Several years ago I was competing in a martial arts tournament. It was my turn to perform my selected pattern. The format had me and a competitor doing our patterns side by side in front of the judges. I was super-prepared and had been working for months in preparation for this moment. Halfway through my form, I completely blanked out and had no idea what move was next. I paused as long as I could and then went into a closed stance. Within a few moments, my competitor did the same thing! He froze! We were allowed to start over and I did it again! I froze halfway through. While frustrating in the moment, this experience was a great lesson in the mental aspect of competition. Clearly, winning is not only about physical preparation.
Since that time I have had the opportunity to work with high school and college athletes in a range of sports. What I have found is that they all share certain qualities. Sustained effort, attention, timing, flexibility, adaptability, creativity, the ability to manage emotional reactions….these skills are essential to all types of high-level athletic performance. In combination with traditional athletic training, athletes at any level can learn to enhance these qualities through the use of technologies that focus on the mind/body connection.
In my role as a psychologist, I have incorporated a variety of technology-based strategies into my work including heart rate variability biofeedback and Interactive Metronome. Through different mechanisms each of these strategies give the athlete immediate feedback on their mind and body, providing them with a way to re-train patterns that inhibit their performance.
Peak Performance skills that may be developed through biofeedback and IM include:
Focus, attention, concentration
Problem solving, creativity
One of the strategies I use is called Interactive Metronome (IM). This movement based strategy gives athletes immediate feedback on how accurate their movements are in relation to a digitized metronome. This is the most direct training I have ever seen to help people of all ages improve their rhythm, timing, focus and coordination in a single activity. It is fascinating that athletes from many different sports find that the basic exercises improve their performance even though the movement itself is not specific to their sport. This seems to show that this type of mind-body training is developing the entire system to respond more efficiently. Research findings and personal experience indicate benefits for sports as diverse as football, baseball, golf, tennis, track and field and soccer. In fact, my introduction to IM came at a technology conference where a former professional baseball player, Sean Casey, talked about his long-term use of IM along with other technologies. He was able to directly link his batting average to the use of IM. The more consistent he practiced, the higher his batting average. However, most of the research in this area has been with golfers.
Several studies have been published examining the impact of IM training on golf performance. These studies consistently show that rhythm and timing training with IM leads to improvements in shot accuracy. This occurs with as little as 10 hours of training. Clearly the difference between being good and being great sometimes comes down to milliseconds of response time.
Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback (HRV) is another tool frequently used by elite athletes to help them stay in a state of flow. Because golf is such an individual sport with a great deal of time between shots, there are many opportunities for thoughts and emotional reactions to hijack your game. Biofeedback tools such as those available from the Institute of Heartmath allows the athlete to receive real-time feedback on the way their nervous system is responding. By using biofeedback technology, you can learn how to increase your self-awareness and manage those thoughts and emotional reactions, getting into a state of balance and allowing you to perform at your peak.