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In Sports, Mind Can Matter

By Carol Krucoff
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 6, 1998; Page Z20

When Arnold Schwarzenegger does barbell curls he visualizes his biceps as mountains that are "not just big, but HUGE," he writes in "The Encyclopedia of Modern Body Building" (Fireside, 1985). "The more intense the imagery you use, the more energy you can summon up. Where the mind goes, the body will follow."

Visualizing success is one of the most common mental training techniques used by elite athletes. Here are some other "mind games" sports psychologists recommend:

* Focus on doing your best, rather than on winning. Fixating on the score is likely to make you tighten up. It's better to concentrate on the task at hand.

* Recite mental cues like "balanced and centered" or "breathe" to help banish unsettling thoughts and redirect your mind to the process of playing the game.

* Concern yourself only with what you can control. You can't change the weather or who comes to watch, so let those thoughts go.

* Use positive reminders: It's better to think "arms in tight" rather than "don't let elbows stick out."

* Treat unwanted thoughts like smelly, rotten potatoes and mentally throw them as far away as possible.

* Remain inwardly focused. Imagine background noise as tap water, and if it bothers you turn off the tap.

* Have faith in yourself. Continue to play as if you're going to win, even if all evidence is against it.

* Train properly. Mental techniques won't help you if you lack skill.

* Don't be worried about being worried. Most great athletes get nervous and learn to love the challenge of testing themselves. Nervousness is what releases the adrenaline to help you perform your best.

* Keep the game in perspective. It's exciting, it's important, it's fun--and it's a game. The sun will rise again tomorrow no matter what happens.

* Remember, the thrill of competition is one of life's peak experiences. If you want to feel ordinary, stay home.

   
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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