How it can help you ........ by Ng Lee Ling
  • In sport, mental skills training has increasingly been used by athletes to help them get the best out of themselves in training and competition. Frank Dick, former coach of the Great Britain Track and Field team, once said," It is mental power that sep!arates the exceptional from the very good. " In any competition, if all things are equal, the winner will often be the one with the mental edge.
    Whether you are a beginner or an aspiring Olympic sailor, you can tap on the power of your mind to improve your skills and performance.
    I have been a competitive board sailor for 4 years. During these 4 years, I have strived hard to achieve excellence in my sport. I trained hard physically and did all I can to learn the proper sailing skills and techniques. As I became a better sailor, I realized how important mental skills training has helped me to give consistent, good performances. From the sailors I've spoken to, a lot of them do not know how mental skills training can help them to achieve excellence. Mental training has also been neglected by others who do not believe in it.
    Ideal Performance State: Research has shown that the mind and body states of athletes before and during competition affect the quality of their performance. Successful athletes are those who are able to control their mind and body states to achieve what sport psychologists call " ideal performance state " or IPS for short. In this state, everything works out just right for you. You feel good and perform up to your potential. To be in this IPS, for example, you need to learn how to relax to reduce the excitement of competition, or psych yourself up when you are mentally or physically lethargic.
    Relaxation: Before going out to the start line for races, I regularly find myself anxious and excited. At times, I even feel nauseous from anxiety. To help myself attain the IPS and to relax, I take long, slow, deep breaths and center my attention on this breathing process. At the same time, I consciously let loose and feel the relaxation in all parts of my muscle, loosening them up one by one. This relaxation and centering technique is very useful to reduce the excitement of competition.
    In a recent local event known as the Quiksilver Challenge '98 , I experienced a very bad muscle ache in my major muscle groups just after the first day of racing. Knowing that I needed to rest , relax and recuperate so I could give my best in the following day's races, I made use of the breathing exercises mentioned above before I went to sleep. At the same time, I also imagined the pain flowing away like a liquid from my muscles out of my body. Surprisingly , my aches were almost gone the next day. And I did well in all my races as I could exert my muscles to the maximum.
    Imagery or visualisation is also another mental skill I frequently use to improve my board sailing techniques. I often see myself performing tacks, gybes and mark rounding perfectly in my mind's eyes before, during and after practices, or even during times when I am not able to get onto the water. Imagery can be done any time and the best thing is that the mind cannot differentiate what is real and unreal. So that means you can practice your carve gybes and duck gybes in 20 knots wind on the bus!
    During the 19th South East Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia last year, I suffered a very bad back injury just 5 days prior to the competition. For the next 3 days, I was not able to get out on the water to train. Knowing that I would lose out if I did not do any form of training, I used mental imagery skills taught in the CD entitled "In The Zone" produced by Singapore Sports Council's sport psychologist, Mr Edgar Tham, to practice my skills in my mind. When I recovered enough to get onto the water, my Australian coach, Nick Sturges, was surprised that I had not lost any form in my sailing capabilities.

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