Mental Toughness... Our Greatest Misunderstanding?
Many times throughout a Dancer's career, a Dancer can be described as resilient, tough, passionate, dedicated... All words that carry weight. These are all traits that individuals may strive for, however, under the constraints of performance the essence of the unknown can often distort the performance and display of such characteristics.
Of late, I have aimed to listen to more podcasts and listen to coaches talk to one another. One concept that struck a chord most recently was a question posed on the Pacey Performance Podcast which was... Why might one of the greatest athletes in the world struggle to perform his/hers best on the major stages of competition... yet they can set records and do consistent Personal Bests in training.
To Quote Keir Wenham-Flatt or "Rugby Strength Coach" and "Strength Coach Network"...
"What you become used to... Is what you become Mentally Tough to..."
Exposing one's self to situations, gradually, that may scare you at first but later become completely obsolete and no longer hinder your performance.
"Stress Inoculation" - Potentially the most valuable concept to a Dancer who dreams of performing on stage. Gradually exposing the mind and body to scenarios such as performance and the stage could be a fundamental concept that Dancers and Dance Teachers could adopt to allow Dancers to become used to the EVENT and subsequently Mentally Tough to the event.
In this Article I want to share a few stories thrown together... To be specific these are the culmination of anecdotes and conversations that Dancers have brought to me in the gym and in general discussion.
"It's not as simple as just practising..."
"If I practise on my own... what will people think of me?"
"If I do something different to every one else... Will people laugh at me?"
"I cant put my pointe shoes on for class... everyone will judge me..."
"What if I practise and I cant get it right..?"
These are all sentences and questions that are fairly common in both Dance Schools and Professional Companies.
Some Cliches spring to mind...
"Do what you have always done and get what you have always got!"
"Nothing Changes, If Nothing Changes"
"If it doesn't challenge you it doesn't change you"
I happen to agree with and use these phrases on the odd occasion when approaching a new training cycle or new approach to training Dancers.
However... As the anecdotes state... it is not always this simple.
Whilst we may find safety in doing what we have always done, for example, always practising in flat ballet shoes or practising something we know that we are good at... We must be find consistency in practising what challenges us.
Insert STRESS OR FEAR INOCULATION...
By gradually exposing yourself to something challenging, or new, steadily and consistently you will gain the habits and persistence required to progress whilst simultaneously becoming "tough" against the events or scenarios that initially had you worried, panicked or under performing.
So... if there is something that scares you, find a way to introduce yourself to it steadily and progressively so you can maintain all the great technique and artistry you currently utilise.
Dance Teachers: Be gradual in the exposure of Dancers to competitions. A Dancer's relationship with the stage may ride on the experiences they have early in their Dance careers. Competitions are great for experience, Shows are also great opportunities for Dancers gain the stage comfort they need as well as the toughness to pressure and a live audience. Keeping these exposures consistent and challenging in an appropriate manner can have significant impacts on a Dancer's confidence and resilience.