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Mental training for competitive athletes and leaders

By 
Mindfulife
|
06/07/2022

In this episode, Tonka and Philipp talk to Christoph Herr. In the podcast, he discusses mental training and how internal and external perspectives, as well as dream observation, play a role in this. Chris has been self-employed in the field of sports psychology for three years. He works with competitive athletes, including with the DFB, on their mental competence so that they can call on their best performance when they need it. In addition, topics such as sports psychology in the professional world and the similarities between competitive athletes and managers will be touched on.

Overview - What is the conversation with Christoph Herr about?

  • What is mental training and how does it work?
  • What role do visualization, inner and outer perspectives, and dream observation play in mental training?
  • How does mental training translate to the field of leadership development?
  • What are the parallels and differences between competitive athletes and leaders?
  • Which mental training methods can a private person already incorporate into his or her everyday life?
  • What role do routines play in personal well-being and how can they help and hinder us?

Mental training and its value in competitive sport

Chris summarises the core principle of sports psychology as follows: How can I access my performance when I need it? For this, it is fundamental to be healthy and able to perform, as well as to sort out one's own thoughts. Although the physical, technical and tactical components of a competitive sport represent a fundamental basis, which is accordingly trained the most, the role that the head plays as a sub-area of the complex should not be underestimated in the success of an athlete. This is where mental training comes into play, which is an essential aspect of sports psychology. 

Through the practice of visualisation, a competitive athlete imagines situations in his mind's eye in which he is faced with a challenge, for example. These then go through the mind - and as specifically as possible, because the more precisely you can imagine a circumstance, the better prepared you will be when it occurs.  In order to be able to do this shortly before the decisive moment, training is indeed necessary, which is why such visualisations should be repeated frequently. This can be done together with an expert as well as practised alone at home. Ultimately, the goal of mental training is for a competitive athlete to feel well prepared for all eventualities of a competition.

In the field of visualisation, a further distinction is made between the so-called internal and external perspective. Whereas the internal perspective describes imagining from the mind's eye, the external perspective is used to view and go through important processes externally. This can be done with the help of screens, helmet cameras and also VR-based training, which is becoming an increasingly important topic, especially in football. For Chris, however, it is clear that the internal perspective is best suited for mental training, as it allows the competitive athlete to experience a process more directly and therefore to think about it more deeply.  

Mentales Training hilft durch Visualisierung, sich auf anstehende Herausforderungen vorzubereiten.

An additional aspect of sports psychology involves keeping a diary for the purpose of dream observation. This involves logging the quality of an athlete's sleep, as this is crucial for personal performance, as well as observing the processes in the subconscious mind to determine what is particularly bothering you and what needs to be worked on. 

Methods of sports psychology in the corporate world

Another area of activity in which Chris teaches his clients the principles of sports psychology is leadership development and management consultancy, as mental training generally benefits anyone who has a high performance demand. 

Methods learned here include maintaining resilience under high performance pressure, burnout prevention and dealing well with stressful situations. The practice of visualisation as a preparation for such challenges, in combination with the so-called if-then rule, offers a manager or an employee the chance to not only think about the dangers of worst-case scenarios, but to come up with a plan and thereby gain security. 

In the area of leadership development, the topics of coaching, team building and conflict management are also readily addressed by taking a closer look at and referencing various coaching personalities and team-based competitive sports. Chris emphasises that a leadership role in any culture ultimately means guiding and inspiring people - and in this respect there is a lot to learn from competitive sport.  

Chris distinguishes between the following two types among both managers and competitive athletes: On the one hand, there are those who are afraid of failure, avoid challenges and should make self-strengthening an issue. On the other hand, we find those people who have hope for success and are confident in all things, but often tend to use bad luck as an excuse for their own failure and stop being constructive. 

While the topic of change management is very present in the business world, factors such as competition and meeting self-imposed expectations often have a greater impact in sport. However, since for Chris these differences are not always fixed, he would not differentiate so much between the areas of competitive sport and business; ultimately, only the context changes. 

Mental training tips for everyday life

Everyone struggles with challenges, but we can use supportive mental training techniques to counteract negative thoughts and influences. Chris recommends, for example, writing down things that went well three times a day, having positive self-talk from time to time and finding inner peace with the help of meditation and mindfulness.   

Routines and rituals can also be a good means of stabilisation, as long as one does not become dependent on them and always keeps conscious of why one uses them. Routines are primarily meant to give us security and are used to make us aware of things. 

Something that is particularly close to Chris' heart in these difficult times is a benevolent approach to each other. This can be an enormous help in dealing with negative experiences, thinking more positively and recharging important resources.

Interested?

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