Mental Preparation For Professional Musicians and Athletes

Just before a performance nerves can get the better of performers and sportspeople but the greats know how to succeed consistently

Photo by Tobias Seidl on Unsplash

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

This is what the former US president Benjamin Franklin once said and it’s especially true of high performers.

Many celebrities rely on others to prepare them for a live performance but the greatest musicians and athletes thrive off pressure without them.

Minders, bodyguards, agents, representatives, and managers surround professional performers before they step on stage or on the field of play but none of them can hold their hand once the audience is seated and expectant of them to entertain them.

That’s why personal preparation is key so that their performance is memorable enough for everyone to enjoy.

The greatest of musicians and athletes realize the importance of the final few hours and minutes before performing so that when the camera is on them they are attracting the right attention.

Although the great performers can prepare well, they also realize they have normal human reactions such as anxiety and nervousness for the up-and-coming performance, but it’s how they manage these emotions that make them truly great once they perform.

I’ve witnessed this first hand and helped professional musicians and athletes manage emotions right up to the moment of performance when the lights shine and the audience erupts with expectation.

Such was my success that I was asked a couple of times to manage professional musicians and athletes. And, being honest, the main reason I`d such success was that I was calm when they were not. Sure I`d techniques and strategies to help them but until you’re thrust into those final few minutes before performance alongside someone who has a big reputation to perform you don’t know how you’ll present to the professional performer or athlete.

And that’s also how the celebrity feels before they master their emotions because every live performance matters and with it the possibility of poor performance.

It’s key to go to bed and sleep properly the night before a performance.

Of course, this doesn’t seem too mind-blowing but what’s unusual is that quite a few performers also take a nap right before they go on stage or perform at the highest level. Some studies have shown that napping right before performing enhances motor memory and improved alertness. So long as the nap is shorter than 20 minutes or so the body is limber and ready to go as soon as they wake up.

By sleeping for only 20 minutes you will reach a light sleep status but avoid a deeper sleep so you`re gaining the restorative benefits of a short sleep but avoiding the drossiness of longer sleep.

Musicians often rehearse a couple of hours before they step out on stage before later on, performing in front of a huge audience. They do a sound check to co-ordinate with their sound engineer, and usually run through a set of their most popular tunes or trial new songs also. Essentially, it’s a dry run to open their lungs and remove that edge of uncertainty but it’s also a way of visualizing what they’ll see from their vantage point on stage.

Photo by Pien Muller on Unsplash

And sometimes fans can’t understand the difference between warming up and performing which is what happened in 2017 when Radiohead was tuning their instruments on stage in Glastonbury.

And it’s the same for athletes when they approach a stadium.

For example, basketball star Le Bron James has been known to walk straight onto the court as soon as he steps off the team bus. He’s avoided going into the locker room, or even taking off his coat as soon as he arrives but instead prefers to approach the court and run through the mental journey of stepping out to where he’ll perform later on that night. And James rarely performs badly when the game starts later on.

Another who rarely performed below his best during his career was Manchester United and Irish football captain Roy Keane. His attention to detail and insistence on excellence was second to none. But he couldn’t stand when others did not agree with him.

And that was perhaps Keane’s biggest weakness.

After reaching the heights that no other Irish footballer had achieved and few Manchester United captains had attained, Keane’s exit was sharp and unexpected. In the 2002 World Cup finals he argued with team management and other senior players because he knew the preparation for the tournament was tardy and would not lead the team to victory.

Of preparation, he was correct. But on delivery of his complaint, he could have done better.

Photo by Lukas Eggers on Unsplash

Yet that’s one of the things that sets the greatest apart from others. They want to be the best all of the time and realize that this starts with being in the right frame of mind when this is expected of them.

As Benjamin Franklin explained if you fail to prepare you won’t perform well at all, and that’s exactly the sentiments that Roy Keane referred to when he finally bowed out of elite-level performance too.

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Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.

Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.

Forbes, INC. & Entrepreneur Magazines, CBS, & NBC Featured, Dr. Conor Is The World’s Leading High-Performance Neuro Socio-Psychologist & Co-Authored 4 Books

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