Christoffer Endresen started doing sports seriously much later than his peers in his sports high school, but with the help of his teacher, he became one of the top performers in his class and found his passion - Sports Science. Working relentlessly, he soon discovered that mental training was the foundation of everything.
Now Christoffer works with agility handlers to support them in the mental game. “My focus is on the handlers and helping them reduce their fear and anxiety, and replacing it with joy and enjoyment of the sport and, at the same time, achieving a higher level of performance.”
We had a chance to talk with him about how rituals can help agility handlers perform better in competitions. He also shares his top 5 tips for improving the mental game.
Peak performance requires the feeling of certainty
“When it comes to agility we have to remember that it’s a team sport with a human handler and a dog. Many handlers have 100% focus on 50% of the team. What I mean with this is that they only focus on the dog and forget about themselves. I totally understand this, because who doesn’t love their dog and want the best for them, but remember that you are your dog’s handler and he needs you as much as you need him. If you are the weakest link in the chain, it will affect the dog.” In short, if you really want to be a good teammate for your dog, you need to perform well, and rituals can help you do so.
Before each run, athletes have a need for certainty: “This applies also to agility handlers. The feeling of certainty can be created through having a ritual that you do every time before a run. The purpose is to create a state of Peak Performance.” In other words, an agility handler can find the best state of mind for performing in the best possible way in competitions, by using rituals.
“Each and every time you go to an event or a competition you want to give your best performance, and you want to create a feeling of certainty and safety. Feeling safe is important for peak performance, and even Albert Einstein wouldn’t be able to do a good equation if he thought the roof over his head were to fall.”
Agility is more complex than many other sports, when it comes to the mental game. This is, because our teammates reflect so easily how we are feeling: “Important events and competitions will, in most cases, create a higher stress level for the agility handlers and the dog will notice this easily, so it also affects the dog. By having a positive routine/ritual that you do before each competition, you’ll be able to “ground yourself” and be yourself again, creating a safe environment for you and your dog.”
Choose your rituals wisely - good versus bad rituals in sports
Christoffer explains the difference between good and bad rituals: “A good ritual is based on the things you do and have control over. A bad ritual is based on the things happening to you, that you don’t have control over.”
You can end up with bad rituals, if you choose them by accident: “Sometimes athletes have a good performance and start asking themselves: “Why did I perform this well?” and at times they end up with a conclusion that has nothing to do with the actual performance. Just to give you an example, I know of athletes who need a green light all the way to the stadium, or they can’t perform with a certain unlucky competitor number. This is more destructive than constructive. This is when you put the main reason for your peak performance outside of yourself!”
Instead, according to Christoffer, you should choose rituals, that are in your control. This way you take responsibility of your own mental game and don’t suppress yourself to being a victim of circumstances.
5 tips to perform better in agility competitions
When asked how one could perform better in agility competitions, Christoffer gives the following 5 tips:
Become aware of what you can control and what you cannot control, and choose rituals that you can control. One example is that we cannot control what happens in the situation, but we can control how we choose to respond to it. So focus on what you can actually DO!
Accept that you feel nervous. Feeling nervous and getting a bit shaky is a good thing. Some people mistake it with fear and anxiety, but it can also be excitement. They have the same physical responses. When I get those symptoms I’m thinking: “YEAH! My body is getting prepared for ACTION!”
Know that you can choose to feel good. You can change the way you feel by changing 1-3 things:
How you stand, break and hold your body - Your Physiology
How you label yourself, others and the situation - Your Words
What you imagine and remember - Your Focus
State the purpose of this competition. Why are you here? Are you here to have fun? Are you here to test yourself on something you’ve been working on?
Focus on the progress you’ve had so far. This is why I demand each and everyone of my athletes to track their progress. It helps them focus on the hard work they’ve done, and that the hard work has paid off! It’s not just a thing I tell them, it’s something I can prove because we’ve done the tracking. Tracking your progress is not only a good planning tool, it’s an important mental tool! When handlers see the progress they’ve made after a laborious training period, it shows them that they have improved and this gives them a feeling of victory even before they enter the course!