This short article is written for athletes who struggle with letting past performances or experiences detrimentally affect their present performance.

How can the past impact my present? I hear you say...

It's pretty simple really, and its a common problem people face: How many times have you said something along the lines of "last time I used that pole / competed in that venue / tried that exercise ... x,y,z happened .... and it didn't work, the pole spat me out, I couldn't do it, lightning struck ... etc."

Your mind goes back to the past and digs up memories to reinforce the fears you're feeling based upon the task at hand. The massive problem with this way of thinking is that training and competition can be self-sabotaged if you allow the memory of one bad jump, run, or whatever you're doing, to affect the rest of the session.

Many a championship has been lost by people who let a bad warm up sabotage their competition. On the contrary, many a championship has been won by performers who were able to compartmentalise each effort, realising that they had another chance, even if their first, or second attempts were failures. They did not allow one bad effort to sabotage their future, and they finished with success!

One point to clarify here - I am not saying past experiences should be forgotten. What I am saying is we need to learn the lesson from the past - whether it was a lesson learned from success, mistakes or a failure - and carry the lesson into the future. We should not also be carrying negativity, fear, or any other unhelpful emotion with us into our present. Carrying the burden of past mistakes or failures forward is mental baggage and it weighs you down. Carrying the lessons and experience forward into our present, however, is uplifting. 

‘Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.’
— C.S. Lewis

Cut the Cord

What we need to learn to do is to cut the cord once the lesson from a past mistake has been absorbed ...

Draw a line under it.

Move on.

... I'm not saying that's an easy thing to do; but its a necessary thing to do: Like anything, it requires willpower, determination and practice to make it a habit.

So what can you do to practice this way of thinking?

Make it a habit. Habits are those things we do consistently, therefore to change a habit, we need to change our behaviour and self-talk on a consistent basis. 

Try to become self aware with how you talk to yourself and others: Are you allowing yourself to take the unhelpful parts of the past into the future? When you hear yourself do so in either dialogue, or inner monologue - change your language and thought patterns. Reset.

Understanding how your mind can impact your performance is critical in competitive sport

Understanding how your mind can impact your performance is critical in competitive sport

For example - athlete A gets off the pit, and says to Coach shaking their head - "that plant was so late, it was really bad. Why can't I do it today...."

Is that a helpful statement considering the athlete now has to go and try to vault again?


That's likely stating the obvious. Coach no doubt saw the mistake, and knows what needs doing.

Reinforcing to oneself the failure of moving your hands on one particular attempt doesn't particularly serve as a motivator or helpful thought driver.

A better form of reflection and / or self-talk would be: "I need to move my hands earlier! Next time, all I need to do is set up my plant earlier."

Can you see the difference? The first version is reinforcing the mistake and the past effort, which is now done, and we can't change. It is out of our control.

The second version is focusing on taking the lesson, and applying it to our next effort. It is allowing us to change something we can control - our actions in the present... Two very different scenarios!

Control the Controllables

The past is one of those things which is out of our control: We cannot change it.

What we can control is our reaction to the past, how we view it, and the parts we take with us into the present. One of the qualities of people who have demonstrated strength and courage in the face of adversity is their ability to control their reactions to situations. They control the controllables, and direct their focus away from things they cannot control. This not only applies to sport, but to all areas in our life.

I will leave you with a quote from a Gentleman called Victor Frankl. He spent three years in a Concentration Camp during the second world war, and survived the Holocaust. His way of surviving the horrors he saw in the camp was based around applying the mentality below to his mindset, and helping others to do the same.

If you can adopt this way of thinking, I promise you, it'll change your performance for the better!

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves ... Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
— Victor Frankl

I hope some of these points help you on your journey.

Good luck!