Star South African surfer Bianca Buitendag has worked out a few mental tricks to up her game at the right time. They’ll work for you too when you’re preparing for that big moment, whether that’s a heat in a surfing contest, standing on the start line of a race, or ahead of a presentation at work.
1. Surround yourself with a good team
WHY: Although surfing is essentially an individual sport, the coaches, trainers, caddies, mentors, travel partners and board shapers a surfer has in his or her corner play a major part in how well that individual performs. Think tennis, golf or boxing too. The same can be said for yourself: build that support base and work from there.
“The greatest secret is the people on your ‘team’,” Buitendag explains. “The people around you are mostly responsible for your mental state during competition, and your mental state has a greater influence on your performance than your physical.”
Usually Buitendag has family, close friends and her coach Mathias Maallem (“who has greater belief in my ability than I do,” she says) cheering her on, which helps her to build confidence.
2. You need to learn to lose before you can win
WHY: Buitendag tries to not stress too much on the outcome of a heat before it starts. She has a simple philosophy: a loss will not mean the end of the world.
“You need to realise that if you lose a heat, the world will keep turning,” she says. “Just a glimpse of the vanity and quickness of sporting success gives you more than enough reason not to dwell on it too much.”
3. Preparation is key
WHY: A decade or so ago, professional surfing was a sport of ‘beach bums’. Today it is a highly specialised athletic pursuit, with the top riders all following scientific training programmes. It goes further than physical prep and proper nutrition though; you need to have the best equipment available and have full confidence in it.
“Your preparation has a great influence on your eventual performance – so if you train and prepare like you would during a contest, you’re good to go,” Buitendag says.
4. Sleep well
WHY: Sleep quality and quantity are huge factors in terms of athlete success. The less you sleep, the more likely you are to get injured and the less likely you’ll respond properly to training.
“It sounds simple so simple,” says Buitendag, “but being in a comfortable space and getting enough sleep is invaluable.”
What is enough? Aim for eight hours in a dark room with no flashing lights or disruptive noises. The ideal is to also cut out all blue or electronic light 90 minutes before bed time.
5. Let it go
WHY: If it doesn’t work out, let it go. And, if it does, don’t rest on those proverbial laurels for too long. Buitendag has a philosophical outlook over contest results – a ‘what will be, will be,’ kind of attitude.
“Let it go, and let it be,” she says. “The future is decided. You can only determine in what emotion to participate in it. Realise that surfing is only a small part of life and should not hinder or take over other beautiful parts.”