Samantha Auty proudly sponsored by Fencing Imports Australia

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Competition Preparation Overseas including Mental Preparation

Hi All,

As my next competition is next weekend in Ghent, Belgium, I thought that I would give you all an insight into preparing for a competition overseas. This post will cover aspects of preparing for competition when travelling as well as specific mental preparation for fencing. This is assuming that you are physically prepared from your training, including tapering your training within the week of the competition. For example, all my training sessions in the week of a competition are just a full competition warm up followed by competitive booting ie fencing to win. Remember the aim of good preparation is to a) reduce pre-competition stress b) increase competition focus and c) relax!

Even when you are travelling in general overseas there are lots of things to consider when preparing for your trip such as travel insurance, accommodation, travel to and from accommodation etc. So when preparing to travel for a competition you have to also prepare for that competition as well as travel. Your preparation should allow for plenty of time to relax before a competition, and to prepare you for anything. Here are some things to consider when travelling to a competition overseas:
  • Timing your travel: If you are competing overseas it is a good idea to travel from Australia with plenty of time to prepare and relax before the competition. For example, for competitions in Europe or America I will always leave a week early, and organise training in the same time zone before the competition. This way my body can get over jet lag and I have time to prepare myself mentally and relax without worrying about a big travel day before the competition. If your competition is closer to home (like a regional Asia on competition) you may only need 2-3 days before the competition to prepare, rather than a whole week.
  • Be informed: Take time to research how you are going to get from the airport to your accommodation in detail. Most fencing competition overseas are not in the main cities, but regional cities that may be a 30min to 2 hour train ride from the city. By knowing how you re going to get there, and what transport times are you can massively reduce the stress of travelling to a competition (particularly if you are arriving the day before). Additionally, being well prepared can also give you an idea of a back up plan, if something goes wrong.
  • Know your accommodation: This sounds a bit simplistic, but if you are certain about whether you have free WiFi, breakfast paid for, and travel from your accommodation to the venue, then you have a lot less to prepare for when you arrive at your accommodation (usually the day before your competition if you have been training elsewhere). It also doesn't hurt to research where the nearest supermarket is before you get there.
  • Useful tools for research: for finding good accommodation at decent prices- Expedia.com or booking.com, for researching the general area (including supermarkets)- Google maps, travel from airports to main cities- the airport website, regional train travel- the country's train operator website.

I mentioned before about researching a supermarket in the area. This is because being prepared for food and drink during a competition is particularly important.
  • Food and drink for competition: Not all venues have a canteen or places to refill water bottles, and in some places you cannot drink tap water. As such it is really important to ensure that you know a place nearby where you can buy water, competition snacks, lunch and dinner. Depending on your accommodation it may also be possible to have meals there (or sneak lunch from the breakfast buffet).
  • Pack your own first aid/ survival kit: This is about being prepared for anything, just as you would bring a weapon fixing kit you should prepare by bringing the basics in the event that anything goes wrong physically. My recommendations for a basic first aid kit for sport travel are: bandaids, alcohol antiseptic wipes (or antiseptic liquid), cotton wool balls, compression bandage, cold spray, anti inflammatory gel, anti inflammatory tablets, any injury specific medications/ straps/ or braces, gastro strop, hydrolyse, tissues. Also include some personal survival items such as any vitamins or medication you are taking on a regular basis and sanitary items.

This part of the post is going to move more into fencing specific mental preparation for competition, including exercises that I use and practice on a regular basis. I still find that I am working out what works best for me, particularly as my major weakness during competition is my lack of ability to relax. Mental preparation is like any other kind of training you need to practice it and find want works for you for you to be able to benefit from it during a competition. Often the difference between the winner and loser of a bout is not the technical ability of the fencers but their mental preparation and ability to focus.
  • Mental activation: mental activation involves being in a comfortable position to begin with (usually with eyes closed) and activating each part of your body with a sensation that works for you. The idea is that you are connecting your mental thought to your physical body. There are various methods and sensations used for this including imagining heat spreading to that area in your body from a central point, or pinpointing a specific area to attach the sensation to.
  • Meditation/ relaxation: How you begin a meditative/ relaxation session really is a matter of experimentation as to what works for you. I usually try and reach a comfortable position and focus on the process of breathing. The action of breathing in and out slowly thereby focusing on one thing and relaxing by banishing all other thoughts.
I tend to use the above methods the night before a competition. If I am particularly nervous then I will focus on relaxation, if I am feeling flat and apathetic then I will focus on mental activation.
  • Visualisation: visualisation is a particularly strong mental tool for athletes. If you are able to visualise a hit working against an opponent then it is much more likely to work in competition. Just the same as if you can visualise feeling confident on the piste then you are much more likely to be so on the day.
  • During competition: on the competition day visualising your matches during your warm up may help you to be confident on the piste. However, I really want to stress that mental preparation is different for everyone and you really need to take these basic tools and practice them to figure out what works for you. Some people find focusing on the physical process of a warm up to be far more relaxing and effective than visualising winning on the piste. You also need to be aware that your mood states may change and that you may need a different mental preparation tool that day than you did last time. For example, I may use visualisation during a warm up if I am really struggling with my confidence, but if I am already confident and need to focus on relaxation I will focus purely on the physical act of breathing during my warm up. During a match in between hits I will focus on my breathing to relax my physical state before the next hit begins.

Preparation is meant to allow you to control everything you can possibly control so that you are more relaxed before a competition. However, remember that you cannot control everything and that is why you need to allow yourself to prepare for absolutely anything to happen, then you don't need to worry about things outside of your control (like delayed flights or trains, getting sick, who you are fencing, even the weather!). Good preparation is the essence of being ready :)

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