The Difference Between Practice and Competition

 In Anxiety & Nerves, Competition, Pressure

Practice is designed to help you build the skills necessary to compete. It is a time to build each skill set that’s important for a sport or any type of competitive performance. For example, a swimmer needs to break down and learn each part of a stroke, how to dive off the blocks and how to flip turn. Practice is when you make mistakes and figure out how to correct them.. Practice is also an important time to develop and use a mental training plan to go with your physical training plan. All of this is important during practice. This is how you grow and get better and stronger. At practice, you develop all the skill sets necessary to compete.

In practice, you get the opportunity to think about what you are doing, not doing, or what you need to do differently. You get the chance to make a game plan for competition based on your skill set, athletic abilities, and your own goals and expectations. You get to decide what you need to do physically and mentally to perform optimally in competitive situations.

However, competition is not practice.

How is competition different?

Competition is different in many ways; the biggest being that there is not a lot of thinking during competition. Your brain can’t handle the pressure of competition and thinking about it. You practice to be the best competitive version of yourself and you need to allow all that hard work to flow out of you. Too much thinking and nothing flows. You get tight. Your heart rate goes up. Your brain starts overanalyzing what you are doing at every turn. You can’t let go of mistakes. All of this pulls you out of your ability to perform; to do the thing you are trying to do.

What needs to happen during competition?

During competition, you need to just do it! You need to bring out the best skills and let it flow. On competition day, many performers subconsciously think they ‘need to pull out the big one’ or ‘will be so much better than yesterday’. There is no big one and you will not be much better today than you were yesterday. How does your brain interpret those messages? You want to what? When you don’t pull out the big one or play way better than you did yesterday, you think you’ve failed. When you fail, your ego attaches itself to that and takes over your body. Who’s the driver of your body?

It’s important to understand that you will have nerves. Nerves aren’t bad until you label them as such. They are a signal to let you know that something big…something important is going to happen.

Also, you will make mistakes and it’s ok. What’s not ok is how you interpret mistakes. Mistakes are not bad. They don’t make you a bad person. Mistakes don’t mean you are a terrible competitor. Mistakes mean you are human. When you learn to let them go and stay present, you become a good competitor.

My favorite quote – live it!

‘If you are not failing regularly, you are falling so far below your potential that you are failing anyway.” -Anonymous

Dr. Michelle Cleere
In her own private practice as an elite performance expert, Dr. Michelle Cleere helps top athletes, musicians, and executives in competitive fields unlock the power of the mind and create the mental toughness to be the best. Dr. Michelle’s extensive academic background, which includes a PhD in Clinical Psychology and a Masters in Sports Psychology, allows her to help clients deal with performance anxiety, gain more confidence, and build resilience. In addition to personal coaching, Dr. Michelle takes on many roles – a best-selling author, athlete, and teacher. Dr. Michelle’s bestseller line, Beating the Demons, helps clients develop practical skills to gain more control over competitive environments and mitigate the interruption in play to overcome intense odds and defeat adversity. As a 15-year USAT Coach, she developed simple and effective tools to mentally train her athletes, and they are used by coaches around the world. She is a professor at John F. Kennedy University where she teacher her students to use the mind as an ally to improve performance.
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