Proactive Mental Training in Sports
I work as a mental performance coach. This means athletes come to me to help them improve their mental game.
For the most part, it's because there's something currently holding them back. In general, they're performing better in practice than they are in games.
There are many mental game challenges that cause you to underperform in games But in general, there's a mental block (or challenge) present that is keeping you from playing your best.
My job, when I'm working with an athlete, or if I was working with you, is to identify what those blocks are and then work on overcoming them.
This is where we have a choice.
Do we spend a lot of time talking and talking about your fear, for example, hoping that it will go away by understanding it and realizing why you're afraid?
Yeah, that may help. But I also believe that whatever we focus on is only going to multiply in our lives. And when we spend the majority of our time focusing on something, in reality, we are only ingraining in our mind more and more that it's a part of us.
What is a Proactive Approach to Mental Training?
A great story to illustrate this is a baseball player I worked with recently. When we first started, he was experiencing a lot of anxiety at the plate. He was afraid of striking out and would physically shake when he got up to bat.
I empathized with him because that's exactly what used to happen to me in college. I can remember many at bats where I was standing in the batter's box wondering if everyone else noticed how much my legs were shaking.
But anyway, as we got to work, his anxiety slowly went away. Not because we focused on his anxiety, but because I took his focus off his anxiety. That right there is the beginning of this idea of proactive mental training.
As he finished his season, his hitting improved, and so did his play in the field. But most importantly for me, he was enjoying the game again.
Because as you know if you've ever played with fear or anxiety, it sucks all the fun out of the game.
Showing up day after day, dreading games simply due to your worries and fears about making mistakes is miserable. And so it was great to see him play with a smile on his face again.
When the season was over we continued to work together throughout the summer. He was practicing on his own, going to a few tryouts, and also beginning summer workouts for football.
Not Allowing Yourself to Improve
He improved with each session, and was thrilled to tell me that he made his team for the following season after his tryout.
But a couple weeks later something strange happened. A lot of his anxiety had returned. Now, when it comes to managing anxiety, fear, or anything else, it's not that it ever goes away completely. You just develop more positive skills that substitute the anxiety or fear.
And you learn how to manage it in a more positive way when it does creep up again.
It was the way in which his anxiety returned, though, that was the most interesting. He talked to me about feeling impatient with his baseball training and worried that he wasn't going to play well next season.
Specifically, he was worried about playing anxious again next season, "Like I did last season," he said.
That's when it hit me...he was still associating the way he played with how he played before he and I began working together.
Every day he was thinking about how much he didn't want to play with anxiety again. Now, would you say that's a positive thing to be thinking? Kind of...since he is wanting to not feel anxious again.
But here's the thing, he wasn't giving himself permission to improve. He was a completely different player than he was a few months ago, and the way he played to finish out the season proved that.
Yet his fears still kept him thinking he was an anxious player. His focus on not wanting to be anxious next season reinforced each day that he was an anxious player.
So my question to you is, what image are you reinforcing? Are you seeing yourself as a fearful player? One who can't perform well in games? Or are you beginning to see yourself as a confident player who performs with focus each day?
Making Use of Proactive Mental Training for Yourself
Proactive mental training means focusing on building positive mental skills. It can be a very subtle mindset shift to make, but it's an incredibly powerful one when it comes to developing a strong mindset.
Instead of thinking that you are overcoming anxiety or fear of failure, I want you to think you are building a calmer mind and developing trust in your skills.
You always want to be focusing on the positive skills you're building, not the negative blocks you're wanting to overcome.
Because your focus is powerful. The more you focus on anxiety or fear, for example, the more they'll stick around. This doesn't mean we are ignoring them and pretending they're not there. Quite the opposite, actually.
It just means we're taking the fastest path towards growth.
We do still need to think about what mental blocks are holding you back in order to choose the best skills to build and tools to use.
But we know that by building confidence, for example, your anxiety will naturally be reduced.
We don't need to spend hours upon hours talking about your anxiety, since we know it will slowly fall to the side the stronger your confidence becomes and the calmer of a mind you develop.
This also helps with your self-image.
With the baseball player I just mentioned, he was still associating who he was and how he played with himself from the past.
So, I talked to him about turning his sights onto who he wants to be.
What skills do you want to have? How do you play? How do you think and feel when you play?
Those are the kinds of questions I had him answer, and questions I want you to ask yourself.
By answering the questions, he began to piece together a clear picture of the type of player he wants to be. By working towards that player, instead of trying to run from who he was, every day he is aligning himself closer and closer to the player he wants to be.
That's the essence of proactive mental training. You are actively working to apply mental training tools and techniques to develop the skills you want.
And we know that the more positive mental skills you build, the less mental game challenges will hold you back.
But to know which mental skills you need to focus on the most, what you need to do first is get a clear idea of what mental game challenges you're currently experiencing.
Simply put, you need to figure out what's holding you back.
To help, here is a video that goes into detail on the different mental game challenges you may face as an athlete, along with the skills you need to focus on building.
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