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3 Steps to Achieving Ideal Performance States

flow May 08, 2018

"Be the best version of yourself in anything you do. You don't have to live anybody else's story."

     -Seth Curry

You will often hear athletes, coaches, members of the sporting community talk about achieving optimal performance.

In the field of applied sport psychology, one of the primary focuses for Mental Performance Consultants (MPC) when working with athletes is to help athletes create, recognize and then attain their Ideal Performance State (IPS). The term itself loosely defines an optimal state of performance that encompasses both physical and mental activation and the necessary state an athlete must have in order to perform at their best and then consistently repeat.

I have included three components to identify and practise your “IPS” but first, a couple things to remember:

            Everyone has a different “IPS”. What works for some, doesn’t necessarily work for others! Trust your own instincts and self-awareness. You know yourself better than anyone and probably have all this material right at your fingertips.

            It may take time to determine what actually works so BE PATIENT! It is not easy to look back at the tough stuff. REMEMBER - this is a work in progress! Lastly, if you get stalled, talk to a coach, fellow teammate or parent. They may surprise you with knowledge of your tendencies too! It can be a great collaboration tool.

Here we go!

I like to start this exercise by first addressing the athletes perceptions of self-image, self-awareness and strengths and weaknesses within sport.

    1. Do some self-analysis on your personal sport performances. Examine past training and competition environments. Look at both strong and weak performances to see if there are patterns or specific aspects which may need to be addressed. Example: Prior to every strong performance, I feel prepared and have a great week of training. I am ready and on time for each one.
    2. One great resource for this exercise is your training log / athlete journal. Take a peak and review some of your own experiences. You might be surprised what you find in there.
    3. c) Review Your Routines! Do you follow a specific warm up, pre-competition or pre-game routine that helps you set yourself up both mentally and physically? Do you leave enough time for proper nutrition, warm up, hydration, communication with coach while giving yourself enough time to prepare (activate, visualize, and focus)? Are you listening to music that calms you, or activates you?
    4. d) Activation & Arousal: Look back at how “amped up or quiet“ you were prior to different performances. What was your energy level? Also, could you have controlled or adjusted? Do you know physically where your body needs to be to perform at your best? Using a scale and tracking your activation level is very important. (A couple things to look for: Breathing & Heart Rate, Sweating, Nerves). You can do this at practice too.

Similarly, examine your mental preparation: (communication with others level of focus, distraction management, use of visualization, and awareness of clear goals & state of relaxation). Do you have a solid understanding of what it feels like to be at your best and prepare for it?

    1. If you are looking to make changes, make sure you practice this in training! Set goals for each session, keep a close eye on your activation levels and be sure to put this in your journal.
    2. Make sure you “simulate” your training as close to your competition as possible. If you are taking more time behind the block or shortening your warm up, try to use the same approach in both practice/competition so it becomes part of your competition routine. Don’t hesitate to commit fully in practice. If you try something and it fails miserably – that’s ok. It only gives you more information as to what DOESN’T work! Keep in mind, Edison’s famous quote, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work”.
    1. Reflect critically about your ideal performance state. Is it in line with what you actually practice and then do?
    2. Review your training and later competitions where you implemented these adaptations. Did it help you perform? Were you able to implement without too much distraction? How did it feel? If you added breathing were you able to successfully replicate what you did in practice?

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it – if there are aspects of your routine in which you are confident- trust them! If you find that there are a few things you need to work on in regards to finding your IPS or your “peak performance, optimal “flow” or feeling like you are in the zone” honour that intention and figure it out! It’s only going to help you in the future.

Paying attention to the little details may seem slightly insane now, but most athletes find confidence in preparation and their OWN routines! Find what works for you and work on it. It may surprise you when you are in a competition and realize that you are implementing the changes automatically.

Athlete Question: Are there barriers that consistently limit my ability to reach my Ideal Performance State that I need to address in my pre-training/competition routines?

Coach Question: How can I support my athletes in identifying aspects of their ideal performance state and help them practice implementing the necessary behaviors and routines in order to reach it?

As always, if you have any questions, please head to the website at and send us an email and check out our Mental Skills Training Program for Athletes!