive self-talk, breathing, timers, arm sets, walk- throughs, and drills. Practice your pre-competition ritual in practice t at least one week before the meet.

Exercise: Pre-Competition Ritual

On a piece of paper, write out your pre-competition ritual for both your long and short programs. Be sure to include two people before you compete, one person before you compete, while you are waiting to skate out, and before your music. Write out what you are doing (stretching, walk-throughs, staying warm, deep breathing, visualization), and what you are thinking (corrections, "I can do this", "relax", "just like practice"). Practice your Pre-Comp Ritual at your lesson by imagining it is two people before your time, one person, and waiting for them to call your name. The more you practice pressure situations, the more your body will feel "been there, done that"!

Countdown to Competition Week #1:
Expect it, Act it.

It's one week before the competition. If you've done these steps your mind should be pretty tight. You should be doing mental choreography during each program. You should be doing mental rehearsal and off ice walk-throughs every day. You should be pulling your mind back with your one-point anchor whenever it gets off course. And finally, you should be acting like your Vision in every practice. Now it's time to put it all together.

As an athlete moves toward the end of competition season, there is a shift. A shift into flow, a shift into performing on automatic pilot. The mentally tough skater is doubtless. He or she does not simply hope they are going to succeed, but knows they are going to succeed. They do not rest their mind on wanting to perform their best, but expecting to perform their best. This shift from hope to know and want to expect is a true sign of the mentally strong skater. Other athletes see it in him, stand in awe of it, and wish they had it. That is the difference between an athlete who hopes to skate clean and an athlete that knows they are going to skate clean.

How is an athlete different that expects it clean? What is their face look like as they are preparing to perform? How do they walk, and stand waiting? How do they acknowledge other athletes? Is their performance actually different? How do they finish?

Think about a time you knew you were going to skate clean. There was nothing that could take you out of your zone. What did you feel like? Take some time now to remember that time with all of your senses. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and most importantly, how you felt inside your body. What did you notice in that experience? What did you not notice at all? Take a mental photograph of that moment. Use it as you work on this skill and as you complete the drill below.

Remember, the strong athlete is not surprised by perfect performance. They expect it. And with that expectation, is the effortless we see in all great athletes.

We will use the term "Expect it" to indicate the attitude of no doubt that you are going to skate well. Sometimes you feel the "Expect it" feeling naturally, sometimes it is something purposely created, sometimes it's something you fake. Even when you don't feel perfectly confident you need to act like you do. 80% of feeling confident comes from acting confident. Even faking it if you need to. Think about a time you knew you were going to skate perfectly clean.

Exercise: Expect it, Act it!

During practice this week focus on showing an Expect It attitude. Show confidence in the way you walk, warm up, train, and perform your programs. Fake it if you have to. Pay attention to details. Pay attention to your emotions in your programs. Don't settle for a lack of excellence from fingers to blades.

These tools will help you feel confident and train your mind in order to compete your best. Remember, the key on competition day is letting go and having fun. On the day of the competition, know you have prepared as much as you can and go into the competition with an air of confidence and excitement. You've worked hard, now is the time to let it shine. Remember to "Expect it and Act it". Good luck, and most importantly, have fun.

Alison Arnold Ph.D: Awakener; Fear liberator; sparkplug. Sport psychology consultant for USA Gymnastics and United States Figure Skating. Featured sport psychology consultant for International Gymnast magazine. Presenter at the 5th International Olympic Committee Congress on Sport Science held in Sydney,Australia. Tamer of the Monkey-mind, 10 years in clinical practice. Spent 10 weeks studying the mind with the Masters in Nepal. Former life: College gymnast. Current passion: Helping atheltes create their dreams and keeping coaches from going crazy.