Learning how to Play Relaxed
Think about your favorite player. What words would you use to describe the way they look when they play?
Would you use words like tense, stiff, rigid, or tight?
Or would you use words like free, fluid, smooth, and effortless?
Whether or not the athlete feels completely relaxed on the inside, one thing is clear: elite performers seem to compete with a certain level of ease. Their movements look easy and relaxed.
What it Means to Play Relaxed
What comes to mind when I say playing relaxed?
Do you think about playing with a relaxed body? That's definitely a part of it. But what I really mean is playing with a relaxed mind. And when you have a relaxed mind, a relaxed and loose body will follow.
Have you ever had those days where your game felt effortless? Those times you can point to and say things just felt easy. I'm going to guess those were also some of your best games.
During those games, how much stress did you feel? Would you say you were competing with a lot of tension or a certain level of ease?
If it was with ease, that ease began in your mind and stemmed from a present-focused awareness.
Playing relaxed means you let go of stress and worries and simply play. At their core, sports are meant to be played in a relaxed and fun way. It is called playing, after all.
But what keeps that natural level of ease from happening is the competitive spirit that's also present within sports.
However, no matter how much you want to win, the need to play without tension and with a relaxed mind remains. The reason being, playing relaxed helps you play your best.
Benefits of Playing Relaxed
When you play relaxed, your mind is calm and your body is without tension. Your focus is in the present moment and you are simply playing.
Sounds like a pretty great state to be in when you compete, doesn't it?
It also sounds very similar to the flow state or the zone.
While you can't force yourself to play in the flow state, you can take steps to play with a more relaxed mind and body. As a result, you put yourself in a better position to get into flow during a game.
That begins to show us one of the major benefits of playing relaxed: you play more naturally.
Whenever you find yourself playing better in practices than games, there is something keeping you from playing as naturally during games.
And by naturally, what I mean is playing how you do when there's no pressure on you. That's when you simply allow your skills to take over.
What keeps this from happening during games is tension. There's stress to play well and not make any mistakes. This stress results in a tense mind and tense muscles.
At that point, you aren't playing as freely and naturally as you do during practice or when you're on your own.
Another benefit is playing with more confidence. Confidence means trust. The more you trust in yourself during games, the more confidence you will play with and the better you will perform.
Trust allows you to make quick decisions and compete in a way that is focused on winning, instead of trying not to mess up.
The way playing relaxed helps you compete in this way is because of what playing relaxed keeps away.
When you work on competing with a relaxed mind, you aren't stressed about what may or may not happen. You also aren't as afraid of making mistakes. Both of which lower your confidence.
Also, the more relaxed you are when you play, the greater your chances are of playing well. And that sort of success is a major contributor to increasing your confidence moving forward.
How to Play Relaxed
Now, it's one thing to want to play more relaxed, but a completely different story as to how you can go about competing with a more relaxed mind and body. Especially when you feel the pressure of game day.
To help, there are two strategies you can use.
Strategy #1: Focus on Your Breathing
Tension leads to shortened breaths. When you're stressed and playing tight, you won't be taking as deep of breaths as you would if you were relaxed.
Knowing this, you can use your breath to actually relax yourself in these moments when you're feeling tense.
But you can also use your breath to train your mind to be calmer and more under your control, along with training your ability to feel relaxed.
Because calming your mind and getting into a relaxed state is a skill. One that needs to be worked on if you want to apply it during a game.
The simplest way of using your breath to relax your mind and body is count breathing. So right now, take a deep breath in counting to five and then exhale while counting to ten. That's count breathing.
In the moment, you can use count breathing to calm yourself down right before a game, or even during a game.
Then, the way you can use count breathing to train the skill of being relaxed is using it for a few minutes each day. I recommend beginning with three minutes.
What you do is set yourself a timer for three minutes, close your eyes, and use that rhythm of breathing in for a count of five and out for a count of ten over and over again for the three minutes.
Strategy #2: Make Being Relaxed Your Goal
When you play with stress and tension, a lot of times this is caused by your focus being too much on the outcome.
An example is from a quarterback I've been working with. We were working on his confidence and quickness with short throws. He found himself being tight with these throws, mainly due to the fear he had about making a bad throw.
For yourself, if you're playing tense, are you too worried about what's going to happen?
The more you focus on what might happen, the more tension you create.
You want to let go and stop worrying so much about the outcome. That doesn't mean you don't want the outcome or you don't want to play well. It simply means you realize that by focusing too much on it, you are actually hurting your chances of playing well.
Instead, try making your goal to be as relaxed as possible.
With the quarterback, I talked to him about making his goal to throw as relaxed and smooth as possible this week in practice. That way, his attention is taken off the goal of not making a bad pass.
And not only will it help to take attention off the outcome, but being more relaxed will help him make more accurate throws. The same is true for you.
Try making your goal to be relaxed, and see how that helps reduce tension and stress, and increase your performance.
When you think about top level athletes, tense and rigid are rarely words that come to mind when describing them. Their game seems effortless and they appear smooth and fluid while playing.
You can work to get into such a state while playing by working on developing a more relaxed mind, which will lead to a more relaxed body.
To help get yourself into a more relaxed state while playing, there are two strategies you can use: count breathing to calm your mind, and making your goal to be relaxed instead of focusing so much on the outcome.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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