It’s every coach’s nightmare… You’ve been cleaning your routine for months. Spent hours in technique or tumbling classes. Drilled your skills over and over again, and in practice the routine is flawless. You’re ready. The team is READY! Then the time comes to take the competition floor and the worst happens. Someone chokes. That random mistake that you’ve never seen before unfolds before your eyes. One dancer just stands there and stares. Or a cheerleader falls on a simple skill she’s done thousands of times. Why do people choke? The #1 reason an athlete chokes is a lack of concentration and focus. And what causes you to lose focus? One big culprit is over arousal and the key to fixing over arousal is breath training.
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A Dancer’s Worst Enemy: Over Arousal
When you experience over arousal, your muscles are tense and you may be sweaty or shaky. There are lots of different symptoms, but when you are experiencing over arousal you are losing control of your body. Sure adrenaline is good going into a competition, but too much adrenaline can lead to catastrophic results. If an athlete doesn’t learn how to cope with anxiety, she may experience a decrease in performance. She may experience either an overall drop in ability, or maybe just one major mistake. Bottom line: over arousal can cause a dancer to choke.
Relax – It’s all in the breath training
Athletes need to be able to regulate their arousal in order to stay focused and in control. Relaxation has two major effects on the body: 1) an overall physiological calming effect and 2) it causes an athlete to shift his attention. When you force your body to relax, you reduce your heart rate, control shaking nerves, and allow for maximum oxygen to flow through your body. Relaxation also forces you to focus and pay attention to your body. Exactly what every athlete should be doing during a crucial competitive moment. You don’t want your cheerleaders paying attention to the team who is competing right now or worrying about the tumbling pass they have coming up. You want them focused on their own body and their own routine. Relaxation and breath training brings the focus back to your body.
Advantages to Breath Training
There are some big advantages to using a relaxation procedure during training and at competitions.
1) Relaxation procedures are entirely in your control. You control the beginning and the end of a relaxation procedure. Breath training continues however long you need it to in order to bring your body to the optimal level of arousal. Your in control and get exactly what you need, not too much and not too little.
2) It’s inexpensive. You don’t need any extra devices or equipment with you; just your brain and your body. That’s all you need. Most dance and cheer teams don’t have any extra money, or any money at all for that matter. So it can be hard to invest that precious commodity in anything other than the essentials. Well relaxation and breath training is essential, but it’s also free for everyone. 3) It’s incredibly easy to learn. There are a few different types of relaxation procedures and breath training is only one, but they are all simple to learn and perform.
Relaxation is easy, but it takes practice
Just like every other mental skill, proper relaxation takes dedication and practice. As a coach, you shouldn’t assume your dancers know how to relax or will be able to keep themselves calm when it matters most. Relaxation sounds easy, but it actually takes a little time to learn and be able to take full advantage. It’s easy to learn, but it does take practice.
How does it work?
There are many different kind of relaxation techniques, but many of them, like breath training, fall under the category of muscle to mind techniques. Your brain and your body are tied together. When your brain is calm, your body is calm. When you calm your body, you also calm your brain. Think about it: When you are calm, confident, and in control your breathing is steady, deep, slow, and rhythmic. When you are under pressure and tense your breathing is short, shallow, and irregular. The key is to recognize when you are tense and your breathing has become shallow. Then you can employ this simple breath control procedure to bring your breathing back to a steady deep rhythm. Then you are in control of your body and will be able to perform at your peak ability.
The Power of Breath Training
Most athletes don’t realize the power of relaxation before a big competition. Especially for dancers and cheerleaders, you may be at a competition location ready to go for hours before you actually compete. If you have adrenaline coursing through you and leaving you at a high level of arousal for hours, there is a very good chance you won’t be able to perform your best when it comes time to take the matt. The anticipation of your chance on the floor can build immense pressure and physiological arousal.
It’s important to have a simple breath training technique in your back pocket so that you can help your athletes maintain control when enter a stressful situation.
Simple 4 Step Breath Training
It’s really a simple pattern of breathing in and out, counting in the right sequence so that you make sure to breath slowly and rhythmically. You can take as many minutes as you need, but even one cycle through gives you an incredibly valuable 1-minute relaxation break.
- Breath in for 5 counts
- Hold that breath in for two counts
- Slowly exhale for 8 counts
- Repeat this 15 second cycle 4 times
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