Making the Most of Your Opportunities as an Athlete

Are you not getting as much playing time as you'd like? When you do get your opportunities

There’s a softball pitcher I’ve been working with who has struggled with playing time this spring.

Well, it actually began in the fall.

Her coach didn’t give her many innings, which only meant that the innings she did get (whether in scrimmages or games) felt even more important.

And so, she put a tremendous amount of pressure on herself to do well.

Unfortunately, this pressure led to fear, which led to tension, causing her to underperform.

The frustrating cycle continued.

This is a common pattern I see in every sport when the athlete puts so much pressure on themselves to do well. And most of the time this pressure is present because of wanting more playing time or limited opportunities.

But the only way to get more playing time is to make the most of the opportunities you get…something that is very hard to do when you play with fear and tension.

To help, in this article I’m going to walk you through a great strategy to make the most of the opportunities you get. But first, let’s take a little deeper look at why this pressure and the expectations you place on yourself hold you back.

How Your Expectations Limit You

It’s good to expect a lot of yourself.

As an athlete, this is likely the reason you work so hard, put hours into training, and it fuels your competitive spirit.

Yet, there’s a dark side to expectations…when expectations turn into stress and demands to be perfect.

The softball player I mentioned in the introduction experienced this dark side of expectations first hand.

In the fall and at the beginning of the spring season expectations weighed heavily on her.

Everytime she pitched, and the coach was watching, she was tense and stressed.

This stress came from the pressure and expectation she placed on herself to pitch perfectly with her coach watching.

The evidence was clear that when coach wasn’t watching, she pitched well.

In bullpens and during scrimmages when only the assistant coach was there, she was dominant.

She was dominant because she allowed herself to simply pitch without the stress of having to be perfect.

This pitcher and I got to work, and we reframed her expectations for the times she pitched when coach was watching.

As a result, she did much better in scrimmages.

Then, she got her opportunity during a game.

She did phenomenally! And continued to do so for the next couple games.

But then something changed…the expectations returned.

Now, why would the expectations return, even though she was doing well while letting go of such pressure and pitching with more confidence and a calmer mind?

Because she was doing well. That’s the point!

It’s natural to want to keep doing well. Which tends to lend itself to you once again placing high expectations on yourself to keep performing better and better.

But these new notions of perfection welcome unwanted stress and tension.

As the softball pitcher noticed, her pitching wasn’t quite as good this past weekend as the one before.

Luckily, she recognized the return of her expectations quickly and is now back on track.

But her experience serves as a strong indicator of how easy expectations can return and how harmful they can be from the beginning.

Making the Most of Opportunities Without Unneeded Expectations

If you’re not getting a lot of playing time, or you are trying out for a new team, you need to make the most of the opportunities you’re given.

But, as we just discussed in the previous section, you must also be careful not to allow expectations to form that will keep you from doing so.

To help, there are three powerful tips you can apply.

These are some of the very same tips I used with the softball pitcher and have used with many other athletes in one-on-one mental performance coaching.

Tip #1: Simplify

Similar to the softball pitcher, there’s a baseball pitcher I’ve been working with who was also struggling to make the most of his opportunities.

Last year he was cut from the high school team. After which, he trained and trained and ended up having a real good summer ball season.

Then came spring tryouts this year, and it seemed as though all his training had gone out the window. He was struggling to throw strikes, and came to me with the frustration of feeling as though he’d developed the yips.

Now, we worked on a few different things to get his confidence back and throws on target, but one of the main ideas I expressed to him was simplifying his game.

Not from a mechanical point of view, but a mental one.

He needed to simplify his thinking. Because simple thinking while playing allows your instincts and skills to take over.

That’s where you find yourself competing at your peak.

Simplifying for him involved focusing on the target and throwing hard.

Instead of thinking about this and that in terms of his mechanics, he just locked onto his target and tried to throw the ball hard. This allowed his instincts to take over.

For yourself, try simplifying your focus.

When it comes to making the most of opportunities, you want your talents and skills to shine through. Something that is tough when thinking gets in the way.

Simplify your mind and watch as your body takes over.

Tip #2: Prepare…Physically & Mentally

My guess is you train quite a bit. You’re a hard worker and not one to shy away from practice.

Both athletes I mentioned as examples so far were incredibly hard workers. That’s quite common with athletes who place very high expectations on themselves.

So, at the risk of saying something you already know, you need to be sure you are preparing physically as much as possible.

In addition to preparing physically, though, you also need to be preparing mentally.

This involves using different mental training tools and exercises to get yourself into the right mindset to compete.

Including a pre game routine for the game, scrimmage, or tryout, as well as exercises you do leading up to the day that work on improving focus, calming your mind, and building confidence.

When you are prepared mentally as well as physically, you begin games in a calmer and more confident mindset.

The more you focus on instilling the mindset you want going into a game, the less attention you’ll be giving to expectations and the pressures you feel.

Tip #3: Be Present

Why are you placing expectations on yourself to play perfectly or impress coach?

Well, it’ simples…to get more playing time.

When you aren’t getting as much playing time as you’d like and you want more, it’s natural to place a ton of pressure on yourself to make the most of each and every opportunity you get.

But when you do place this type of pressure on yourself, as we’ve already discussed, it tends to hold you back.

But something else that’s interesting to think about is whether you are truly present and enjoying the opportunities you do get.

Now I know it’s easy not to be fully present…and what’s there to enjoy since your chances are limited?

You have to make the most of this opportunity! So naturally, you put a ton of pressure on yourself.

But what for? Why do you need to make the most of this opportunity?

To get more opportunities to be stressed in?

You put pressure on yourself to do well so you can get more opportunities. But are you really enjoying the opportunities you get right now?

When you become more present and enjoy the opportunities you do get, an amazing thing will happen…you’ll play better.

Which naturally results in more opportunities.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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