“In the Olympic games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game.”
-Shannon Miller (Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics)
If you want to reach a high level of performance, especially in nail-biting competition, how you approach the game mentally is critical. Whether it’s getting your mechanics nailed down to an automatic level, not having nerves during competition or simply finding your motivation to improve and train hard, these tips will put you on the right track for mental success.
Make Your Physical Game Automatic
Have you ever seen a musician effortlessly play through a complicated song? Ever notice that he or she doesn’t seem to use a lot of strained concentration though they’re surrounded by an audience judging their every note? That’s most likely because that musician has rehearsed the song so many times in the way he or she wants to play it that the musician doesn’t have to put much thought into it. This is commonly referred to as muscle memory and it’s something that’s also true for bowlers. The more you practice good mechanics, the more your brain is able to remember and repeat the precise physical actions you want it take. Also commonly referred to as “letting your brain go on autopilot”, this muscle memory frees your mind to repeat these actions more quickly and accurately than you would if you had to directly think through the actions you wanted your body to replicate.
Don’t Overthink It
Relying on muscle memory is key to performing at a high level. Overthinking your physical mechanics is a common mental mistake in competition. Whether it’s trying to fine-tune your already-rehearsed mechanics during competition or simply overthinking what your body is doing, learning to keep your brain focused on making strategic adjustments and staying on ”autopilot” is key to not making unforeseen mistakes.
According to legendary gymnast Domonique Moceanu, part of the “Magnificent Seven” in the 1996 Olympics, staying away from making mistakes was to not overthink it. “I let it go to autopilot and let my training take over,” she said. “Because if you try to think too much, you overwhelm yourself and end up making uncharacteristic mistakes.”
Blocking out what’s going on around you also is problematic for many bowlers. This can be overcome by simply getting used to competing with others and the elements that come with it (an audience, cheers, people taping the event, etc.). You also can find time to practice your physical game at the competition site to get used to the environment before the actual event. When you’re used to the environment, it can be easier to block it out and focus on what’s really important.
Find Your Motivation
Finding a good USBC-certified coach, practicing consistently and trying to be the best you can be takes motivation. So, if you haven’t asked yourself already, what motivates you? What gets you to the bowling center to practice and compete? If you don’t have a specific motivation or a goal to motivate you, find one. Find something that will push you above and beyond the competition. Motivation drives the best athletes to athletic greatness. So find yours!