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Using Intuition to Improve Sports Performance

posted by Loren Fogelman, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Friday, January 27, 2012 at 3:00pm EST

About Loren Fogelman:

Hello Friend! I'm passionate about connecting with athletes as they tap into their true potential. My purpose is to create a paradigm shift. Adding more knowledge is useful, but reducing the distra...more

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Can an athlete think too much? Well, yes and no. It depends on the time and place. Talk to any athlete whose under-performing. They will admit too many thoughts interfere with sports performance.

During high pressure moments of a competition, racing thoughts, critical thoughts or too many thoughts become a distraction. Thinking slows down response time. During those high pressure moments clutch players are not distracted by their own thoughts. Immediate, decisive action requires a quick response.

Whether you call it an inner sense, gut feeling, hunch, intuition, ESP it does not matter. They are one and the same. Even if you don’t believe in a sixth sense, you have one. You might as well develop it so you can use it to your advantage during crunch time.

The traditional approach to working through a challenge is to train harder, get stronger or build power. Many athletes don’t recognize the valuable resource already within them. It never occurs to them that they can tap into those abilities. What is the reason you don’t go with your intuition or those gut feelings? You never thought about it, you don’t believe in those things or do you tune it out?

Success driven athletes use whatever resources are available to them. It doesn’t matter whether it is a traditional approach to high performance, or not. Highly driven athletes are more interested in stepping out of the box of what is acceptable and pushing the envelope. Creativity and the willingness to take a risk are characteristics of winning athletes in all sports.

Combining physical training, ongoing education along with personal experiences, and intuition to foresee how things might play out is a valuable combination. 

Intuition is not based upon linear, logical thinking. It is a subconscious process. It’s similar to viewing the situation from a bird’s eye view instead of a path. The focus is on the outcome, not on the steps to get there. It is a momentary gut feeling instead of a logical choice. Think about it too long and you are likely to talk yourself out of it since it lacks logic.

Athlete’s committed to high performance embrace the concept of deliberate practice. What does that mean? The plan is to continue improving your current skill set along with stretching your range of skills.

Now let’s take this up a notch. To excel beyond average in your sport requires consistent daily practice. Research has shown consistent practice is better than intense concentrated periods of practice. Why? You will actually log more hours with consistent measured training instead of just on days when you have the time for intense training. 

A correlation exists between time spent on your sport and increased intuition. Muscle memory frees up your mind. Response become more automatic as less concentration is required for technique. Overthinking causes athletes to slow down. An automatic response during crunch time improves sports performance.  Highly skilled athletes with a strong mental game are better at quickly dealing with those unexpected moments instead of letting them throw off their focus.  

Golf champion Sam Snead, who won the most PGA Tour events stated, “It is only human nature to want to practice what you can already do well, since it’s a hell of a lot less work and a hell of a lot more fun.”

Ways intuition improves sports performance include:

  • Fast response situations
  • Unexpected change
  • High pressure situations without a clear choice
  • Conflicting options
  • No prior experience available
  • To improvise in tough situations

A cluttered mind hinders intuition. During those crunch moments trust in your first hunch is critical. Allowing fearful thoughts, second guessing or trying to predict what coach would want you to do will only slow you down.

Trust in yourself. All of the hours spent on training has prepared you for this moment in time. You have everything you need to perform. Be willing to take a risk and go with your gut feeling. Just like any other muscle, the more you use it the stronger it becomes. Whether it’s a hunch or a gut feeling, pay attention. Use it as a guidance system. Act intuitively when possible.

Developing your intuition improves focus. Focus, along with intuition, requires you to be playing your sport in the present. A present focus frees you up to respond quickly when necessary, improves confidence and relieves tension. Sports performance requires presence of mind.

Carl Jung, a famous psychologist, states intuition, sensation, thinking and feeling are four major functions of our minds. Since intuition is not based upon logic or reason, it is difficult for many to grasp its importance. Deliberate practice helps develop physical along with mental game skills. The combination of practice, reflection and analysis improves decision making in all circumstances.

When experience, or reason, is unavailable your intuition can be used to make a decision. Think about the advantage you would gain by combining experience and trust to make rapid decisions without conscious awareness or thought in high pressure situations. View this as one more tool leading to improved sports performance. Use intuition, along with your other mental game skills, turning you into a clutch player.

Let’s learn from one another. Post any tips you’ve used to strengthen your intuition. Share your stories about a time when you went with your gut feelings.

Activity: Be sensitive to those gut feelings and hunches you experience. At first it will be a fleeting thought before your logical mind jumps in encouraging you to make a different decision. Notice when you didn’t act on that first thought and wished you had. Next time you are in a similar situation just go with the first hunch before your mind becomes cluttered with other thoughts. A clear mind improves focus. Present, focused athletes are more relaxed and have greater enjoyment in their sport.

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