For the tactical athlete, there is always a great deal of stress present. It starts in the preparation or training phase and continues into ‘live’ situations.
Unlike sport athletes that have an off-season, the tactical athlete doesn’t have this luxury, so state-of-mind management is even more critical. If state-of-mind is not controlled, in a positive manner, it can cause the tactical athlete to react both physically and mentally in a manner that will negatively affect their performance abilities.
They may become tense, their heart rates race, they break into a cold sweat, they worry about the outcome, and they find it hard to concentrate on the task at hand. Mental strength training to develop a warrior mindset is yet another weapon in the combat and tactical athlete’s arsenal in gaining the winning edge.
There are many components to state of mind; here are the ‘Big Four’ – concentration, confidence, control, and commitment. These are generally considered the main mental qualities that are important for successful practice and operation.
- Concentration – ability to maintain focus
- Confidence – belief in one’s abilities
- Control – ability to maintain emotional control regardless of distraction
- Commitment – ability to continue working toward agreed goals
Concentration —This is the mental quality to focus on the task at hand. If the tactical athlete lacks concentration then their abilities will not be effectively or efficiently applied to the task, and this can have deadly effects.
Research has identified the following types of attention focus:
- Broad Narrow continuum – the athlete focuses on a large or small number of stimuli
- Internal External continuum – the athlete focuses on internal stimuli (feelings) or external stimuli (the threat)
The demand for concentration varies with the situation—sustained concentration, short bursts of concentration, and intense concentration. Common distractions include anxiety, mistakes, fatigue, weather, crowd noise, teammates, superior officer, opponents, and negative thoughts.
Strategies to improve concentration are very personal. One way to maintain focus is to set process goals for each practice session. The individual will have an overall goal for which they will identify a number of process goals that will help them focus on specific aspects of the task.
For each of these goals, the athlete can use a trigger word, that instantly refocuses the individual’s concentration on the goal.
Here’s an example from sports, a sprinting technique requires the athlete to focus on being tall, relaxed, and smooth and to drive with the elbows – the trigger word could be “technique.” The tactical athlete should develop a routine for practice and live scenarios. These may include the night before, the morning of, pre-engagement and post-engagement routines. If these routines are appropriately structured then they can prove a useful aid to support and enhance concentration.
Confidence — Confidence results from the comparison a tactical athlete makes between the goal and their ability. The individual will have self-confidence if they believe they can achieve their goal.
When tactical athletes have self-confidence they will tend to: persevere even when things are not going to plan, show enthusiasm, be positive in their approach and take their share of the responsibility in success and failure.
To improve their self-confidence, an individual can use mental imagery to:
- Visualize previous good performances to remind them of the look and feel
- Imagine various scenarios and how they will cope with them
Good goal setting (challenging, yet realistic) can bring feelings of success. If the tactical athlete can see that they are achieving their short-term goals and moving towards their long-term goals then confidence grows.
Confidence is a positive state of mind and a belief that you can meet the challenge ahead – a feeling of being in control. It is not the situation that directly affects confidence; it’s the thoughts, assumptions, and expectations that can build up or destroy confidence.
High Self Confidence
- Thoughts – positive thoughts of success
- Feelings – excited, anticipation, calm, elation, prepared
- Focus – on self, on the task
- Behavior – give maximum effort and commitment, willing to take chances, positive reaction to setbacks, open to learning, take responsibility for outcomes
Low Self Confidence
- Thoughts – negative, defeat or failure, doubt
- Feelings – tense, dread, fear. not wanting to take part
- Focus – on others, on less relevant factors
- Behavior – lack of effort, likely to give up, unwilling to take risks (rather play safe at least in practice), blame others or conditions for the outcome
Control — Identifying when a tactical athlete feels a particular emotion and understanding the reason for the feelings is an important stage of helping the individual gain emotional control. A person’s ability to maintain control of their emotions in the face of adversity and remain positive is essential to successful performance. Two emotions that are often associated with poor performance are anxiety and anger.
Anxiety comes in two forms – physical (butterflies, sweating, nausea, and needing the toilet) and mental (worry, negative thoughts, confusion, and lack of concentration). Relaxation is a technique that can be used to reduce anxiety.
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When the tactical athlete becomes angry, the cause of the anger often becomes the focus of attention. This then leads to a lack of concentration on the task, performance deteriorates and confidence in ability is lost which fuels the anger – a slippery slope to failure.
Commitment — Tactical performance depends on the individual being fully committed to numerous goals over many years. In competition with these goals, the individual will have many aspects of daily life to manage. The many competing interests and commitments include work, studies, family/partner, friends, social life, and other hobbies/sports.
Within the tactical athlete’s world, commitment can be undermined by:
- A perceived lack of progress or improvement
- Not being sufficiently involved in developing the training program
- Not understanding the objectives of the training program
- Lack of enjoyment
- Anxiety about performance
- Becoming bored
- Not working as a team
- Lack of commitment by other teammates
Setting goals will raise the feelings of value, give the tactical athlete ownership of the goals, and therefore become more committed to achieving them. All goals should be SMARTER.
Many individuals can contribute to the tactical athlete’s levels of commitment with appropriate levels of support and positive feedback, especially during times of injury, illness, and poor performance.