This article will hopefully give you a greater understanding of Cognitive performance training and how it can help you in you training and/or competing.

The conference will build on this and help you address these areas in you training and/or coaching. 

We will start at the beginner level and try and address how this can be effective for you. 

I look forward to seeing you in June!

Ippon Magazine Interview with Mervyn Etienne by Michael Day / Ippon Magazine  

When I fight a boy older than me I always think he is going to beat me.  I know if I believed I could win I would. How can I change this?

Working with your coach is key to helping you break down the fear response to the older boy. They can help you fully assess your strengths and weakness and then develop a strategy to focus on your strengths on competition day and develop your weaknesses as part of a longer development plan. Usually, people get negative thoughts linked to a stressor:  it is how you deal with these negative thoughts that can impact your performance. By learning to allow these negative thoughts to come and go through relaxation and mindfulness training, you can reduce the mental and physical tension that affects your performance. This is a skill that has to be practiced on a regular basis so that it becomes reflexive like a physical skill. Rehearse success : think of times when you have performed well during competition, especially when you were up against what you thought was a stronger or better opponent. Spend say 3  minutes (this duration could alter with experience or available time) recalling situations when you have fought at your best – feel what it felt like – hear what you heard at the time and visualise what you saw.  Try 3 * 3 mins a day  for four days in a week and see how you feel after the 4 weeks. 

I struggle to sleep the night before how can I change this

Relaxation training is a good technique for reducing pre competition anxiety  –  whilst laying on a floor or sitting in a chair spend 5 mins gradual working through your body, starting at the top of your head, relaxing the muscles in each of the major parts of the body : head, neck shoulders, each arm independently, writsts, fingers, upper back, lower back , chest , abdominals , legs independently, upper , lower and finally toes.Try this every other day; once during the day and just before going to sleep. During training I’m relaxed and feel sharp but when I compete I feel tight and slow what techniques can I use to fight relaxed.  This is usually associated with excessive tension through anxiety – the technique that I talked about in the first section – see and feel yourself performing well under pressure – maintaining the relaxation that you have during maximum effort drills in your training sessions. 

How can I be more confident in my ability?
By incorporating the above training methods in your training program and performing the exercises correctly and regularly –  you will see improvements in your ability to execute techniques under stress and as a result, your confidence will be developed through positive feedback.

I read in your last article before about visualisation.  Can you explain this method?
If someone asked you to remember the best technique you have ever thrown – you could probably remember it: maybe as a moving image. You could be in the image executing the technique or outside observing yourself throw it. This is essentially visualisation, we can also generate imaginary episodes that activate similar brain regions that are actually used when you actually perform the skill. By practising visualisation you can learn techniques faster, brain regions activated by the physical act of kicking, say, will become activated when we visualise kicking. The skill you are visualising has to have correct form – if you practice poor form in your visualisation session it will be similar to practising poor form in a purely physical drill.   

I have never competed but would like too, how can I prepare for my first competition?
 Go to competition and watch – get as close to the action as possible – watch people prepare especially watch those who are good fighters. Getting close will put you in touch with the emotions that are present in fighting. You will see that everyone is trying at some level to control their emotions. 

I always struggle to come back from a losing position where am I going wrong?
Do you panic or give up when you are in that position or is it something else – you need to identify what the source of the problem is. Once you have identified the problem you can use cognitive training to transform that feeling into positive behaviour, e.g,  becoming calm – staying focused  – altering or selecting an appropriate strategy to start winning points back.

How do I keep external worries from affecting my focus on my goals?

By learning to focus on the present moment – simple to say but difficult to implement. This skill requires ongoing training with the same level of commitment that learning a new physical technique requires hours of practice – so does the development of attentional stability and control.  In fact – when we learn a new physical skill – the coordination of the movements are performed in the brain with the motor cortex and the other frontal brain regions significantly involved. Why is emotion the biggest aspect of performance?

Emotions are fundamental to action – when you are angry it drives you to behave in specific ways which can negatively impact performance if not managed correctly – that management process is facilitated by  cognitive control mechanisms that are located in the frontal regions of the brain.  By learning to balance cognitive control with emotional responses we can maximise our performance.  World Champions balance cognition and emotion in a highly skilled manner on the mat.   

What exercises could I go through as part of my warm up to help deal with my nerves?

Focusing and attention exercises that help development of emotional control are foundational to disengaging from negative recurring thoughts that create stress and anxiety – there is a need for a degree of stress for the system to become aroused enough to deal with the threat (other competitors in this case), but not so much as it impacts peak performance. (Thank you to Ippon Magazine for allowing us to reprint this article)

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