Last week was a big deal for one of my athletes, as Guatemalan international racquetballer Maria Renee Rodriguez earned a silver medal at the Pan Am Games with her doubles partner Ana Gabriela Martínez!
This was the first Pan Am medal won by any Guatemalan racquetball player, and, as you can imagine, it meant a lot to MRR.
I encourage you to spend a couple of minutes to read her blog about the nerves, pressure, excitement, and joy of standing on the podium in a major event.
This is why I do what I do: to see athletes and coaches achieve their potential.
This has been shared a lot over the past few days. Really, a LOT! And the joy in performing is evident and engaging to all of us watching. But how can Ohashi compete with such abandon in a high anxiety situation like this? It requires a feeling of flow, which cannot be obtained without having performed the routine again and again and again. Ohashi's body knew what to do, and she let it perform. Too often athletes are forced or force upon themselves the need to control their body during a movement. This isn't always a good thing, especially during competition. Sometimes, probably more often than not, it's better to turn the brain off and let the body do its thing. If you're an athlete, try not thinking so hard about your technique some time. If you're a coach, try letting your athletes figure it out when things aren't working and let them express themselves. Flow, and performances like that of Ohashi, do not come from the brain constantly telling the body what it should and should not do. They come from letting the body do it's thing.
In this short video, I discuss what National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum Olympic gold medalist and former USA Wrestling coach Steve Fraser has to say about being nervous and controlling your anxiety.
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It's great to see professional athletes recognizing the mental battle that goes on between their ears. In this situation it's tennis pro John Isner. Yet, I can only imagine how he could have been helped throughout his junior, college and young professional career to change some of his failures into successes.
"As a professional athlete, you want to feel so strong and impervious to everything, but that wasn't the case for me and I let him know that," Isner told me in Houston at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships last month. "I let him know what I was feeling in the big moments. I let him know sometimes how scared I was."
"I'd find myself seizing up, not freeing up," Isner said. "And just wanting to win so badly that I didn't want to go after it myself, I was a little afraid of that. With how I'm built, it's the absolute wrong thing to do. When other players get nervous and get tight, say, be it a Nadal, a Djokovic, a Murray -- they can rely on their wheels. I can't. I'd just find myself hoping my opponent would miss. I knew what was holding me up was myself."
Here's an article I recently wrote for the Reaching Your Dream Foundation on anxiety and sports performance. Its publication is good timing. This afternoon I was reading a book by a high school basketball athlete who described himself as being so nervous before a game that he experienced stomach cramps for hours before tip-off.
Anxiety is a real issue and can drastically affect performance... and generally not in a good way! If you or your athlete have not been trained how to cope with nerves, how can you expect an optimal performance? Contact me for a free chat to discuss how I might be able to help!
A quote from a chapter I'm reading by Richard Dean about sports psychology in rugby which is worth sharing. Thanks Richard!
"More than one player has expressed to me how hard it is to leave a stadium having performance poorly, knowing that the errors/s they made are now being relentlessly replayed, montaged and analyzed on 24/7 sports new channels. Being forced to live in the shadow of your own performances can be a cold and lonely place...
Who will help you; out on the field, exposed to the eyes of the world? When it's you and your opponent, when you know that if you lose, you will probably be criticized for it. Who will help you?"
Well, I could of course. Just a suggestion.
When you compete, your mind has a variety of things or cues that you need to be focusing (or attending) to. Cues include information such as how you feel, what your opponent is doing, and information about your environment. There are many, many cues available, some of which are irrelevant, and your mind must be able to distinguish between what is and is not important. You do this subconsciously, but consciously recognizing them can be important. Cues might include:
Some sports have a stable environment and do not change (e.g. an indoor tennis court where weather and temperature are stable), which allow you can concentrate mostly on cues that are about you and your opponent. Others have an unstable environment that changes such as in golf where the weather and course might change rapidly. Recognizing relevant cues allow you to determine what you need to do for optimal performance. For example, if you recognize cues indicating that you are tiring quickly you can alter your strategy to slow down your game. Conversely, if you notice cues that suggest your opponent is getting tired you can change your strategy to exploit it.
Your performance is highly dependent on being able to focus on relevant cues and ignore irrelevant cues. Irrelevant cues are those that you focus on when you should not. For example, you might be thinking about the crowd watching, or what you plan on doing after the match, or if you remembered to pack everything. If this is the case, your attentional focus is too wide and your attention has been drawn away from what you should be attending to. Because the brain can focus on only a limited amount of information, your chances of missing a relevant cue are higher and you may make a mistake.
Alternatively, you may not be focusing on enough relevant cues and your attention has become too narrow or focused. This means that you might not be noticing cues that could help you. For example, if your attention is too narrow, you might miss that significant flaw in your opponent’s game. If you do not notice it, you cannot exploit it.
The trick is ensuring that your attention is on what it needs to be. If you catch yourself thinking about irrelevant things during a match then your attention is too wide and you need to narrow your focus. Conversely, if you seem to be missing things going on in the game and feel a little out of the loop, you may be too focused on a few cues and not attending to all the important cues.
Recognizing the role attention plays in sports, and being able to control its range to suit your needs, is essential for competing with the optimal attention span. How to control the range is a separate challenge, and I will present some strategies to help in a later edition.
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