Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Bridge and Sports Psychology

I have been carry around a small magazine article I read a while back while waiting in the doctor’s office.  I kept it because it had some interesting ideas that I hadn’t really thought of and I wanted to share it.

So if you have ever have had some “nerves” before an important event or wanted to have your best performance for when it really counted here are some ideas.  The article was written by Performance Expert Peter Jansen who works with Olympic athletes.  It is called Be Your Best.

So the following are excerpts and quotes from the article – with some bridge examples thrown in by me.

Mental fitness is perspective, energy management, imagery and focus.  Getting mentally fit sets the table for success.  “I have a very excitable personality and learned that my excitability got in the way of performing my best in certain situations.”  “If an endeavour is at all competitive, the mind can play a huge role in success or failure.”

Understand Pressure

While competing in a world championship is stressful, you rise to the occasion because you are “ready” not because you excel under pressure.  You need to learn to manage the arousal level.  Two factors drive up the arousal level – the perception of an event’s importance and uncertainty about its outcome.  When your arousal level gets too high, you can lose focus and make mistakes.  You think Roger Federer shakes when he is down love-40 and serving for the match.  He’s aced that serve thousands of times, so he knows he can again.  That’s not pressure.

Focus on the Now

How often have you heard the cliche take it one quarter, one period, “one hand” at a time.  In high-level competition, performance expectations can be overwhelming.  Thinking about the future isn’t beneficial.  You are aware of the ultimate objective but you need to narrow your focus to “What do I need to do right now?”  It is not constructive to think about the ultimate goal (like making your yearend sales figures).  What is constructive is thinking about the next chance to perform and improve.  Just as the sales person should concentrate on the next sale.

Be Self-Aware

Be mindful of the fundamental tasks you need to do (“like planning the defense or deciding on the opening lead”.) When you are through (“for example you are dummy”) focus on controlling your emotions and staying focused. (“If you are yelling at partner aloud or in your head you are not getting reflection time.”)

Managing mind, body and feelings is a learned skill.  Whatever you are doing notice what your are thinking or saying and decide if it is helpful.  We have the capacity to step back and observe ourselves and ask what is required in this situation.

Banish the Negative

Learn the skill of reframing.  There is always more than one way to look at a situation so you might as well reframe it in a way that is positive.  Your feelings move in line with your thoughts.  So if you think negatively (you are getting a bad score on this hand) the natural reaction would be to tense up, try harder or panic, none of which will help you to excel.  This takes time to learn!  If your memories of games are filled with thoughts or notes about what not to do then you are too negative.

There is a huge difference between trying to win and trying not to fail.  Trying NOT to do something is very hard.  When you are motivated by fear of failure you eventually reach the point of diminishing returns.

Visualize to win

Do you visualize winning by thinking of medals?  No!  That’s hope, not preparation.  Instead you visualize certain situations and how you will handle them.  Image are “events” to the body.  Don’t think of the goal as winning gold.  Strive each day to be better.  That is something we all can do.

I think some of these ideas are good advice for bridge players at all levels.  I know that some times new players are afraid to play dummy.  I know that some times I just don’t want to go down and compete.  Some times you start to panic when you have a bad result and have another one.  But I believe that we can borrow from sports psychology and learn techniques that will make the game more fun and improve our performance.

Peter Jansen has written a book called Igniting the Third Factor if you want to read more.

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