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Preparing to Perform
Geoff Paull
Preparing for Performance

Geoff Paull knows that being ready for successful performance requires great preparation. And whether this is sport, theatre, arts or any other
‘success’ domain, preparing on the day assumes that a realistic level of skill exists from long-term practice.  Psychology will not get you over
the line if the work hasn’t been done to develop the necessary skill level.  Of course psychology is useful in developing this skill (the notion of
‘deliberate practice’ is very important in developing expertise), and even novices can prepare well psychologically for performance so long as
they set realistic goals based on their skill to that time.

Many pre-performance issues are simply about staying in the here-and-now.  That is:

C   not thinking ahead about a performance before the day
C   not thinking about the possible outcome and what people will think of you as a performer
C   not dwelling on previous mistakes or interruptions and instead optimistically getting on with the preparation
C   being able to focus on the immediate demands leading up to the performance.

So how do successful performers prepare on the day?  Generally, there may be three R's that are helpful:

Routines - try to introduce a regular pre-performance warm up to build spirit, reduce nervousness, and reassure everyone concerned that,
for example, kit is ok, if relevant they have stretched and prepared physically, checked the game plan and performance goals for the day.

Rituals - allow time for particular rituals that assist preparation. This might be the use of music, a time for imagery, checking kit, etc.

Regularity - Do things in an expected order.  For example, start preparation at the same time each time.  If team selection is announced,
then do this at the same point each time, and have your team list written down before it is read out to avoid mistakes.

And then specifically for any person or performance domain:

Relaxation strategies can be useful (click here to go to Emotional Control strategies)

Segmenting between that which can be under your control (e.g., your equipment) and things that you can’t influence (e.g., the weather). That
is, if you really have no control, then you may need to distract yourself and use the mental energy in other ways.  If you feel you have some
control, then imagery and positive self-talk are used by most successful athletes to break a cycle of worry and focus on what you can do to
overcome the challenge. 

Not dwelling on prior mistakes - don’t pretend that mistakes won't happen, and have strategies to comfort yourself around not being

Focus/concentration/attention provide access in the brain to the goals you have set, the skill components in memory for the performance
and your intention to remain focussed and positive. 

Imagery and visualisation are important tools in preparation for performance.  These techniques access the neural pathways in the brain
needed for later performance, so imagining yourself performing a perfect performance is biasing the brain to find these memory components
of skill in the actual game or performance.

Goal-setting is an important part of performance preparation.  If you don't have goals set around lap times, verbal expression, dance
routines, etc., then you may tend to catastrophise when things are going against you.  So, a clear and understood plan is essential to keeping
the plot and believing that you can overcome short-term setbacks.

The idea of 'process' goals (how to go about it) is a better way to understand success than 'outcomes' (e.g., win/loss when you can’t
actually control your opponent’s performance on the day). This helps with your focus to stay in the here-and-now and not leap forward in your
mind to the final result.  The notion is that if you focus on each individual skill and do it well, then all of those good plays will set you up to
achieve a good outcome. 
Review of practices and performances.  From watching replays or reviewing with a coach/producer/teacher you can get a much better
idea of how you did, or could have done, in a performance.  You can also use video to count a few basic statistics to illustrate how good
processes (passes, time in possession, split times, etc) can lead to great outcomes.