Hello, and welcome back to Brain in the Game. Brain in the Game is a podcast that's been specifically designed for athletes, coaches, and parents looking to do their sport just that little bit smarter. And I'm your host, Dave Diggle.
In this episode 95, we're going to look at how athletes can panic at big events. Now you're probably wondering, Dave, what are you doing walking down an old abandoned railway track? Well, today's podcast, we're going to look at how we stay on track. And so I thought this was a really cool place to do the filming for this podcast. We're also going to use a lot of visual imagery. So if you're listening to this on your normal streaming service, you might want to jump over to smartmind.com and watch it on our site or check it out on YouTube.
There's a whole plethora at the moment of international competitions of our athletes competing on the world stage. We've just had the FIFA Women's World Cup for football/soccer in Australia. We've got the Rugby World Championship happening now in France for the men. We've just had the Gymnastics World Championships in Belgium. And we've got the cricket happening at the moment in India.
There's a lot of international sports. There's a lot of our athletes competing on the world stage. The tracks we're walking along here are a metaphor for how do I stay on track in those big competition moments? Everything that we do, every skill that we learn, if we think about it like laying railway tracks, the better the track, the straighter the track, the more robust the track is, the more likely we are to stay on track when we're performing.
We talked before in Episode 94 about the three key things to perform under pressure. One of those was understanding your blueprint. The clearer you are with your blueprint, your tracks, the more reliable you are as an athlete to be able to perform. The better you embed your skill, your how, the more likely your brain is going to trust that, and under pressure, be able to perform that. That's what we're talking about here, making sure that you best understand your how, your train tracks, your process. And that happens when you're in your training. So you often hear me talk about the quality of your preparation will dictate the quality of your performance. And what we're talking about there is making sure your how, the way that you perform your skills, the way you perform your routines or execute those closed skills like kicking or whatever that is, the more likely you are under pressure to stay on track.
Let's go with that analogy. Let's keep thinking about our performance being a railway track. The better we lay those tracks, the better we can perform. I want you to use your imagination to think of these railway tracks here, if they were covered in snow. Are the tracks still there? Well, intellectually, you know they are. You know those tracks haven't been moved by the snow, but you don't get to see them as clearly, so you become a little bit more cautious. Those tracks are still there. You know they're there, but you just can't see them. What if those tracks become really deep in snow? Now, again, even though you know those tracks are there, it can make you feel really uncomfortable. And I use that word really carefully. It will make you feel uncomfortable. Intellectually, you'll know that those tracks are still there. You know that that train is still going to go along those tracks. But the fact you can't see them would find you subconsciously taking your foot off the accelerator a little bit, not necessarily trusting it the way that you normally would when you can see it.
There's an interesting thing when we're talking about mental blocks that our eyesight overrides and overwrites our memory. And what I mean by that is if we see something that doesn't make sense, what our brain will do, it will go into survival mode, and it will try and react and change what you see and how you perform based off of the information in front of you. Even if you know the right thing to do is to do A, B, and C, if you see something, your brain will override that and go, 'Yeah, no we're going to do something completely different.' And it's a survival mechanism. And it's a survival mechanism that all humans have. And what it does do, it makes us reactive. As a high-performing athlete, that's the last thing you want to be. You don't want to be reactive. You want to be responsive. You want to know that when I do this irrespective of what's going on around me, you know what? I'm going to get the outcome I want. I'm going to get a consistent performance.
So that snow over the train track, the metaphor for that is, it's like emotions over our process. If our emotions are clouding how we do what we do, it doesn't mean what we do needs to change. It just means that we're going to react to that high level of emotion, and we're probably going to not perform the way that we've prepared. The snow on the track is a really good analogy for what most athletes go through when they get pressure. Where that pressure, that emotional pressure can come from internal. We can set our own emotional pressure by saying, 'I've got to perform well. I didn't perform last time. If I don't perform this time, maybe I won't get selected or you know what? Maybe I'm just not good enough. Maybe I can't do this.' All this emotional layering is like covering our tracks with that snow.
Those emotional layers can also come from external forces too. They can be the organisation saying, 'You need to hit a certain score for you to qualify. You need to be able to perform in a certain way to be selected.' That's pressure. That's external. It can also come from our coaches. Where our coaches will say, 'I know you can do this. I've seen you do this. Why are you not doing this? You need to go out there. You need to control this. You need to be the one to fix this for the team.' All of these external pressures are normal for us to react to. Every human would.
What we want to be sure of is the layers of external pressure and internal pressure that we're applying to ourselves don't derail the train. It's perfectly normal. And then you'll hear most people say, 'Being nervous is normal.' I'm not going to say any different, being nervous is normal. In actual fact, being nervous is healthy. It means that what you're looking to achieve is important to you. And we want it to be important to you. This is not about denying that. It's what you do with that which will make the difference. If you use those nerves to change what you've done, to change what you've prepared, to react in the moment and perform differently to how you've prepared, then there's no point in laying those train tracks, is there? There's no point in building a process for consistency and replicability that you rely on. If you want to perform a certain way, we've got to train that way. We know that. As high-performing athletes, we know that we need to set our preparation expectations and build them into our training.
If we don't build those into our training, then we're going to go into a competition with doubts. 'I've not done this before. I've not performed this way before. How am I supposed to do it on the big day?' Intellectually again, we know that that's not the ideal outcome. We want to prepare, we want to train and know we can perform. That's building these train tracks.
It's easy for me to say it's normal. How do we fix it? How do we learn to push through that snow and trust those train tracks are there? The clearer we are with our how and our triggers, the consistency of our triggers, that's how we know. Also, we talk about recognition and reward being such a significant part of our training preparation. The more often you go, 'Yeah, I did that, and I got that outcome, yep that worked.' The more likely under pressure your brain is going to say to you, 'Have I been here before? Wow, what's going to happen? What do I do? Yeah, I've been here before. I know what to do. I know that the way that I perform is to trigger this. The way that I get the outcome, the consistent outcome is to trust that.' And you will, you're then more likely to perform under pressure, to be able to consistently hit your targets, irrespective of whether it's a club competition or an Olympic championships.
So learning to be able to push through that uncomfortable, to trust the process comes back down to, 'How often have I achieved that? And when I did achieve that, did I recognise that and reward that? How did I do that? What's the consistency mechanism I have built around performing this way?'
Okay, so you've listened to me talk about train tracks. You've probably watched me on this video constantly looking at my feet because it is a really old train track and there's a lot of gaps in this. But that's actually another part of this analogy that's super important to us as performers. Recognising that when we do something, there's going to be gaps. And instead of being overly focused on the gaps, you think about, 'Okay, what part of this can I rely on? When I get put under pressure, there's going to be things that don't work. What parts do I rely on? What parts of it are non-negotiable for me? I can actually do this under any situation in any kind of circumstance.' And when you do that in your training and we do the but what-if process, we've built our process to perform, we've trained it to ad nauseam to the point where you go, 'Yeah, I can do this in any situation, any scenario.' What we add into that then is, 'Yeah, but what if?' So we've got the Rugby World Cup at the moment. And in France, the weather's been wonderful. If you're a kicker, you go, 'Oh, I've done my kicking training. I know what I'm doing, but what if it rains? Okay, how do I adjust? What do I need to do to take back control? What if it becomes a really, really windy day? What do I do to take back control?' And in every sport, in every scenario, what you want to know is if something happens, I've already thought about the what-if. I've already got a solution to this. So being able to push through the uncomfortable is super critical. Knowing that those train tracks are there building that familiarity and that comfort with the fact that, 'Yeah, I know what happens here. In this scenario, I've trained it, I know I can trust it. So it doesn't matter what emotions cover the track. I've got this.'
Let me ask you, when you're performing, are you performing as a survivalist or are you performing as a strategist? And you're going to say to me, Okay, Dave, what's the difference between the two? A survivalist is somebody who's just looking to get through it. And you've probably had training sessions, probably even competitions where you go, 'I just want to get through this. I don't want to necessarily have to overthink. I just need to get to the other side.' That minimalist mindset allows you to just get through it and just to survive it, hence the name, survivalist. You've got different mindsets.
The first survivalist part of the mindset is, do I test before I trust? Now, this is somebody who is coming from a place of fear, is overly cautious, who wants everything to be proven before they can execute. And a lot of athletes, particularly when they get stressed or nervous for competitions, they want things to be exactly how they want them to be. And they think that they can't perform the way that I want to perform until I've done X amount of these before the competition. Or you know what? I've got this new venue, so I don't know if I can do my routine because I've never done it at this location before. Intellectually, we know that's not true. Of course, you can do that routine. Of course, you can do that performance. What you're looking for is proof. So you're testing before you trust, and you're coming from that place of fear, of caution.
The other survivalist mindset is, do I trust before I test? And this comes from a place of being reckless. Sometimes athletes will come from a place of, I don't know if I can control this. I'm just going to go and do it, blindly do it. And with that comes huge risk. Now, the risk can come from injury. The risk can come from making big mistakes, or the risk can come from just not performing the way that you want to perform. All those mindsets of test before you trust or trust before you test are predicated on the fact that it's about testing. It's about looking for proof. It's about you having to be convinced that you're ready.
There's a strategist mindset, and this is a much more simpler mindset, yet is much harder for athletes to feel comfortable with unless you practice and you prepare for it. So a strategist mindset is what do I need to do to get the outcome I want? It's a more control-driven mindset. It's a more metrics-controlled mindset, and it allows you to assess and enjoy rather than test.
What's the difference between test and assess? Aren't we just playing semantics with words here? The answer to that is no. A test is looking for proof. Assess is collecting data. If we're looking for proof before we take action or adequate action, then test is always something that's going to make us cautious. It's going to make us perform less than we can. If we're assessing, then the presupposition with that is we're still moving, we're still going in the right direction. I'm just collecting data. That should either challenge what I'm doing and then I have to change, or to confirm what I'm doing, which means I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and it's working.
Coming from a mindset of assess and enjoy is collecting data and recognising and rewarding. That allows us to come from a place that's still got momentum. We're still moving in the right direction and we're adjusting on the way. That is a way more productive place as a performer to come from.
We don't need to test. We don't need to stop. We just need to keep moving and keep moving in a way that we've got all the data that allows us to be in control.
Okay, so as I come to the end of this old track here, I hope you've got a lot from this episode of Brain in the Game. And recognise that the key fundamental thing here is the clearer the tracks are to you, the more you can stoke the engine. And as you get closer to that competition, closer to that performance, you can accelerate your performance and trust that it is going to stay on track. Trust that under any circumstances, in any situation, I've got this.
And so until the next episode of Brain and the Game, train smart and enjoy the ride. My name is Dave Diggle, and I'm going to head back now.