Rushall, B. S. (1995). This excerpt is the rationale for: Exercise 8.5 "Special Considerations" in Rushall, B. S. (1995). Mental Skills Training for Sports (pp. 8.31-8.32). Spring Valley, CA: Sports Science Associates.


There are a number of sports in which it is not appropriate to engage in relevant thought content for the total competitive performance. In those activities two types of thoughts not related to performance might need to be included in planned strategy content.

Diversionary thinking. There are sporting events that are of such an extended nature that it is not advisable to focus on the task at hand for the total activity. Some examples are the Iditarod Trail Race in Alaska, the Ultraman triathlon in Hawaii, the Whitbread Round The World Sailing Race, and ultra-distance running races.

Attempts to concentrate on planned task-relevant strategy elements for the entirety of ultra-events can produce mental fatigue that becomes detrimental as the event progresses. Top ultra-event performers alternate their concentration between batches of task-relevant thoughts and diversionary (irrelevant) thoughts. The switch to distractive thoughts gives the mind a respite from intense concentration. The length of these "mental holidays" depends upon the individual, the duration of the event, and the opportunities to engage in them.

Diversionary thought segments should not be totally unrelated to the activity. They usually involve such things as analyzing the beauty of the scenery, evaluating the positive aspects of the current experience, and concentrating on past features of the event that have been very positive. Such thoughts should be at least remotely associated with the activity but not the adjacent task-relevant segments. They should be positive and enjoyable. The timing of these mental rests should be in accord with the activity demands. They should mainly occur when extended sections of the event are easy, repetitive, and entail low risks. Diversionary mental activity is important for maintaining the mental vigor of the performer, particularly in the later stages of an event.

The content of diversionary segments should be planned in much the same way as task-relevant material. Even though the thought intensity and demands are reduced, being planned, they still require the athlete to be self-controlled. There is no place in any competitive event for self-control to be totally relinquished. Diversionary segments should be interspersed among relevant segments. They should be initiated early in an event as a means of preventing fatigue rather than waiting until fatigue occurs and then trying to correct it. The frequency of changes between the two attentional focuses should be sufficient to prevent mental fatigue.

Risk analysis. Some sporting tasks, environments, and climates are hostile to performers. For example, weather in long distance sailing events can produce dangerous sea conditions and task demands for solo racers. Cold weather and water immersion pose continual threats to an individual's well being. The nature of performance risks and potential consequences is a subjective appraisal and is different for each athlete.

Equipment functioning is another performance feature that has to be monitored. If equipment condition determines the safety of performer (e.g., a yacht in ocean racing, the dogs and sled in a trail race) then it has to be evaluated as frequently as do environmental threats.

In a competitive performance, monitoring and assessing the degree of threat to an individual's well being has to be done frequently. When persons become totally involved in a performance they often become desensitized to changes in terrain, climate, or other potential threats. Assessments of performer status should use as many objective measures as possible to counteract subjective distortions. Analysis routines should be thorough and detailed.

Risk analysis procedures should be formulated as segments and planned for use among task-relevant and diversionary segments. When altered risk situations are recognized, coping behaviors (see Exercise 8.7) should be enacted.

Diversionary and risk analysis segments have to be planned and implemented in a manner similar to that required for task-relevant segments. The steps for planning are listed below.

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