Category : Mental Preparation

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Mental Preparation
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How to deal with disappointing results

Whether you didn’t get the recall you worked for, you placed lower than you did last year, or you’re just not happy with how it all went down, dealing with disappointing results can be tough. It can feel like you let yourself, your family, or your teachers down. It can be frustrating when you think you danced well, and people you normally beat have come in ahead of you. You can feel discouraged, wondering whether you should keep going (you definitely should). However you’re feeling, there are ways of dealing with bad results so you can put it behind you and get back on that dance floor feeling good.

What does ‘bad’ mean?

According to Talese Fernbach, sports psychologist and mental performance coach, “the term ‘bad’ is a judgment. Judgments, in the field of performance, are considered counterproductive to the mindset and create pressure in the mind. A judgmental mind or judgmental person will stifle their performance by focusing on what they or others think. One cannot perform to their potential while judging themselves and others. It sets their mind in a negative space and disrupts their performance focus.”

We often compare ourselves to others, particularly in a sport where we are ranked and placed, but Fernbach frames it a different way. “The focus on performance should be on the process and not the outcome/results. In the world of performance psychology, if an athlete or performer focuses on the process, the desired results will take care of themselves. Performances sometimes don’t go as planned. When that happens, teachable moments arise to learn from and make the athlete better. If everything always went as planned, we would have nothing to learn from and to work on to make ourselves better. There are no disappointing results, just results. How you look at those results makes or breaks the development of mental toughness and the advancement of your performance to the next level. It’s all in your perspective. When things don’t go as planned, focus on the process and the teachable moments to cope and grow in your performance.”

Repairing shattered confidence

All that said, results can still shake and shatter confidence, making you doubt yourself and your abilities. Fernbach points out that it’s not the end of the world, and the most important thing is perspective. “Don’t catastrophize and dwell on the situation. When things don’t go as planned, you can re-focus and re-build on your performance by focusing on the strengths and positives of the athlete and their performance. It’s sometimes human nature for coaches and athletes to mostly focus on the negatives or what has to be worked on. Studies have shown that when coaches point out all the positives of a practice or performance, the overall level of performance, even in the weaker areas, will improve. People simply perform better when they feel good about themselves.”

Refocusing

The days and weeks after a rough competition are where champions are made, and if you can refocus in a positive way, you’re putting yourself in good stead for the next feis. “Depending on the confidence shattering situation, an athlete can start to bounce back by focusing on some basic technique training, keeping things simple, accentuating the positive, building on strengths and one performance area to improve upon at a time.” says Fernbach. “By focusing on these things, an athlete can come back even stronger, more prepared and with a renewed sense of confidence.”

Have you ever had a setback from bad results? How did you get your confidence back for your next feis? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

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Feising, Mental Preparation
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Two World Champions, and what a day at worlds is really like

We’re well and truly in Worlds mode right now! With the crew from An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha in Montreal for Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne, and the An Comhdháil crowd in Killarney for their World Irish Dance Championships, it’s a very busy and important week on the Irish dancing calendar.

While this means the cream of the crop are having their moment on stage after months of hard work and sweat, it also means there are hundreds of others at home dreaming of one day being on that stage (and possibly following the action on the live commentary or Twitter). That stage is a tough place. After all the physical preparation, it can be difficult to fight game day nerves and mentally steel yourself for what happens. Developing a routine, knowing your strengths, and learning how to stay focused will help make your day a whole lot easier.

For Jason Hays, two time World Champion, his competition day starts with bacon. “I like to have bacon in the morning because it has protein for the day, and I normally nibble on that throughout a competition day.” Hays begins his warm up process by running in place then doing basic stretches.

Six time World Champion John Lonergan would get his body pumped with a particular warm up routine. “I would get to the venue maybe an hour before the competition is meant to start. Get my bearings about the place and then start to warm up. For me this would be lightly dancing my dances to get the muscles going, then stretching, and building up to a sweat. One final stretch to make sure everything is loosened out.”

Heading to the stage is when the nerves kick it up a gear, so staying focused is key. “I always do my jumps before I go onstage! I have this routine/ good luck drill where I do some jumps then progressively get higher and higher. It’s always been my way of getting myself ready before I’m onstage”, says Hays. It’s also a day for Hays to be selfish, “I’ll make small chit chat with the other people waiting, but I’m here for myself so I normally run steps through my head and walk my dances side stage to warm up.”

For Lonergan, mental sharpness is key, “To psych myself up I normally just reminded myself of how hard I had worked, and how badly I wanted to be stood on the top of that podium. I’m quite a competitive person so that would always get the adrenaline pumping and would get me pumped up to go on stage and dance my best.” He adds, “Before I danced I always kept to myself and kept my focus and mind determined on the job I had to do – which was go out there and dance the best I could. Once all my rounds were finished, I would then go and chat to anyone who I was friends with, as I’ve done all I could at that stage.”

That time between rounds is where the mental game comes under the most pressure. Lonergan points out, “For boys I think it’s a lot easier as the competitions are smaller. There isn’t as much time to get distracted, so therefore it all happens really quick. For girls I think it’s important to have maybe 10 minutes relaxation time after the first round, then go and stretch a bit to stay warm, and maybe go over the steps of your light round yourself before meeting with your teacher or parent to go over it for the final time before going on stage. I always find dancing your steps for your teacher or parent full out before going side stage helps you get in ‘the zone’ for when you do end up going side stage.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go to plan on the day. According to Hays, “It’s hard to move past a bad round but usually I focus on what else I can do on my others. What happened has happened and there’s nothing I can do to change that so I focus more on the positives of my next rounds rather than dwell on one round and psych myself out.” Lonergan has a similar mentality. “Normally I would just try and forget [a bad round]. There’s always the next round after that, or your set dance to worry about too, so it’s important to focus into each one as they come. There’s no point in worrying about a set dance before your heavy round. Chances are you won’t perform well and there’s a chance you might not get to do your set. If you focus on each round as it comes, you’ll dance your best, and be within a better chance of getting that recall, or the result you really wanted.”

Have you danced at Worlds? Did you have an experience like these two champions described? What’s your game day routine (and does it include bacon)? Sound off in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook.

Image: Courtesy of Jason Hays

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Mental Preparation
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Four ways to get your head in the game on feis day

While competing in Irish dancing competitions is a wonderful experience, it can also be incredibly stressful. Unfortunately, stress can often get the better of you on competition day – you’re focusing on the negative instead of the positive, or you’re easily distracted, and don’t perform your best. Thankfully, our experts have you covered. Keep these four simple things in mind to stay cool on the big day and dance your best.

Find your routine

According to Frances Dunne, personal trainer and Irish dance fitness coach at Fitness Formula Irish Dance, “If you struggle to be on top form at competitions, or fluctuate between dancing well and just bombing it, you need to develop a routine that results in feeling ready. For example, if you know that you dance better when you’ve really warmed up, then make sure you allow yourself time to really warm up; if you danced really well at that feis where you had a big breakfast, then be sure to have a big breakfast every time!”

It’s all about finding a mindset that works for you. As Dunne points out, “It sounds awfully simple, but recognising patterns like these are the key to performing well under pressure. Everyone is different, so find what works for you. Of course there are things that work generally across the board, but the specifics are entirely individual.”

Focus on your strengths

If you want to psych yourself up on competition day and get in the right frame of mind, focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Bill Cole, MS, MA and internationally recognised peak performance mind coach, says, “Primarily focus on practicing your strengths. Leave practicing your weaknesses to your long-term training. You want to build up your confidence just before a performance, and reminding yourself of your best points will enhance that.” Good at clicks? Do some click drills.

Dr Ira Martin, a specialist Sports Psychologist with a doctoral and masters degree and who regularly works with Irish dancers, frames this another way, “You’re too busy thinking about the one mistake that you worry you’re going to make rather than thinking about the 10 things you are good at.” Focus on what you’re good at!

Block out the noise

Being at a dancing competition, particularly a major like a National or World Championships, can be overwhelming. Dr Martin points out that if there was ever a day to be selfish, this is it. “If you start watching your competition, you start psyching yourself out. It’s about you, it’s okay to be selfish – if you’re thinking about your strengths and what you’re good at, chances are you are probably not thinking about what’s going and could go wrong.” If you know you get distracted, create a focus playlist and pop your headphones in to drown out what else is going on.

When it comes time to go backstage, don’t lose that momentum. Conor Ayres, ADCRG, knows how important it is to tell her dancers to keep calm. “I tell them not to get caught up in the excitement/drama/tension of backstage. Just breathe, keep calm, and keep thinking about your own steps.”

Keep it positive

You did it! You’re here! You’re dancing at a competition. Take time out of your day to reflect on what it means to be there, and how far you have come. “Remind yourself of how hard you have worked and what you have done to prepare for this event. Feel good about all that. Feel good that you have done all that is in your power to prepare. You can then enjoy the event more, knowing that you did not cheat yourself.” says Cole. “Realize that you deserve to be at that event, that you belong. Even if you are not the top competitor, you would not be there unless you could compete.” If positive thoughts create positive actions, then you’re on the way to a great day.

What do you do to get in the zone on competition day? Share your advice below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

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Mental Preparation
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Effectively setting goals you can achieve

Not just in competition but in life, goal setting is important. It gives you direction, boosts motivation, and gives you confidence. But have you ever considered how to effectively set a goal? What does that even mean? According to our experts, there is a difference between just thinking about something and saying ‘that’s my goal’, compared to structuring your goal and setting a plan for that goal – the outcome between the two methods is very different. Learning how to set goals properly can mean the difference between them being a dream and a reality.

Why goal setting is important

For dancers who compete regularly, goal setting should be an integral part of dance training. It’s about putting thought into and acknowledging what you want to achieve, and figuring out how to get there. While some may think the goal is important, it’s actually figuring out how to get there that’s key.

Do you have an action plan? According to Dr Ira Martin, a specialist Sports Psychologist with a doctoral and masters degree and who regularly works with Irish dancers, “If you don’t have an action plan it’s kind of like driving from New York City to New London when you don’t know where you’re going! The idea of goal setting is that if you can get it written down and get it clear in your mind, it is really similar to having GPS. It lets you know where you’re heading and exactly what to do when you get there.”

Something else to remember when it comes to goal setting is to focus on yourself. Setting your goal around someone else’s performance (like wanting to beat a specific dancer) means you are always going to be preoccupied with someones else’s progress instead of your own. Bill Cole, MS, MA and internationally recognised peak performance mind coach, advises “Focus on your attitude, your thoughts, how you feel, how you react to problems, how you prepare to succeed, how you review your performance, and how you set and go after realizing your goals. If you list all the roadblocks that might fall in your way, you will quickly realize that the only thing you have true control over is…yourself.”

How to effectively set goals

If you’re going to set a goal and really work towards it, there are four boxes you should check along the way.

  • Write it down. Don’t just think it, or maybe consider it, or think it’s crazy, or get embarrassed by it – stop and write down that goal. Putting it into words will make it clearer for you to know what you want.
  • Keep it visual so it stays top of mind. Seeing it in words on paper will make it that much more real for you. Stick it on your wall as a visual reminder.
  • Tell people. Dr Martin has the girls he coaches share their goals with their classmates. He tells them, “I want you to know each others detailed goals so you can keep each other accountable.” While Irish dancing is an individual sport, telling your classmates and holding each other to your goals helps foster a special camaraderie.
  • Be specific. Dr Martin has wonderful advice when it comes to getting specific with goal setting. When working with dancers, “they will say I want a recall, I say okay great. We all do, how? Tell me what you’re going to do to recall.” This is where you need to work out how you will get there, with specific, detailed information. Do you need to work on turnout? Do you need to work on body control? Dr Martin also advises focusing on what you want, rather than what you don’t want. It’s no good to say ‘I don’t want to forget my step’, instead frame it in a positive way, saying ‘I want to make sure I don’t forget my step and I will do that by practicing’.

Do you have a specific goal for the 2015 feis season? Do you put your goals down on paper to stay focused? Share with us in the comments below, or join the discussion on Facebook.

Vision board in header: credit to Brooke Mackenzie
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Mental Preparation
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Using visualisation to prepare for competition

There is nothing more intimidating than getting to a competition and feeling overwhelmed and unprepared. But what if you could walk into the hall at Worlds, the Oireachtas, Nationals, even a local feis, and feel like you have been there before and you know exactly what is supposed to happen? Go in with a pre-meditated sense of calm? That’s the power of visualisation.

What is visualisation?

Visual-what? Visualisation. According to Bill Cole, MS, MA and internationally recognised peak performance mind coach, “If you enjoy daydreaming, or imagining what could be, you have the powers of visualization in place already.” He goes on to add, “Visualizing success is about going to the movies of your mind. It’s imagery. Mental practice.” What does Cole mean when he says mental practice? It’s all about seeing what is going to happen in your mind, playing it over, and taking in every detail.

Dr Ira Martin, who holds a doctoral and master’s degrees in Counselling and Human Development with a specialisation in Sport Psychology, works regularly with Irish dancers, and talks about visualisation as a cooperation of all five senses. When you visualise your perfect feis experience, “what are you feeling, what are you touching, what are you hearing, what are you smelling. It’s really about immersing yourself into visualizing everything.”

Why should I try it?

British scientist Alexander Bain first developed a theory in the 1800s about how the brain builds patterns and pathways to control repeated physical movements. When you visualise your performance, you create a neural pattern in the brain identical to the pattern created by the actual physical movements. Basically, your brain builds the pathways that your muscles will later use as a roadmap to make that performance a reality.

Martin is very passionate about using the power of visualisation as a way of being prepared, and how valuable it is when teamed with practice. “It’s about having an experience without having an experience. What I mean by that is your brain is such a powerful tool that in just thinking about what you want to do and just visualizing what you want to do, it’s almost like practising without practise.”

How do I visualise?

Cole says you can visualise two different ways. “One is to visualize your process of dancing. How smooth you are. How much you flow. How well you execute your technique, etc. The other way to use visualisation is to picture the ideal outcome you want. You can imagine yourself receiving top scores, winning the trophy and having your name in the paper.”

The best way to start using visualisation is to sit quietly and picture yourself at the competition. See yourself in your dress, wearing your shoes. Picture how you will feel walking onto the stage. Imagine how you will feel in that moment, confident and ready. See yourself doing your steps perfectly – ideal turnout, perfect point, great elevation. Then call to mind how you will feel when you finish that perfect dance, bow to the judge, and walk off. This simple exercise, when performed often, can help alleviate the stress of competition day and effectively manage nerves. According to Cole, “visualization should ideally be done the weeks before you compete, the days leading up to the event and moments before you go on the floor. Never visualize when you are actually dancing, as this will distract you!”

Cole sums it up best, saying “Simply stated, if you visualize success, you are likely to succeed. If you visualize failure, you are likely to fail. The secret is to be intentional about the pictures you allow into your mind.”

Have you ever tried visualisation?

Note: We use British English spelling, but as our interviewees are from the US, we have kept their quotes using American English spelling
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Balancing school and dance
Mental Preparation
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Balancing school and dance

A cursory glance at the Twitter accounts or Facebook profiles of many teenage and early 20s Irish dancers will show that they are multitasking wizards. On top of dance classes and competitions, many are juggling their heavy school schedules with extra curricular activities. How do they stay on top of it all and maintain their good grades as well?

The first key is organisation. Jason Hays, 2014 Senior Mens World Champion and a junior at the University of Texas at Arlington, keeps his life in check with a tried and true planner. “I like to use a monthly planner so that I know when I have exams, competitions, and work. Thankfully most of the work and dance schedules are structured within a time frame so that gives me leeway for my school classes.” Keeping track of your schedule in this way not only allows you to see how much time you can give to certain areas of your life, but also allows a sense of control amongst the busyness. Kevinah Dargan, 2014 Ladies 19-20 All Ireland Champion and a junior at the College of Brockport takes her organisation one step further. “Normally when I make my schedule for classes, I will put all my classes right in a row in the morning. This way, I can wake up early, get classes over with, and have the rest of the day to do all my school work and practice. Being able to schedule when I want my classes has really helped me with being able to balance my school and dance schedule.” If you have the option of scheduling your classes to suit your lifestyle, this is a fantastic option.

Some other great advice Dargan has when it comes to managing your time and staying organised is to study early and study often! “I started studying for my final exams super early so that I could study for each exam about a half hour every day over a longer period of time rather than studying 3 hours a day for a shorter period of time. This left more time for practicing.” This is particularly good advice when majors clash with school exam periods. Hays adds that his secret weapon for study is “Lots of naps! Sleep can get cut pretty quickly so if I am awake late into the night studying, finding some down time to take a power nap helps me to recharge.”

It’s about being organised, being willing to work hard, and being able to make sacrifices. Whether that sacrifice comes in the form of early morning and late night practices like Dargan, who says “I either have to wake up at 6:30am to go practice before class, or have to wait until 9 or 10 at night to go practice. But I still work it out where I am able to practice every day.” Or whether that sacrifice is on a bigger scale like moving out of home, like Hays “Suddenly my 3-5 hour daily commutes driving everywhere are now less than 1-2 hours. It was weird moving out but it has helped me stay on top of things without anything being sacrificed.” The most critical part of balancing school and dance is having a solid support network. This involves talking to your dance teachers, your school teachers, and your parents to make sure everyone knows what you need to achieve everything you want.

How do you balance school and dance? What advice do you have for other dancers? Share below in the comments.

Image credit: Michelle Acheson
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Mental Preparation
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The 5 biggest mistakes dancers make when preparing for majors

Preparing for majors is hard work. There are a few times a year when dancers are balancing classes, school work, a social life, and extra-curricular activities, and something has to give. Same goes for parents – you’re driving to extra lessons, managing a schedule, and usually caring for a stressed out dancer who is working their hardest for those few minutes on stage. It’s also the time when every little stressor is amplified, nerves run raw, and silly mistakes happen.

These are the five biggest mistakes dancers make when preparing for majors.

Not having a balanced fitness plan

Going to class twice a week and then vegging out at home is not going to leave you in tip top shape. According to Conor Ayres, ADCRG at the Christine Ayres School, “It’s not enough to exclusively practise your dances and perfect your steps.” Ayres adds, “Dancers should be listening to their bodies and making sure they are healthy – this includes regular physio/massage, eating properly, going to the gym/pilates/yoga.” It might add something to your packed schedule, but it will be worth it.

Burning out

Many dancers are working so hard and pushing their bodies so much that they burn out before the big day. Irish dance fitness coach and personal trainer Frances Dunne of Fitness Formula Irish Dance has seen it all too often. “Many dancers will keep working themselves into the ground and not allow themselves enough rest. They forget that recovery plays a crucial part in getting stronger and fitter!” Regardless of what your class schedule is like, you need to carve out recovery days to keep your body, and your mind, in good shape.

Comparing yourself to your competition

Countless hours have been wasted thinking about what your competitors are doing, but Ayres sums it up perfectly when she says, “Just think about you.” She goes on to say, “Think about your own preparation and how you are dancing. No one else you are competing against should matter. If you have done your own preparation that is right for you, and have the confidence that you will dance the best you can, that’s enough.”

Putting too much pressure on themselves

Putting too much pressure on your performance or result is the fastest way to get inside your head and turn competing into a stressful, negative experience, rather than a positive one. Dunne points out, “This has negative effects both mentally and physically, and will stop you from getting into peak condition!” This is where having positive forces around a dancer, like supportive parents and a great teacher, are really important.

Assuming it will be right on the day

The opposite of putting too much pressure on yourself is taking a laissez faire approach to competition. Not putting in the extra work, or fixing corrections is just as damaging as overworking. “Dancers can’t just “wing it” on the day of the competition, so when your teacher gives you a correction to work on…work on it til it’s competition ready” says Ayres.

So there you have it – now you know what not to do before a major. Have you ever found yourself making these mistakes? Did your results suffer as a consequence? Share your experience and the lessons you’ve learnt in the comments below.

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