Dr. Cohn had a chance to spend 30 minutes with Mario Andretti via the phone to ask him about the importance of a good mental game and attitude in racing.
Mario was happy to share his experience on the importance of confidence, focus, desire, and teamwork in a racer’s success!
I was surprised that Mario talked about mental preparation for races and anticipating challenges he may face on the track. I consider this type of mental preparation a more advanced mental game skill, which is called “anticipate and cope.” The best athletes in the world are able to foresee the future and predict what might happen in competition that could cause athletes to get derailed mentally.
Here is a quote I’d like to share with you:
“I think it is important to have an instinct for things but also what is very important is to be able to try to read potential trouble situations. Such as, all of a sudden you are coming into a lot of traffic and guys are dicing all over the place and you figure I wonder what the heck is going to happen here – what if this happens, that happens? So you have to be vigilant sometimes you can’t help yourself you can’t just go in there blind with the attitude everything is going to be all right, ‘no way is he going to come down on me’. You have to think of the worst possible scenario and be able to react to it so you can save your self.” ~Mario Andretti
This mental preparation strategy, which you can use long before the competition, is to anticipate probable challenges and develop coping reactions to handle these situations. Sport competitions are not played in a vacuum. Stuff does happens. For this reason, you need to be prepared when stuff happens to you. Your goal is to prepare yourself to react with composure when something unexpected or unpredicted happens, which could distract you at the very least. I ask my students to anticipate several distractions that may occur.
Examples of challenges to anticipate include difficult weather conditions, unfair officiating, rude spectators, psych-out attempts from competitors, poor play, bad luck and unexpected equipment problems.
The goal is to prepare to cope with any challenge, instead of being surprised by various obstacles or distractions. This strategy can even help you become better with your mental game. For example, if you know what the triggers are that cause you to lose focus or become distracted then you can better prepare your mind to refocus when you are distracted. This strategy can be applied to applying others mental skills as well.
The first step in this mental preparation skill is to write down on paper any situations you can anticipate, such as distractions or emotional triggers, which may present challenges during competition. You can start by thinking back to past competitions. At what times did you get pulled out of the zone and get distracted?
Looking into your “crystal ball” to anticipate potential challenges is only half the strategy. The most important task is to develop a coping strategy for each scenario you listed in step 1. The goal is to react with confidence, focus and composure.
I teach a simple coping mechanism that helps students recognize a distraction and refocus quickly on their task called the Three Rs. The Three R’s (Recognize-Regroup-Refocus) gives you a framework to get back on task when you get distracted.
Anticipation and cope strategy gives you a mental edge, knowing that you have prepared yourself to react confidently when challenged. Anticipation and coping is a critical part of the mental preparation package.