Finish Your Sports Season Strong

It's time to go back to basics.

For athletes in many winter sports, the competitive season is almost over. After many days of practice and competing, the end is in sight.

At this late point in the season, you will have fallen into one of three camps as far as how your season has gone. First, you may be having a break-out season in which you are absolutely thrilled with the progress in your performances and results. You would be perfectly content if the season ended today.

But why wouldn’t you want to continue your great season by seeing if you can take it to an even higher level? Gosh, with a great season under your belt, at this point, you have nothing to lose and more to gain by making a conscious decision to “bring it” every competition and see how great you can perform. Not only might you add more good results to your season, but may find that you have another gear in you that you can carry into the summer and next season.

Second, you’ve had an okay season in which you’ve shown improvement in both your athletic development and your results, but you haven’t done as well as you had hoped. Though you wouldn’t be entirely happy if the season ended today, you wouldn’t be entirely upset either. For you, there’s still time to take a decent season and turn it into a great one. So, again, you might as well make a commitment to performing your best as you can because doing what you have done all season hasn’t worked that great for you. Why not try something different?

Finally, your season to date has been a real disappointment filled with setbacks or plateaus in your development, unsatisfying results, and a strong sense of frustration. If the season ended today, you would be one unhappy camper. Though you may wish for the season to end today—just to put you out of your misery—as the saying goes, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” With a number of competitions ahead, it’s not too late to not only salvage your season, but to actually have it conclude on a real high note. Same as with a mediocre season so far, if you keep doing what you’ve done, you’re probably going to get the same results (remember Einstein’s Law of Insanity?) Why not decide to try something new and see what happens? You certainly don’t have anything more to lose at what has, unfortunately, been a losing season.

As for the season that still lies ahead, you will fall into one of two camps. Either you are already thinking about the off-season and jonesing to hang up your gear and either move onto your next sport season or just chill out and do nothing. Or, you are still chomping at the bit for the upcoming competitions and are committed to do everything possible to finish your season strong.

Let me assure you that if you fall into the first camp, you might as well end your season now because you’re chances of having a good end of season is just about zero. Why? Because you won’t bring the necessary drive, intensity, or focus to get much out of your training or for you to give it your all in competitions. Though there are no guarantees, your only chance to finish strong is to make the commitment to getting the most out of your training and deciding to do nothing less that performing your best during the final part of the season.

How the end of the season plays out depends on your attitude and your actions between now and when you last walk onto the field of play this season.

If You’re Performing Well

Let me introduce you to Taylor’s Law of Stupidity: If something’s working, change it. That is just plain dumb! If you’re performing well, my gosh, keep doing what you’re doing. You are in an ideal position for the rest of your season for several reasons. First, because your season is already a success, the rest of the season is just icing on the cake for you. Second, the pressure is off to get results, so you can compete with reckless abandon and not care about what happens. Just trust yourself and focus entirely on what you need to do to perform your best in every competition. If you keep doing what has worked so far, the chances are good that you will finish the season strong.

If Youre Performing ‘Meh’ or Worse

If your season to date lies somewhere between disappointing and devastating, there’s one thing you should definitely not do: panic! If you panic, some very bad things will happen. First, you will shift entirely into result mode, meaning you will focus on the results you need to get to salvage your season. This result focus will cause you to feel immense pressure every time you compete. This pressure will trigger negative thoughts (“If I don’t get a good result, my season will be an absolute fail.”), even worse emotions (fear!), and so much anxiety that you will be physically incapable of performing well.

As hard as it will be, you must let go of the pressure (“Even if I have a lousy season, I will be okay.”) and maintain a process focus (“What do I need to do to perform well?”). This point in the season is the time to step back, take a long and hard look at your performances, and see if you can identify any changes that will help you get your season back on track.

With the specter of an unsatisfying season on the horizon, your primitive reaction will likely be to go into survival mode and trigger your fight-or-flight response. When we were cave people, fleeing gave us our best chance of surviving. And that is probably what you want to do now. But fleeing, in other words, performing cautiously in the hope of getting a good result, will mean certain death, er, failure in competitions.

At times like this, your best chance is to fight. This means that, instead of having a pity party and giving up, you need to get really mad and direct that anger into giving your best. The reality is that “bringing it” won’t necessarily produce a good result because you can’t control everything that leads to a good result. But going for it is your only chance of getting the results you want. I can assure you that, whatever the outcome, you will feel much better having ended your season with a bang rather than a whimper.

Back to Basics

Whether you’ve had a stellar, mediocre, or awful season so far, there are some things you can do that may help you finish the season strong. Go back to basics. In other words, do things that have helped you perform well in the past.

  • Take care of yourself physically by getting enough sleep, eating well, and maintaining your fitness;
  • Revisit technical and tactical fundamentals that may have slipped during the long season (do lots of drills to keep the foundation of your performances solid);
  • Make sure you’re still doing your routines that will ensure total preparation every time you compete;
  • Do a lot of mental imagery of performing well. The feelings and images you conjure up will build your confidence and get you fired up (or calmed down) and focused;
  • Make sure you continue to engage in quality training with a clear goal, ideal intensity, and a specific focus.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, remember why you compete: because you love it and it’s fun.

Enjoy the rest of your season!

Want to learn more about how to be mentally prepared to perform your best? Get a free copy of my Prime Sport: Psychology of Champion Athletes e-book.