Extensive literature on sport psychology already exists and several approaches can be applied to canoe slalom. However, the essence of effective mental training extends beyond the multitude of methods, some of which are outlined below:
Individual Talks with Athletes: Casual conversations between coaches and athletes are very important. The goal is to understand the emotional state of athletes without creating a pressure. Coaches should assist athletes in coping with negative thoughts and emotions that might impede their performance. Athletes should recognize they can opt not engage in every single thought they have in their minds, especially those who are linked to overthinking, fear or anxiety. When this happens, they find their own superpower.
Sport as a Fun and Ever-Changing Game: It is important to disconnecting one's identity from race results. They need to find joy and fulfillment in the activity itself, rather than focusing just on the outcome. Stress is reframed as a potential source of energy when is effectively managed, encouraging athletes to view it as a performance opportunity rather than a obstacle. It is important to point out the famous words by Pierre de Coubertine, father of Olympic Games:´The most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well´. Athletes who are able to identify with this, will also start enjoying the ‘’combat’’ connected to racing.
Experience Your Training: Encouraging athletes to adopt in a mindful approach during training, particularly when practicing on natural slalom courses, is crucial. Emphasizing on experiencing the present moment and the environment, adopting a sense of creativity through playful exploration. Looking for a deep connection with nature while using technical skills. The idea is to devote some trainings to inner experience rather than to performances trying to motivate them to explore every aspect of paddling. They should feel as if the body, boat and paddle are one. The foundation of everything is the ability to focus on the present moment. To reach that, the best tool available 24/7 is the breath. Paying attention to every inhale and exhale naturally brings us to the present moment. However, our attention should not be too forced or full of judgement; the breath should really be only observed, not overthought.
Race Simulations: Simulation racing conditions during training help to familiarize athletes with stress and pressure. By replicating race-day scenarios, athletes can adapt to the stressors of competition. At the end, performance is what matters. The main goal is to set up a course as would normally be done in a race, and behave entirely as if it is indeed a race day where athletes should act as a race day. We walk the course together, we study possible technical options and gate combinations. However, it also requieres flexibility in routines and rituals, acknowledging that unexpected changes in race schedules, may require adaptable mental preparation too.
Relaxation Techniques: Methods such as autogenic training could be used as relaxation techniques, promoting regular practice for long-term benefits. Starting relaxation training from an early age is encouraged to have a habit of self-awareness and stress management. It would be positive to enhance our athletes to have relaxation dosis on their daily routines. It is recommend to do 10’ twice a day and after some weeks we will feel the improvements.
Visualization and Imagination: Visualisation and the ability to imagine one's performance beforehand is another skill that is useful to cultivate from the early age. It certainly can be learned and gets better and better with practice. Promoting the practice of visualization and imagination in our athletes during training sessions, emphasizes finding a balance between detailed visualization and intuitive execution to our athletes. Paddlers can play with their imagination. They can try every time more detailed and specific imagery (such as the resistance of the water when passing a gate, the gliding of the boat, etc.)
Other Methods: There are several psychological methods like meditation, auto-suggestion, and inner talks. However, the integration of crucial psychological aspects into systematic training from an early stage it is beneficial. A personalized approach to mental training, reaching to the individual needs and motivations of athletes at different stages of their careers, is the most effective.
- Busta, J. (2020). Za úspěchem ve vlnách: trénink vrcholových vodních slalomářů. Euromedia Group.