Fighting Spirit and Stress

Athletes are often told to stay calm while also being combative.

At first glance, this might seem a bit contradictory, but in reality, it’s not at all. I can be mentally calm and yet be combative and physically dynamic at the same time. We have seen that stress is necessary and acts as an engine to get into action during a match. This is referred to as positive stress.

In fact, stress is the primary driver of fighting spirit. Stress prepares us for action: my body tenses up to act, just like an animal getting ready to flee or attack its predator. So, ideally, I should use my stress to act, to attack, and to get into action, while associating a positive and energizing idea or image with it. I can tell myself, “I’m ready to act, I’m motivated, I’ll act positively.”

At other times, during breaks, I can physically calm down to recover both physically and mentally. So, it’s important not to be dynamic all the time.

Mental Coaching: Some Tools

Alongside stress, which is an instrument to be positively used for approaching my match, I can use various tools to be combative at certain key moments.

  • Firstly, I can use breathing: take a deep breath in; exhale multiple times in a dynamic manner.
  • Adopt a behavior that energizes me: the classic “clenching of the fist” might seem simple but is associated with positive sensations for being combative. Other behaviors, like hopping or moving certain parts of the body dynamically, are very effective.
  • Think of an image of myself being combative.
  • Think of a resourceful image that evokes fighting spirit. For example, I can think of Nadal clenching his fist, or even think of a lion, if that brings out combative feelings and motivation.
  • Repeat a self-talk phrase to oneself, saying combative phrases. For example: “I am combative, I want to win.”

The goal is to work with a mental coach to find one’s ritual and know when and how to use it, using the tools mentioned above. Recently, a high-level athlete developed the following ritual with me: take a deep breath while thinking of a combative self-image, exhale calmly, then clench the fist while saying, “I’m going to devour it, come on.”

It might seem simple, but it works, because an association with fighting spirit has been activated. Of course, this requires repeating the ritual.

You will find a technique here that allows for this kind of association that activates a specific mental state, like fighting spirit: resource anchoring.

Other exercises are to be developed with a mental coach, particularly positive mental visualizations, cognitive and behavioral techniques, or sophrology.

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