Sports Mindset & Performance Coach
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John John is the fourth Hawaiian to win a world title. Photo: WSL / Kelly Cestari


The Inertia

Apart from the challenges of actual competition, professional surfers deal with a lot of pressure from media, sponsors, and family. But how do they manage their stress level so they can still succeed in the water? And what kind of training can help them with all the pressure when surfing is about results and not just riding a wave for the sake of it?

You see, competitive surfing is wildly different from free surfing. In competition, you have a specified time to be in the water and catch waves, while there’s also someone else there trying to do the same. Still, many athletes have a mature competitive instinct and know how to deal with such pressure, while others struggle more under these circumstances. Understanding how to separate the approach of competitive surfing versus free surfing is essential.

The most significant challenge in competitive surfing is the pressure. Once an athlete starts chasing a title there is a change of behavior and by extension, performance.  There’s more at stake, obviously. Surfing is an act of self-expression and any external pressure will influence the athlete’s performance. One must feel light (mentally) to surf well, so I believe the most important thing to do is to find a flow state. The key lies in the connection between body and mind, which is obtained by believing in something more than what’s tangible and going through moments of reflection. Being mentally prepared and improving mental strength is crucial to achieving higher performance levels consistently.

Nowadays, it’s common to see athletes as young as 10 years old receiving pressure from parents, eager to see their prodigy launch a career. Such dreams are relatively new but still very advanced in places like the United States and Australia, where training centers are built to develop and foster young careers. This has a lot to do with the competitive culture across all organized sports today, where family pressure can often be tied to financial goals and success. This is a route that can easily ignore a gradual evolution in everything from personal responsibilities to career goals.

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Mental preparation in sports is easily overlooked, yet it’s so important. For professional surfing, mental coaching exists to help athletes where other coaches, nutritionists, and trainers don’t. It’s an essential practice to add to the field. Mental training can help athletes of all ages and abilities benefit from the principles of sports psychology.

Professional athletes need it to progress gradually, so when they reach the top of their field they aren’t already burnt out. The market for professional surfing is as competitive as ever and I think athletes must be complete people, not just performance machines. They are expected to perform in heats as well as take care of their personal and professional image, positively advertising their own business and the sponsors who support them. Being a professional surfer means being a professional in all aspects of life today more than ever, and the right mindset is key.

So, is your mindset hurting your performance? Ask some of the following questions to find out:

-Do you perform better in practice than during competition?

-Do you worry about letting others down by not performing up to others expectations?

-Do you suffer from anxiety, worry, or excess tension when in competition?

-Pregame jitters do not go away after the first few minutes into the competition.

-Do you have trouble forgetting or letting go of past performances that were poor?

You can take the full quiz to answer more questions that may relate to your competitive mindset.