The Learning Process
 
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Mental Aspects -
of Skating Development and Performance

Mental Rehearsal
       In a sport like figure skating, it is extremely important to be able to consistent execute a planned choreographed program to music. All of the successful skaters mental rehearse the execution of every step. turn, and choreographed required elements in their programs. This generally involves every body movement and facial expression. Some athletes the of a more limited or condensed visualization, Both methods as effective for skill learning and performance preparation for testing and competing.

       There are two methods athletes can use:

  • Internal imaging approximates the real life situation of the competition.
  • External imaging is when the athlete views themselves as an observer.

       There is evidence that the visualization of performing a skill followed by the physically performance of the skill works better than just its physical execution for acquiring memory skills.

Stress the positive performance
        Negativity must be banned from the vocabulary of every individual. The earlier the positive visualization process can be initiated in the skaters career, the less likely they will have to deal with negative thoughts as the progress through out their career.

        The introduction of new elements or old elements with an upgraded degree a difficulty, is approached in different ways by coaches. Many coaches have a philosophy concerned maintaining stamina that involved performing less demanding technical programs, but with an emphasis on the choreography and presentation for the program. They have the skaters run through this program everyday from start to finish without stopping. Other coaches have the skater practice shorter sections of the program early in the season, and gradually add increased difficulty to these sections. The gradually combine the sections until the entire program can be performed without major errors.

       Whatever strategy is employed, it would seem that reducing the frustration level makes the process more fun and should reduce the dread of performing a section. It is this anticipation of a section that causes skaters to concentrate some much on the anticipated performance that what they are currently performing is poorly executed.

        What seems to help is to break down complex technical elements into their basic components for practice. Some coaches do not allow students to practice any items that does not immediately apply to their test or event level. Other others push the envelope of the skaters skills by introducing skill sets that may be expected of more advanced skaters.

        It seems that in a rink where advanced skaters are training will set a level of expectations in lower event skaters to emulate them. This is a powerful motivational force. It it can be channeled in a positive way can greatly improve the level of skating in a rink from recreational to elite oriented.

Challenge skaters by using reasonable expectations of achieving specific goals
       Coaches and athletes should utilize mind preparation strategies as a key component to peak for a test or competition. Mental and physical rehearsing in anticipation of events is a key strategy for optimizing performance.

       Some coaches prefer to emphasize multi revolution jumps and the skater is not very competent in performing centered and fast spins even after executing changes of feet. This may work when the skater is small and not packing any excess weight. However, at sometime, these skaters will experience puberty and increases in height and a redistribution of weight. It takes much more effort to spring into the air after a  rapid increase in weight and height.

       There are other coaches who stress the jumping ability for every single revolution jump. There is a delay of the rotation that is possible because of the extra time in the air. Essentially the jumps and spins as opposed to starting the rotation as part of the jumping edge. This type of jumping frequent has problems with changes and/or skidding takeoff edges. In extreme cases there is more than a quarter turn of rotation that occurs on the ice, resulting in a technical downgrade of the jump.

       The two different philosophies are reflected in the attitudes about putting "cheated" or under rotated jumps or advanced spin positions into programs. This is a different discussion from how much consistency in performing a jump or spin in practice must be achieved prior to attempting it in a competitive situation.

       There are four primary mental qualities that are important for successful performance in test and competitive figure skating programs:

  • Concentration - ability to maintain focus
  • Confidence - belief in one's abilities
  • Control - ability to maintain emotional focus to avoid distractions
  • Commitment - ability to establish and pursue achieving goals

       The techniques most widely recommended to assist a  skater in achieving their goals include:

  • Relaxation:
    • The state of rest, recovery, and recuperation
    • Minimizing stress related reactions and muscular tension, etc.
    • Achieving a physical and mental state that is receptive to positive mental imagery
    • Establishing an acceptable set level of physical and mental activity prior to warming up for competition.
      • In a competitive situation an athlete will be in one of three states:

    1. Under excited; low energy level; disinterested, etc.
    2. Over excited; very high energy level; nervous; anxious; scared; ill caused by worry; way over the top; etc.
    3. Optimally excited; high energy level; looking forward to the competition with some apprehensive; thinking positively; feeling good; nervous but in control; etc.
  • Centering requires the mind to focus its attention inward by using self-hypnosis techniques to visualize an image that you associate with relaxation and a state of being calm.  Sometimes it is helpful to use relaxing music or pleasant sounds to learn the technique. This is also refereed to as meditation.
  • Mental Imagery does not focus on the outcome but on the actions to achieve the desired outcome.
    • Mental Imagery is used to:

      • Familiarize the athlete with complex play pattern or routine, etc.
      • Motivate the athlete by reviewing their goals for that session, or of past successes.
      • Perfect skill sets or sequences in the process of being learned or refined
      • Concentrate on positive thoughts and outcomes.
      • Refocus if performance is feeling sluggish, or not going well by focusing on a previous successful performance.
      • Visualize successfully performing skills correctly to achieving the desired outcome.
      • Running through key elements of the performance to establish the athlete's desired pre-competition mental and emotional status.

Mental Practices
       There are two suggested explanations for the effectiveness of mental rehearsing.
  • The neuromuscular explanation is that electromyographic (EMG) activity is produced in the muscles. It provides sensory information that can be used to learn a skill.
Imagery in Sports    Thus, both mental and physical excitation of neuromuscular patterns associated ...explanations of mental practice are debatable.

Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Clinic       (neuromuscular explanation). When you imagine performing a particular sport ... Visualization and mental rehearsal can be carried out virtually any time.
  • The schema explanation is that sensory consequences are critical for strong recall. Rehearsals in the mind can be considered a form of response preparation that aids in this process.
Schema Theory, Automation and Mental Rehearsal

Applying Cognitive Psychology Principles to Education and Training

Synergy - Issue 19   Oct. 28, 2003 Other terms for MP are mental or covert rehearsal, or imaginary practice. ... Recent advances in Cognitive Load Theory (Cooper, Tindall-Ford, ... may happen relatively quickly, schema automation is a much slower process.

       The cognitive explanation is that early in learning, athletes are figuring out what to do. Because they are beginning to understand how a skill should be executed, thinking about the skill can be as effective for a novice as physical performing it. Later, it can assist learners in consolidating strategies as well as correct errors.

Application of Visualization Techniques
       
The following is a short list of how visualization can be practically used:
  • Ask a skater to visualize their body's movements early in the learning process to facilitate skill acquisition.
  • Encourage skaters to engage in rehearsal strategies and problem solving activities.
  • Stress techniques where the skater imagines how movements should be correctly performed.
  • Encourage skaters and parents to visit the rink of a important competition prior to the event.
  • Encourage the skater to visualize him/her self skating at their peak performance in the competition.
  • Perform imagery exercises in a relaxed state when the subconscious mind is more active.

Recommended Reading:

AASP - Association for Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology  Common Psychological Skills in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology ... for enhancing motivation, focusing attention on the aspects of performance that are ... several common components, including: emphasis on skill development.

Mind Over Matter in the Delivery Skills  The simple remediation is the coordination of your mental aspects and ... Skill development; this means having mental and physical coordination with ... action of a particular shot that improves the performance and production of playing skills.

Competitive Advantage: Sports Psychology and Mental Toughness  It is possible to learn the mental skills to be calm under pressure and develop mental toughness. ... If you leave the mental side of performance to chance, then you're more likely to be unsuccessful.

Athletic Insight - Mental Skills Training For Sports  Mental Skills Training For Sports:
A Brief Review by Luke Behncke,  RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

Facts and Questions - sportpsychonline.com  How is the coach involved in the mental skills training/ performance.

References:

Relationships
Resources:

The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:
   
Learning Considerations
PDF  Attentional Focus
PDF  Spatial Disorientation
PDF  Effects of Mood on Performance
PDF  Confidence through Motivation
PDF  Transfer of Learning Issues


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