In my recent athletics post, I said that my ‘head’ was a primary focus. It turns out that Dr Steve Peters, the current 400 metre M60 masters British record holder, is Sir Chris Hoy’s head shrink!
It’s interesting that when I tried broaching the subject of sports psychology with UK academia in the Seventies, I was poo-pooed. Having won a few championships in a twenty year career in professional sport (including coaching sports psychology at a Superbike racing school for six years), it’s bizarre that I’ve now stumbled over Steve (a brief word at the National Championships meet last Saturday) as I return to my first competitive love – athletics.
I like Steve’s analogy but I’m sure he will know that for elite sportsmen there is a higher plane. Ultimate performance rarely comes without being able to turn ALL conscious thought off. So, although it’s useful to learn to control the chimp’s ability to get in the way of full access to the subconscious, it’s not the whole story.
I discovered this entirely by accident at the beginning of my motorsports career. I spent the next two decades learning how to master it and then how to pass it on to others. Meditation is one of the early exercises that can assist in accessing the subconscious but experience helps the competitor to learn to ‘flick the switch’.
At first, it took me days of mental preparation to get into the right place in my head before an event. In the later stages of my career, I could flick the switch just minutes before a race. The result is an almost out of body experience and a performance that often even surprises the subject.
The lasting memory of teaching this came from my time superbike racing coaching a very well known military aerobatics team squadron leader. The chimp never got in the way of his human mind but I had to teach him to switch that off as well. I told him, “junk your check list, disappear somewhere quiet and build the entire lap in your head – everything: the feel, the smell, the noise. When you get on the bike, don’t TRY doing the image in your head. Just relax and switch OFF – your subconscious already knows what to do! He referred to it as “flying by the seat of his pants” and duly introduced the rest of his squadron for more of the same…