In the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics, our Aussie athletes have put almost as much effort into their mental preparation as their physical training.
From dealing with pre-event nerves to knowing how to push past a difficult hurdle, athletes spend hours with sports psychologists getting their minds as fit as their bodies.
"We want to have those skills down and good weapons in the toolbox for athletes to draw upon without having to think about them — they're second nature," says Gerard Faure-Brac, a sports psychologist at the NSW Institute of Sport.
"Different things work for different people and it's a matter of playing around with a few things before you find what works."
But it's not just professional athletes who can benefit from learning some helpful mental strategies. Whether you enter fun runs or play footie on the weekend, there's plenty of evidence that the mind can have as big an impact on performance as the body.
Spot stress signals
Severe stress can paralyse athletes of any level, so one of the first things sports psychologists do is teach stress-busting techniques.
"A number of things happen in the body when the stress response is activated," Faure-Brac says.
"Your heart rate changes, your breathing changes, your muscles go really tense and you have an ability to process a whole lot of information really quickly. If you're able to do something about those things that occur, then you're going to put that response on hold and alleviate it."
He suggests focusing on calm breathing, which helps slow the other stress responses. "A couple of diaphragmatic breaths can have a relatively good effect," Faure-Brac says.
Nix the nerves
Whether you get fired up like Leighton Hewitt or you're more mellow like Roger Federer, if you are a competitive athlete you need to find ways to handle the inevitable pre-event nerves.
"It takes a bit of trial and error," says sports psychologist Shayne Hanks from Performance Boost.
"Some people like listening to music or reading a book, others will distract themselves with a conversation with someone else."
Rushing around on event day can boost anxiety levels, so Hanks suggests getting prepared in advance. "Pack your bag the night before and give yourself plenty of time to find a car park and warm up," he suggests.
Practise positive self-talk
On top of being masters at their sport, most Olympians have developed an incredible ability to control their self-talk.
"I try to teach people to be aware of what they say and what impact it has on their mood and behaviour," Hanks says.
"The majority of people are quite negative towards themselves. If someone misses a golf shot, they'll tell themselves they're a loser or an idiot — they say things to themselves that they wouldn't say to anyone else."
But that negative self-talk can have a disastrous impact on performance.
"The key is recognising when you're going to have some negativity," Hanks says.
As you approach a challenging point, Faure-Brac says you need to use a powerful mind tool that prevents negative thoughts from surfacing. "A lot of people imagine a stop sign right in front of their face," he says. "That's useful to help you stop doing what you're doing right now."
Then it's a matter of distracting yourself.
"You could take in the scenery around you or you might focus on the rhythm of your feet and get a breathing rhythm happening," Faure-Brac suggests.
"Breaking the race into chunks by focusing on the minutes per kilometre can also help. You could think, 'It's 2km until the part where I'm normally happy' then focus on how you feel when you're happy."