Rushall, B. S. (1995). This excerpt is the rationale for: Exercise 7.3 "Establishing Contest Site Mind Sets" in Rushall, B. S. (1995). Mental Skills Training for Sports (pp. 7.17-7.19). Spring Valley, CA: Sports Science Associates.


How an athlete should act at a contest site is a frequently discussed topic, but one which has been subjected to little investigation. Most coaches have their personal recipe for what should be done. Some research has described what champion athletes do to prepare themselves for an important competition for the duration of the time at the contest site. This exercise describes those behaviors and activities as being a model for emulation.

Everything that is done at the competition site should be planned. This is where competition performances can be affected dramatically by seemingly insignificant events. The initial activities that occur after arriving at the venue will "set the stage" for the activities to follow.

There are some assumptions that underlie the proposals contained in this exercise. They are as follows.

  1. The duration of the time at the contest site should be spent in athlete preparation, not in recreational activities such as, watching other performers and socializing with out-of-sport friends.
  2. The activities and thoughts that are pursued should be planned and practiced.
  3. The activities and length of time of the preparation vary considerably between individuals, which means that team sport preparations have to accommodate this diversity rather than stifling them under the concept of the "team."
  4. An athlete's preparation should manifest certainty, positivism, a gradual narrowing of focus, and a path leading to the most desirable readiness state.
  5. There are two stages to on-site competition preparation. The first is warming-up and establishing a mind-set, and the second is a contest build-up routine. Figure 7.3.1 illustrates this concept and its major features.
  6. For each activity an objective outcome (thought, feeling, or performance level) should be planned. Progression through this phase is determined by attaining these experiential outcomes.

The preparatory behaviors and thoughts have to be acceptable, appropriate, and effective. An athlete's intention should be to eventually construct a script of mental and physical behaviors that will always result in the best readiness state at the contest start. Thus, activities should be planned to attain certain objectives. Their practice at training should produce consistent athlete experiences, perceptions, and confidence in their benefits.

An athlete's experiences during on-site preparations have to be self-controlled. Precautions need to be taken to minimize the occurrence of negative emotional events. This is achieved by having athletes only concerned with their activities during this preparatory stage. Athletes should be shielded as much as possible from emotional involvement with others. This requirement leads to a number of concerns.

  1. Athletes should not be encouraged or required to watch other performers. If they vicariously identify with another unsuccessful person or team, then that empathy can be a significant negative event at this most critical stage of psychological preparation. For example, if a young gymnast watches her "idol" fall off a piece of apparatus, her self-efficacy is likely to be negatively impacted. Another example, occurs when a first grade team watches, usually under the guise of team spirit, a minor grade team lose. The more severe the loss, the greater will be the negative impact. As a rule-of-thumb, it is best to have athletes not watch any performance prior to their contest. That will serve to minimize the negative potential of the watching behavior.
  2. There should be an attempt to keep athletes away from individuals lacking in knowledge about good preparatory procedures and thoughts. Such a group includes friends from outside of the sport, parents and relatives, the press, and opponents. This isolation will reduce the likelihood of inappropriate distractions, personal interactions, and participation in "psyching-out" games. These disruptive events should be avoided.
  3. Each athlete should consciously consider how, when, and who they will interact with during the total preparatory period at the contest site.

The behaviors and thoughts that occur should be predictable in their effect. This can only be achieved if every preparation for an important competition starts from a baseline or standard state (a set of feelings and thoughts). Thus, a procedure should be devised that first attempts to achieve a set level of readiness that is the same no matter when or where the competition is. It then proceeds with deliberate activities that gradually increase competition readiness, narrow the focus of attention, increase the degree of isolation, and physically and mentally prepare the athlete in the most desirable manner possible.

The content of the warm-up and mind-set routine includes:

  1. a starting event which usually embraces inactive positive mental imagery,
  2. general metabolic, specific metabolic, and specific task warm-ups,
  3. maintenance of the warmed state,
  4. mental activities that are task-specific, and
  5. coping procedures for unique situational events.

An athlete should not plan on how much work or how many repetitions of each activity should be performed. The quantity of preparatory activities is influenced by factors such as climate, atmosphere, and the physical state of the athlete when arriving at the site. Thus, progress through a preparatory stage should be governed by attaining performance standards and feelings, not by completing absolute quantities of exercises.

The following steps require an athlete to decide upon the content of these important factors. Decisions should be evaluated under simulated and real conditions with a view to eventually producing an ideal form of initial contest preparation that prepares an athlete mentally and physically.

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