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Inner Saboteur

This term is receiving increased attention lately in sports circles. Obviously, it has always been important what the “inner voices” were telling athletes, but so much emphasis has never been placed on not just simply ignoring these voices during mental preparation. That is because they inevitably and uncontrollably returned at unpredictable times, so instead, the focus is now on proactively managing this kind of self-sabotage.

The athlete as a person

To perform at their personal best and then reach the top, they have to beat their opponents. At least, this was how professional sports literature approached this topic for a long time. This process worked, too, since it depicted elite athletes as dominant phenomena that sweep everything and everyone away; therefore, this kind of struggle definitely fit their image the best. They battle against their opponent and emerge as victors. Later, occasionally, famous athletes emerged about whom reporters tended to jokingly say that “they are competing only with themselves”, which generally referred to the fact that no one could even come close to them skill-wise, which meant that during a competition, the only questions was whether they would be able to beat their own record. Although sports psychology has been around for a long time, it has primarily concentrated on “tricks” to increase performance and often avoided analysing each athlete’s deep, personal psychology. A lot of time has passed since then, and with new advances in technology, more and more attention is being paid to the true mental state of the athletes during their mental preparation. The best experts clearly saw that even the tricks work better if the athlete feels better in their own skin. We have to keep in mind that athletes are people, too, even if they achieve superhuman feats sometimes, and they are still human at the end of the day. Furthermore, sports are undergoing large-scale transformations due to technical and technological advances, placing even more emphasis on psychological development because in most sports today, the mental struggle is often the deciding factor because there is not nearly so much to discover in terms of physical preparation.

The picture has changed

This means that honest work has become even more important in sports as well. Humility has always been an expectation towards top athletes; however, the earlier paradigm produced global stars who did not possess this trait to a sufficient degree. This is much more difficult nowadays, and thus the personalities of successful athletes have also shifted towards a more hard-working, often introverted character, willing to complete repetitive tasks. This type of athlete is a very diligent person who is not afraid to put a lot of work into becoming successful. In parallel, a new phenomenon has emerged on the mental side in the form of fears. This is because this type of person will, of course, be doubtful of their own capabilities, will be afraid to face the toughest challenges, and will wonder what will happen if all that hard work will not pay off at the competition. This type of person will fail much more during their career, which allows them to learn humility. This lets them get to the top slowly but surely and makes it possible for them to remain there for longer. This change has brought on a new aspect of mental preparation; the mechanism for managing the inner saboteur. The Tokyo Olympics are underway. What’s more, we will see a very strange iteration of the Olympic games, which will be the most straining from a mental point of view. If someone was already unable to face the voices whispering doubts from the inside and did not pay enough attention to managing these, they may fall significantly behind at the Olympics because, during this event, there are plenty of dark thoughts our inner saboteurs can plant in our minds.