Mental preparedness in athletics


Julia Goldberg, Staff Writer

Tackling an opponent, speeding down a snowy mountain, and shooting an arrow all require physical preparation,but they also require mental preparedness, which athletes can build through a routine. “Mental strength is super important because you’re being knocked down again, again, and again,” rugby player Catherine Mignone (10) said. “You have to have that mental and physical strength to stand back up and keep going.”
Confidence isn’t explicitly taught in rugby, but rather is learned over the course of an athlete’s career, Mignone said. In order to build trust in herself, Mignone, who plays year-round, has grown to develop traditions for her game days. “Routine often lends confidence, and in a performance sport, confidence is really important,” she said. “Having that routine, saying ‘okay, this works, it’s going to work again, I’ve got this,’ is incredible to have.”
Because Mignone is slightly iron deficient, prior to competing, she ensures that her iron levels are sufficient and that she is properly hydrated, she said. In fact, she begins her checkups the week before a match, she said.
Mignone has also paid close attention to how her body reacts to certain foods and drinks and developed her game day diet accordingly, she said. As opposed to Gatorade, Mignone feels most energized after having other forms of electrolytes as well as protein shakes and Snickers bars. In fact, Mini Snickers have become a lucky charm for her, she said.
Though skier Emma Djoganopoulos (11) does not have any lucky charms, she has developed a routine for her competitions outside of school: the night prior, she watches videos of pro skiers to ensure she’s thinking about her technique properly and feeling excited, she said.
The morning of her race, Djoganopoulos drives to the lodge, where she and her team spend time together before competing, she said. “Being with the team is really good because we’re all super supportive of one another,” she said. “It’s nice to have that structure.”
After her race, Djoganopoulos said that she stays at the bottom of the hill to cheer for her teammates. Then, to close out the day of racing, she and her father head off to their favorite coffee shop, Coffee Bar, which Djoganopoulos always looks forward to visiting. The time she spends with her father, as well as her teammates, always boosts her spirits, she said.
Ethan Waggoner (10), a three season runner, has also developed his own routine before competitions to prepare himself mentally,which is especially important as a mid-distance runner, he said. “I know before a race if I’m not feeling it, I get inside my head and I can completely tear apart my race, no matter how physically strong I am,” Waggoner said. “For long distance, I think it’s just [about] not giving up. You think to yourself, ‘why am I doing this? Why am I here?’ But you can’t give in; you have to keep on going and you have to try to win.”
To prepare himself, Waggoner typically listens to music on the bus ride to meets—his personal favorites are rap and Panic! at the Disco, he said. Waggoner also watches what he eats; typically, on meet days during the week, he’ll have pasta at lunch, and before weekend meets, he’ll make a peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwich, he said.
Prior to racing, Waggoner warms up by running laps outside of the Armory. Often, other runners give him strange looks for running in shorts outside during the winter, he said. “But that’s what I do to get as loose as I can. It’s my personal thing,” Waggoner said.
The night before a meet, Waggoner also envisions the race ahead of him. “My coaches help me map out where I need to take it hot and where I need to stick with the pack. Personally, I like to visualize every part of the race and nitpick what I should be doing,” he said.
Similarly to Waggoner, Mignone’s team practices visualization—but of specific plays. This process is especially important for Mignone, who is the fly-half on her team and, as such, decides what plays will be made and when. “I always have to visualize ahead of time what I want our plays to look like in order to get the ball down the field in the fastest, most efficient way,” she said.
For archer Louise Kim (9), visualization, often referred to as image training, is also a common practice. The technique is practiced by top archers hundreds of times a day, and Kim herself practices it around once or twice a week, she said.
“You can stand or you can sit down, and you visualize yourself and all five of your senses.” Kim said. “You see and feel your form—how you’re drawing the bow and all of the aspects of the shot process—and then you shoot your arrow, and you visualize it landing into the ten [which is the center]. It grows your confidence of your shot.”
According to a study Kim read by the Korea Institute of Sports Science, archery is around 50 percent a physical sport and 50 percent a mental sport, she said. “Sometimes, if I get one bad arrow, that can mess up a few rounds of shooting just because I’m so nervous about where the arrows are going.”
If Kim misses an arrow, she tries her best to focus on her future shots instead of fixating on the past, she said.
To keep herself calm, Kim also prays during her competitions. In outdoor competitions, there are 12 ends—a group of six arrows—in one round, and before each end, she makes the sign of the cross. “It makes me more confident and more at peace because I have something that keeps me anchored to the entire routine or process, even when I’m feeling nervous,” Kim said. “It also gives me an opportunity to connect to my religious identity and [a belief that] there is a metaphysical identity watching over me.”
As long as she is in control of her own thoughts, she can feel confident, Kim said. “My coaches, my parents, and I just remind myself that all I have to do is focus on the next arrow.”