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."
I discuss a quote from Tim Grover's book Relentless. He highlights how important mental training and toughness in and external to sport is.
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!
"Be Kind To Yourself" is the title of a terrific song by songwriter/singer/author Andrew Peterson. We are often our own worst critics, and judge ourselves more harshly than we should. Whether in practice or competition, resist the negative voice, counter with the positive, and be kind to yourself.
Wait, so it might take longer than a few sessions before I see improvement?
“It would have been useful if someone had told me (about mental skills) seven or eight years before, at the start of my career… It takes a considerable period of time to develop natural sporting mental skills.”
Sir Steve Redgrave, 5 rowing gold medals achieved at 5 consecutive Olympics (from In a Golden Age – The Autobiography; photo Getty Images).
This morning in my class I asked my students to do a little experiment for me. They were instructed to stand on one leg with eyes closed and time how long they could stand upright.
Then, in a second trial, I used a brief imagery script in which I had them imagine themselves standing as a tree would stand, rooted solidly into the ground. A tree may sway in the wind, but it does not topple. It remains firm. With this imagery in mind, I instructed them to do the same activity again.
In the first trial my students averaged 41 seconds. In the second trial they averaged 76 seconds, an almost 100% improvement. What changed? A learning effect? Perhaps a small one, but in truth nothing changed other than their focus on the imagery I provided to them.
Now the image of a tree is used in yoga for the tree pose. But it's interesting that something so simple as providing an appropriate image can elicit significant improvements in performance. So why not consider using sport psychology to your benefit? If you're an athlete or coach, allow me to guide you in ensuring that your mental training is efficient and effective.
Want to get faster? Stop thinking about it! I explain how your brain can interfere with your ability to execute movements quickly.
Don't just hear it from me.
"You look at some of the top athletes, they've gone beyond controlling every single lifestyle factor - sleep, what passes their lips and goes into their bellies. Some of them are talking to sport psychologists just trying to get that one extra edge to visualize performance in order to maximize their abilities on the competition floor." Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness.
In this vlog, I explain why people don't use sport performance experts and why they should.
In this vlog I briefly explain the three different types of goals you can set and how they can be best applied to sports performance.
I was recently asked by an athlete how important the mental side of sports was to success. Was it more or less important than having the physical skills? Well, that’s kind of similar to asking whether peanut butter is more or less important than jelly in a PB&J sandwich. You can’t be successful without having both!
Here are two true story examples to illustrate. A few years ago, I had a young but enthusiastic player sign up for a tournament I ran. He was athletic and was very confident he would overcome any technical difficulties playing a more skilled opponent through his superior athletic ability. His confidence never wavered until he lost to his more skilled but much less fit opponent. Although his mental game did not fail him during the match (I might argue it did before he started), he lacked the skill to execute when it was necessary. He was very confident he would make the shot, but he couldn’t execute.
I had another friend who was also extremely athletic, and I thought he had an excellent chance at winning the division. Yet, to my astonishment, in his first game he swung and missed the ball seven consecutive times. He never recovered from that, fell apart with nerves, and came out of the course visibly shaking.
Based on these two stories, is physical skills or mental skills more necessary? Both right? I have many years of training in physical education, and an expectation of PE teachers is that they train students across three domains. The affective domain addresses ethics, behavior, and attitude. The psychomotor domain teaches physical skills and the cognitive domain teaches the mental skills necessary to be successful in sports and exercise. All three are necessary to develop a well-rounded sports participant.
What’s the point of this piece beyond the understanding that an athlete’s mental skills (cognitive) are just as important as their physical skills (psychomotor)? It’s this: why do so many train so much on their physical skills yet train so little on their mental skills? It makes no sense to train your body to perform at its best but ultimately under perform or fail completely because you didn’t train your mind.
Mental training is difficult for some athletes, coaches, parents, and sports organizations to believe in because the results are not always as obvious. You can’t always visually see progress like you can with physical skills. But don’t be arrogant enough to think that without mental training an athlete will ever achieve their potential. It’s why so many professional athletes and teams spend a significant amount of their time training minds to control body. Will you?
Yesterday I had the opportunity to share some of my knowledge as a keynote speaker at the 8th Annual More Than X's and O's Coaching Symposium. Hosted at Emporia State University, over 130 athletic directors, coaches, and coaching students attended from across the state of Kansas.
Speaking as a keynote can be a high pressure situation: you are the one expected to razzle and dazzle the audience, and sometimes that can be hard if it is a difficult topic. Such was the case for my first presentation, Making Sound Ethical Decisions. Not many coaches want to hear about the potential problems that might arise as they progress through their career. However, if they are unprepared to handle them, sometimes things go array. Just google "coaching scandal" and you'll see what I mean. I used some of my time to provide them with a step-by-step guide to resolving such situations.
The presentation was well-received and I spent much of my time explaining how to use cognitive interviewing, a technique used by law enforcement to acquire accurate data from witnesses. It is a useful method for finding out the truth in a situation that is not clear cut.
My second presentation, Using Goal Setting to Improve Sports Performance Over a Season, was much more practical, and focused on the do's and do nots of goal setting. We did a practical example, and explored the differences between task orientation and goal orientation. Finally, I discussed tanking, when an athlete deliberately slacks off when losing is imminent, and why it might happen.
One never knows how well a presentation went, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive multiple thank you emails today.
"Dr. Baghurst, I am both a coach and athletic director and the information you covered is very important to my coaches, players, and students. Thank you, for speaking at the workshop."
It is messages like these that motivate me to continue doing what I do!
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