“The game is 90% mental, the other half is physical.” Yogi Berra
No matter where you are in your agility journey, mental preparation is paramount to your success. You can train your agility skills and run courses at home again and again, but if you cannot prepare your mind for battle on the field your growth will be restricted.
“When you’re riding, only the race in which you’re riding is important.” Bill Shoemaker
Everyone will be different in how they approach preparing their mind for an agility competition, but like most sports, I have found there to be similarities and themes in successful handler’s routines and preparations for major events. Mental preparation is not only on the day of the competition but also in the months/weeks leading up to the event. In this blog, I am going to share some of the mental hacks and preparations that took place on the run up to WAO and that I use for most events.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
I often get asked ‘how can you stick to such a strict routine and how do you fit mindset work into your day?’ The answer is simple, it is not a task that I have to fit into my day but rather it is a formed habit that the rest of my day works around. Most of us commit to some form of exercise and schedule time to work on our fitness, mindset work should be no different. If we want to improve our mental skills we must practice them and create time for them like we do physical exercise, your muscles won’t get stronger without commitment to the gym, the brain is no different, the mind cannot get stronger and your mindset techniques cannot develop without practice.
‘All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” Buddha
Meditation has been a key contributor to my agility performance, the term often puts people off so I tell my students to think of it as mindset training instead. I have been meditating every day now for 3 years, before this, my nerves could get the better of me.
Now I step on the line, and although I still get nerves (I would be worried I didn’t love agility anymore if I didn’t!) they are under control and I am in flow state. Now I’m going to get a little bit geeky here, when we perform our 30-second agility runs we want our minds to enter flow, this is when our mind is completely in the zone and 100% focused on your run. If you are in flow during your run, you should feel supercharged and feel ‘high’ as 5 neurochemicals are released simultaneously into your brain- this is why agility is so addictive! Another important factor of being in flow for an agility run is transient hypofrontality takes place.
This simply means that for a short period your prefrontal cortex is less active, the reason this is important for peak agility performance is that it stops you second-guessing your decisions so you can make split-second decisions and it switches off self-awareness. So, when people ask me ‘are you nervous about people watching?’ or ‘do you get embarrassed?’, the answer is no because I am completely in a flow state and my self-awareness is limited and doubting is turned off.
“Visualize what you want to do before you do it. Visualization is so powerful that when you know what you want, you will get it.” Audrey Flack
This is why creating techniques and regular mindset work is so important, you want to be able to enter flow when you step on that line. On the build-up to WAO, my 20-minute meditation session increased to twice a day- one first thing in the morning before I have completed any tasks and the other at night when winding down for bed.
My evening meditation session would also be followed by a small visualisation session, this is another element I help my online students with. I have found Vipassana meditation to be the most beneficial for myself, this form of meditation is observation based through paying attention to physical sensations and the breath. On arrival to the Netherlands, this routine continued and even on competition days, I ensure I wake with enough time to complete my meditation routine.
“I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.” Serena Williams
Meditation has not only helped me prepare prior to a run, but it also has helped me recover from those loses or ‘what if’ moments that we all have in agility. The breathing techniques and mindset of being present rather than lost in the mind have allowed to return to a neutral state much quicker than I once did when I started my agility journey.
“We may encounter many defeats, but we must never be defeated.” Maya Angelou
Journaling has also played a huge role in focusing my mind and has helped bring clarity in those times of disappointment. If perhaps an agility run doesn’t go to plan, I return to my van and complete my ‘run review’ document which I created to help get clarity post run as we all know the mind likes to distort our experience. I will watch my run back and objectively complete the document to find out the real reasons why the run didn’t go as planned. I provide this document to my online students who are working on their pre/post-run routine. This is just an example, it is important to tailor your recovery from a run to yourself, but it is super important to find a replacement behaviour to interrupt those emotions when things don’t work out.
“Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it.” Mia Hamm
Music, music, music! Music has helped me prepare and recover from more runs than I can count. Your playlist for competing should not be rigid but rather it should adapt to how you feel on the day. I have multiple playlists including motivational speeches, hip hop, pop and meditation music but there are some days when I need to listen to a podcast or even just have silence. The are no rules, experiment and find several genres that work for you but have them prepared and ready to go in competition so you don’t have to flick through unwanted songs!
“Where words fail, music speaks.” ― Hans Christian Andersen
Look out for the last blog in this WAO series which will provide some fitness advice and diet hacks for those long agility days. I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes…
“Some people want it to happen, some people wish it to happen, others make it happen”- Micheal Jordon