Keep the Drive Alive! Preparing for Competition

author competing in first green race, photo: crystal gustin

Before you even prepare to compete you have to justify to yourself why you are even competing in the first place.  A lot of this thought process will help you determine how you will go about your training and mental preparation for competition.

For example, is it for fun?  Or do you have the dogged determination to win it all?  Do the two have to be separate?

Competition is fun, and it can be a way for you and your friends to drive each other reaching new levels with your personal skills.  Depending on how serious you take competition, it may lead you to cross train to raise your personal fitness level increasing your strength, stamina and flexibility.  Competition also develops your mental capacity to deal with stress, making you think quickly in times of physical and mental overload.  And finally competition helps develop a community within the sport.

Not all is fun and games however as some competitors hit common pitfalls.  Tunnel vision, stress and injuries all detract from competition as well as make you feel animosity towards the sport you love.   A healthy balance of train and play must be achieved.  In other words, you need to save plenty of time for expectation-less paddling.

What are your goals?

First you must set a goal.  If you do not have any goal in mind then this article may not be for you.  Your goal may be just to have fun or to beat your score or time from before.  Either way, a concise goal will help you determine what you need to do to prepare.  Are your goals short or long term?  If long-term, you have to set several short term goals to help your curve to success.  If you only focus on the ultimate long-term goal, you can easily be discouraged when you do not reach it right away.

Plan of Attack

Now that you have a goal, or sets of short-term goals, it is time to determine what will help you reach them.  Having someone with previous experience who can mentor you along is extremely helpful when determining how to go about this.  However, do not rely to much on a coach/mentor as you will never have the chance to develop your style and self-reliance that will be important when you are out there on your own.  A good coach will realize this.

However if you are on your own there are a few things to think about.  How much time do you have?  Have you ever done anything like this before?  Are there any other events like this that will help you prepare?  Do you have a training partner?  What are your resources?  How important is this to you?  And ultimately can you manage all of this and still maintain your normal life as well as the passion you have for the sport currently?  When you start answering a lot of these questions you will start to realize the sacrifices and/or gains you will encounter to reach your athletic goals.

Physical Preparation

Undoubtedly, being in great physical shape is a benefit when preparing for any sort of competitive event.  Strength, stamina, flexibility and diet all need to be examined and balanced appropriately.   A break from this discipline can also be good for overall mental serenity as well.

Strength training is a great way to increase your physical threshold when it comes to both your limits and longevity.  However, some people find just lifting weights are hard to get into whether it is because of lack of equipment or lack of interest.  There are many new ways to increase both your overall strength and stamina through cross training programs.  It has also been found to be helpful to increase strength quicker and reduce overuse injuries by cross training to focus in on other muscle groups.

The most beneficial training to the quality of your life is cardiovascular health.  It will help increase your endurance making your training sessions last longer and your ability to compete less strenuous overall.  There are also many ways to cross-train that will include both cardio and strength training simultaneously.

The most beneficial training regime I added in recent history helped improve my overall physical and mental health, and that is yoga.  A combination of strength, balance, flexibility and controlled breathing.  Undoubtedly, my body was able to perform the more demanding things I asked it to do and my recovery time was shorter.  I highly recommend an hour of yoga a day if you can afford the time.  You will thank yourself later.

I am no nutritionist, so giving sound advice in this area is outside of my realm.  However, I listen to what my body needs.  I eat when I am hungry (nearly all the time), stay hydrated, and stay away from heavily processed foods.  If the food makes me feel ill after I eat it, it probably is not so good for me.  You all know what I am talking about, the fast food nausea.  I suggest if you take your diet seriously, see a professional.

Mental Preparation

This is definitely an art, not a science.  The easiest way to describe this is managing your stress levels.  What do I mean by this?  I mean a certain amount of stress or nerves are good.  They make you move quicker, think faster, and overall, stress makes you a better competitor.  However, stress should never interfere with your ability to focus on the tasks that must be done to achieve your goal, not just focus on the goal itself.  This is where tunnel vision can set in and blind you to everything you have just trained for.  Never forget you have the ability to think your way through things, but you also have the ability to think your way out of things.  A great way to work on this is to focus solely on what you can accomplish in training to reach your potential at each event.  If you get tunnel vision and only think of what it will take to beat your competitors, instead of thinking what it will take to reach YOUR best performance, you will rarely meet your peak performance for that competition.  If you put your best stuff together and are well prepared, you will find yourself in that part of the competition where you will ultimately have to decide what it will take to beat the remaining few, but not until then.

PRACTICE!!!

Nothing is going to make you better at your discipline than doing it.  Just do not overdo it.  It can be physically and mentally taxing with all the repetition, however you want to do it enough to where your body knows what it is doing without your mind having to tell it (muscle memory).

To keep things fresh, make games out of it.  Compete with friends for fun, though you know it will benefit you.  Change the scenery even if it does not resemble the competition setting.  Paddle and compete with new people.  But most of all, keep the drive alive.  It has to be exhilarating in order for you to receive the best benefits, and those are the boosts in self-esteem and self-image.  When you feel like you are a better person you undoubtedly become a better person.

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