Competition Mind: Fresh Start

For many of you, the new year will be a fresh start with a new team or new class, or even changing mechanics and the way you run. For some it will be all of the above, many will have changed at the end of this season and will be busy testing and preparing for the major championships ahead.

From a mindset point of view this can be a great time to build upon what you already have if you have had a successful year while for others it can be a time of great challenge. The one common thing that everyone should have wherever possible is optimism as this will be a vastly superior mindset to compete with than that of pessimism where there is a negative view and opinion of everything and a negative outlook. If you are optimistic it will help you to find answers to problems whatever the situation you are in and help you to find the zone and achieve personal best results.

One of the many areas where competitors struggle when they are starting a new season off the back of a less than productive previous season is that of their expectations and goals. Many set their sights way too high and create anxiety within themselves because they know deep down that there is a high possibility of failure and then, when the first less than perfect result happens, they plunge into despair and their performances become erratic leading eventually to a constant negative outlook for future performances.

The antidote for this is to have some realistic and honest expectations then set some sensible goals for the results that you want to achieve which are also at the same time slightly challenging. This should only be done for the first race weekend and then you can assess your results at the end of the weekend. Provided that nothing mechanically has occurred that has hindered your results, the kart set-up has been either spot on or near the mark, and you have had a race weekend which only your own personal performance has been responsible for the results, then you can determine if you have met your own personal expectations and reached your goals. If you have, then fantastic, but you will have to raise them by a couple of places for the next race weekend to maintain the motivation.

If you failed to meet your expectations and reach your goals and feel that you did your best at the time, then you need to lower your expectations and goals for the next race weekend and start building your results where you can meet your expectations and reach your goals because that way you avoid in your mind measuring future performances negatively. This should certainly be the case when you are competing in a championship or race where the vast majority of the competitors are unknown to you because you will still be learning where your current level of performance might be in comparison to those that you are competing against.

The trouble is that when you know most of the competitors in your class and have competed against them before, the general tendency is to assume that the same people that you beat last year you will beat again this next year, also, and more importantly, that the people that beat you last year will likely beat you again. Some competitors become completely transfixed with a personal battle against a particular individual rather than focus on their own personal performance. What this does is to limit your results unless you are consistently in the top three of course where this becomes a different matter. If you get fixated with beating or battling with one particular competitor their performance can affect your own and, if they are having a slow day, it can actually slow you down too by getting you into a back and forth battle making you vulnerable to being caught and overtaken by the drivers behind you. You are far better off concentrating on working on your own lap times, race craft and personal best performance.

Another thing to factor into the equation before deciding on your expectations and goals is that of the track you are racing at. Have you mastered the track? Have you gathered enough information to know how to drive it correctly? What have been your previous results at this track? If you have had some good results and experiences at the track previously then the chances are that you will feel more confident going there and this will in itself help you to have a better, much more focused performance. Remembering them and recalling your achievements will also assist you in being more relaxed and focused. If you have had negative experiences there previously you have to put them to one side and avoid thinking about them altogether as recalling them will only have a negative impact on your performance.

The other main contributory factor that I often come across when working with drivers is that of weather conditions and how they affect the grip levels with that having a knock-on effect with their confidence. The simple antidote to this is actual practice. Practising and gaining good advice and tuition about driving in differing grip levels and pounding out as many quality laps as possible is the best antidote for this problem.

Part of the way that the mind works is by linking and associating one thing with another, we make connections all the time with everything going on around us. In one of my earlier articles I described how we learn conditioned responses by using the example of traffic lights and how when you are driving towards a set and they are turning red that we don’t have to apply any thought whatsoever to slowing the car down to a stop because we have done it enough times that programs (associations to an outside stimulus create in us automated physical responses and thought patterns) become ingrained through repetition, the same as using a knife and fork, walking, catching a ball and so on with all of our conditioned responses.

The same can be true of ways of thinking about elements of racing. What we are talking about here are the many and varied negative thought patterns that drivers develop over periods of time and with enough repeat events having happened for the mind to reach a negative conclusion. For example, a rivalry where one driver is continually beaten by another, the one losing to the same person over a few rounds can easily develop the negative thought pattern that the other driver is better. Even though this may well be true, the fact is that if we believe that someone is better than us at something then generally speaking when we have to compete against them again in the future we can easily make a decision before even getting to the grid that because the other driver has beaten us so many times that this could lead us to accept defeat to them before we even race them. This is also the case with venues or competitions where there may be several references of negative outcomes for whatever reasons and these can lead to automated negative beliefs.

So before the new season really begins, practise thinking about the positive references and rejecting the negatives, practise concentrating on what you are doing rather than what anyone else is doing on the track, set some realistic expectations and goals and take each event as it comes. A fresh start with fresh thinking and more enjoyment. Have a great 2013.