October, 1999



DEAR DIARY      An inside look at USATFs

Jim Aikens shares more of his secrets for success

BIG TALENT IN THE LONE STAR STATE                  A report from USATF Junior Nationals


SURVIVAL IN THE SUN              Hot times at Masters Nationals in Orlando

LITTLE MAN    BIG HEART    Richard Destefano takes it to the limit

SPEED KILLS Masters shot champion Craig Shumaker


INTRODUCTION TO THE HAMMER           Fritz it, don’t lift it!

SO YOU WANT TO GET STARTED IN THE HIGHLAND GAMES              Pro Steve Pulcinella gives some tips for the novice

The Literalist checks in


by Wayne Hurr, Ph.D., Sport Psychologist

Combining proper mental skills with your physical skills enhances optimal performance. By working on the mental
aspects of throwing, you can reach your full potential as a thrower. Some mental skills that enhance performance
include relaxation training, visualization, and positive affirmations.


During competition it is essential to narrow your field of focus. It is important to block out external distractions such as crowd noise, and focus on the task at hand. Research has shown that relaxation is important to attaining this state of focus and concentration. By utilizing relaxation techniques, you can increase focus and concentration and enhance performance. Slowing down your breathing results in reduced heart rate and pulse rate. It also decreases muscle tension which allows for greater fluidity of motion in your throws. Also, when you are relaxed your body consumes less oxygen and optimum lactic acid levels are more easily maintained.

To effectively execute a relaxation technique, it is important to take several deep, cleansing breaths. Turn your attention internally to your breathing. Establish a SLOW, steady rhythm for breathing and maintain it. Experience this rhythm using a visual image, for example, a light bulb that glows brighter when you inhale and dims when you exhale. Other ways to facilitate a relaxed state before competition include muscle tension relaxation techniques, listening to relaxing music, or visualizing yourself at a quiet, peaceful place.

It is important to recognize that it is normal to experience some anxiety before a meet. "Don’t be worried about being worried." It is essential to practice relaxation techniques throughout the season so that when you reach major competition you are prepared to implement them successfully.


Visualization is another mental skill that can aid performance. To do something successfully we must first be able to visualize doing it in our own mind. Research shows that our brain is not able to distinguish between an event that actually happened and the same event that was imagined. The central nervous system responds to all images as if they are real. Athletes who visualize their throws prior to competition are better prepared during the actual competition because they have seen it countless of times before in their own minds. Visualization works because it functions as a dress rehearsal for the competition that lies ahead. When it comes time for the meet, you have the sense that you have "been there and done that." Visualization also facilitates self-confidence because we literally see our body and behavior differently.

To successfully execute a visualization technique you might follow the following procedure. Close your eyes and visualize your most successful past performance. Visualize yourself performing at peak performance. Try to recreate all of the sensory images including sights, sounds, physical sensations, and how you felt inside (everything that you associated with that peak performance). If you are in the midst of a performance slump, it can be helpful to view a videotape of a past peak performance or a tape of another athlete executing the throw with perfect form.


Negative, self-critical thinking sets us up to fail. It inhibits confidence and concentration. It creates anxiety and muscle tension which prevent optimal performance. It is important to counteract negative thinking with positive affirmations and self-talk.

If you are experiencing a slump in performance, it is important to forgive yourself for past mistakes and focus on succeeding in the present. Remind yourself that it is a different time and different situation. Remind yourself that: "Everyone makes mistakes, it’s human", "Let it go", "Refocus". Make positive self-statements about your abilities. For example, "I’ve trained hard, and I feel confident and in control." It is also important to act confidently. Exhibit confident speech and body language. This gives your teammates as well as your opponents the message that you came to perform, are confident, and are not feeling intimidated.


For major competitions, the tendency often is to press and try harder rather than just letting things happen. Trust your training and the skills that got you there. Don’t change things that have worked well for you during the regular season. Stick with your pre-meet routine. Remind yourself that although it may be the first time you competed in a national or international meet, it’s not the first time you have thrown.

At major competitions it is better to "try easy" versus "trying harder." Your body and mind already know that it is a big meet and therefore your adrenaline levels will naturally be elevated. If adrenaline or arousal levels are too high, muscle tension results, which may interfere with optimum performance. This is an excellent opportunity to utilize relaxation techniques to decrease anxiety. It should be noted, however, that athletes perform best at various levels of arousal/activation. Some athletes perform best at higher levels of arousal. Therefore, it is important for each athlete to reach the level of arousal that is best for them.

In conclusion, working on the development of your mental skills can help you reach your full potential as a thrower. At major competitions athletes are often at similar performance levels. The winner may be determined not by who performs the best, but by who screws up the least. By adopting proper mental strategies, you can begin to eliminate barriers you once thought were limits.

Note: Wayne Hurr is a member of the United States Olympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry and the USA Track and Field Sport Psychology Subcommittee. He is a Staff Psychologist at the Georgetown University Counseling Center and a Sport Psychology Consultant to the Georgetown University Athletic Department and the Reebok Enclave. He has worked with athletes in national and international competition. *LSTJ*