» Mental training – A key for success «
In its narrow sense, "mental training" is actually understood as being the learning or improving of bodily movement processes through the purely mental, and usually visual, imagining of the movement without, however, doing it. This is, for example, a way in which injured sports people can minimise their loss of training. The effect which the imagining has on physical capabilities can be proved scientifically and is based on the so-called Carpenter Effect which says that every imagining invokes a bodily representation through involuntary micro-impulses.
However, what is usually understood by Mental Training (MT) is "sport-psychology training". This is a generic term for everything which contributes to the "ideal performance state" before or during a competition. This is the sense in which I will use the term in the following.
In Austria, the rise of MT began in the ski-jumping camp. Toni Innauer was in the team to which Baldur Preiml first applied MT. Innauer was a sceptic because he was successful without the "nonsense". However, that was until he fell behind due to injuries. His self-confidence suffered as a result and, suddenly, his success did not come automatically. Later, when he was a trainer, his opinion was "The nearer you get to the decisive moment, the more important the mental capabilities and tricks become".
Who does not know of the agility sportsperson who is in the lead without any faults after the first run but, in the second one – as so often happens – fails due to mistakes or is disqualified? Who does not know the person who usually messes up the first run and then remains fault-free without any problem in the second run. This can, of course, sometimes be attributable to external factors but, if it happens time and time again, it can be assumed that the mental strength is not sufficient to produce the optimum performance in competition.
Naturally, it has to be said that while a good or optimum mental constitution can be built up by sport-psychology training, this cannot, of course, compensate for defective training or lack of skills.
Mental strength means moving up to one's top level of performance regardless of the circumstances of the competition and thereby – in dog sports – producing the optimum performance for the team.
This applies to dog sportspeople even more than for other sportspeople because we are not working with technical sports equipment. Instead we are working with a sensitive, living being which - in the finest of ways - senses our psychological constitution, often before we notice it ourselves. Our nervousness and our tension is magnified by the acute perception of the dog and thus leads to failure together.
This personal tension is reinforced or weakened, for example, also by the mood of the (world championship) team. Does the individual get support, encouragement and understanding from the others or does rivalry and resentment reign? All this impairs the ideal performance state – and thus the result in the competition.
What are the tools of MT? Are they autogenic training, meditation or Tai-Chi? Well, these and others are different forms of relaxation or concentration exercises and abilities, each of which – depending on the type of person – can contribute to success.
However, there also are some entirely different - and possibly even more significant - psychological factors which lead to success. These include controlling thoughts and feelings, self-confidence, and – often unconscious - attitudes to competition.
In sport, just like in our normal lives, our perceptions and our behaviour are steered by our attitudes, experience, doubts etc. – but often in the wrong direction.
For me, therefore, the basis of MT would be primarily to grasp the personal behaviour patterns and the attitudes towards competition etc. which lie behind them so as then to be able to alter or optimise them with the help of suitable techniques. The associated theory should underpin the understanding.
In summary, this means: