This post is dedicated to friend/partner/fellow competitor Martina Couture:
This weekend we are going to London (Ontario) for this exciting tournament hosted by the legendary Bernardo team. We are suitably pumped, and also of course anxious. Tournaments tend to do that to us.
This is one of the last tournaments before Worlds (there's another one the weekend before we leave for Ireland), and we are anxious to do well because heck, we've been training like machines all summer and surely this ought to show somewhere, right?
At the same time, what if we find out that all even with all this training we still are the same old selves we used to be? That's where nerves come in and make a mess of your mental game.
People often misunderestimate (yes, I know - I love that word so I use it) the importance of the mental game. They look at their favourite athlete doing their thing and doing it well and think, well of course they're awesome - they train all the time and they're secretly supernatural beings from the planet MusKulo35. But it's not true. They are normal human beings who train like crazy in all kinds of ways. And like us, most of the work they need to do is the kind that happens between the ears.
That's true for a lot of things that aren't related to competitive karate. Anything we do that's a challenge for us - at work, at home, anywhere - requires a huge amount of mental work.
There's the part where you shout at yourself to train harder. Your body wants to give up, you're tired, you don't feel like it, there's a movie you want to watch, and instead you're training and sweating and there seems to be no end of it and you just want to take a break and go lie down for a minute. You know that part? You have to shout at it (some days, you have to shriek) to go away. Because you're working to get better and that's all that really matters.
There is also the stupid little voice in your head that keeps telling you what a gigantic fool you are to think you can compete with the best. Who are you kidding? You're just this ordinary person and look how awesome the other ones are. You don't belong in that ring. Go home, you silly moron.
Yes, you have to shout at this one, too. Quite a bit, and very loudly. Personally, I recommend swear words. That little voice is your enemy and the enemy will not stop until it has destroyed you. Don't let that little #^Y#@ get away with it. Show it no mercy.
Also, you need to have a strategy.
Mine for this weekend is to remind myself that I've actually done quite well in my last few tournaments - getting a bunch of second places in kata and winning two of the last three competitions in point sparring. So I'm going to walk in there like I belong because you know what? I do.
How do you strategize for a 9-year-old? I'm not inside my daughter's head, but I know her fairly well, so here's what we've been doing: For kata we have worked very hard together to make sure she has all her details right, if only to make sure she walks in there confident that she knows her stuff. For point sparring (where she has not done as well this year), she has a two-tier goal: To try to win her first fight and, failing that, to lose by fewer than four points (which is the margin she lost by last time).
When I first suggested that two-tier goal to her she breathed a huge sigh a relief. I think she was afraid I'd demand a gold medal or something, and that made her quite a bit anxious. I don't want to do that. She has been sparring a lot this summer and she is getting much better, but there is always a balance when dealing with kids between pushing them to push themselves and pushing them so much they hate their sport and you. Each kid is different and you need to know sometimes when to back off a bit.
I hope I've hit the right balance with her, and that she does well enough in London this weekend to get a solid confidence boost that will help carry her through the last bit of training before Worlds and ideally give her a sense of how she should go about hitting important targets later in life.
I'll let you know how it went.