Duncan Mackay

There is something really very special about competing at major championships. The atmosphere is electric, the stakes are high and the months of training and preparation are put to the ultimate test. 

This month I’m competing at the IPC World Swimming Championships in Eindhoven - a chance to pit myself against some of my key rivals and gauge where I’m at with two years to go until the London 2012 Paralympics.

For me one of the most compelling elements about competing in major championships is the psychological games that go on ahead of a big race. If your head’s not right and you’ve let your rivals get the better of you in the mind games, a competition can be lost before you’re even in the pool. 

For me, I learnt on the job how to deal with this aspect of elite sport - the importance of keeping focused, keeping a low profile where necessary and keeping my mind on what I need to do in the race rather than worrying about my competitors. It’s an approach that works for me - but others may have very different ways of dealing with this aspect of competition.

Next month I’ll be attending the Sainsbury’s UK School Games, a major multi sport event managed by the Youth Sport Trust, which provides the perfect platform for young people to experience the same pressures of elite sport that I face when competing.   

Over 1,600 elite school aged athletes will descend upon North East England to compete in cycling, athletics, badminton, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, judo, swimming, table tennis and volleyball, with disability events in swimming, athletics and table tennis, including learning disability for swimming, table tennis and for the first time, athletics.  

For many it will be their first experience of a major competition and a chance to learn about the pressures of top level sport, which of course includes dealing with the mind games!  They will also face the usual distractions you would expect from a major sporting event. 

The opening ceremony, the athlete’s village, the meeting new people and travelling around a city you may not be familiar with - all these things can take your mind off the main task in hand - competing and winning. Some will undoubtedly get swept up in the atmosphere and will let it affect their performance, whilst others will keep the focus on the one thing that really matters - their performance.

Allowing young people the opportunity to face these kinds of pressures at an early age can only benefit them later in their careers when they’re competing for major honours. To know what to expect and how to deal with it will ensure they make the perfect preparations and be at their very best when it matters most.

Sascha Kindred is a School Sport Ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust. He has won a total of six Paralympic, eight World and eleven European Championship gold medals and has represented Great Britain in four Paralympic Games thus far. He currently holds a number of British, European, Paralympic and world records. The Sainsbury’s UK School Games take place September 2-5 in North East England.  For further information click here