Posts Tagged ‘mental toughness’

Tips for Developing Mental Toughness in Athletes

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

 

Engaging in a sport is not only physically taxing but mentally taxing. Many athletes, including those who compete at Olympic level, have mental experiences that can psych them out before a big game, race, swim, or match.

Mental Skills of Sports Performance

What causes mental blocks in athletes?

Mental blocks can often be caused by a previous poor performance and at least one Olympian, a diver, has been working with a sports psychologist since the 2012 Olympics following a problem he had with one particular dive.
If an athlete experiences a problem when doing something they know well, over-thinking can sometimes plague them during a big event. Instead of automatically performing the skill as they may have been doing for years, they take a more conscious approach, as if they were learning it for the first time, which can cause anxiety and otherwise hinder performance.
One way to avoid becoming “psyched out” is to develop mental toughness. Athletes that have developed mental toughness are able to perform without thinking too much. When throwing a ball, approaching a dive, or hitting with the tennis racquet, the athlete is acting on a less conscious level. They are not over-analysing each step, and they are not anxious about what might go wrong.

How to develop mental toughness in sports

There are many ways to avoid what some sports psychologists have called “paralysis by analysis,” which is thinking too much about the technical aspects of a skill.

A good first step is to determine what mindset the athlete wants. When an athlete looks at his or her best and worst past performances, they can identify a mindset that will lead to success. Secondly, the athlete should decide what will help to create that ideal mindset. And thirdly, integrate mental toughness into a competition preparedness routine. Preparing for a game, match, or other sports performance is not just about making sure the athlete is physically ready – it is also important to be mentally ready.

Some ways to develop mental toughness include:

  • Imagery
  • Positive self-talk
  • Relaxation
  • Making sure the goals set are realistic yet challenging
  • Talk to other athletes and individuals that have had similar experiences in the past
  • Enlist the support from family and friends
  • Consult with a coach to gain awareness of expectations
  • Be aware of personal responses to one’s own and others’ expectations

It is not uncommon for athletes to experience a “performance-block” – quite like some writers who experience writers’ block. Athletes are under a lot of pressure, especially when a competition involves high stakes like winning a divisional championship or a gold medal for their country. Athletes must remember to be mentally prepared and to engage in exercises that not only develop physical toughness but mental toughness. Physical and mental resilience together are a true recipe for sports success.

 

Why Recruiters Often Overlook A Potential Champion

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

 

A large number of athletes in a variety of sports have been recruited into their positions. They are the individuals who can run the fastest, serve the hardest, kick the most accurately and jump the highest.

Winter Olympics Sochi 2014These individuals move like champions and look like superstars. They have that natural ability that the vast majority of us just don’t have. But a lot of scouts and recruiters are doing themselves a grave disservice in focusing only on the athletes who display an innate or natural ability to perform well in their sport, and here’s why:

Mindset

The success of a champion really comes down to the quality of mindset that an individual has. Many of the greatest athletes of all time were those that didn’t look or act the part, but they had the mindset and the heart of a champ. Take Muhammad Ali, for example. Though arguably the best boxer of all time, he didn’t have the build of a natural boxer or the lightening quick fists needed to knock out Sonny Liston, but we all know how that story ended. Basketball superstar Steve Nash, being only 6 feet tall, is easily half a foot or more shorter than the vast majority of his teammates and competition, and yet he is one of the greatest NBA players of all time.

How can this be? How can these athletes who have the physical nature of their chosen sport stacked up against them not only be able to play with the superstars, but become one themselves? They’re mentally tough.

Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is a somewhat broad term, though it includes a number of facets such as:

Acceptance of Deficiencies

Athletes who are mentally tough know that they aren’t necessarily the best of the best or, if they are, that there will always be another superstar coming along down the line. These athletes know where their shortcomings are and they focus on goal setting so that they are continually improving upon these shortcomings rather than beating themselves up over them.

Positivity

These are positive individuals who understand the merit in keeping themselves motivated. They understand that effort will get them the results they need rather than trust solely in their innate or natural abilities.

Growth-Mentality

All in all, champions have what is referred to as “growth mentality”. They’re open, they want to learn, and they want to improve in any way necessary to increase their performance and to remain competitive in their sport.

 

Olympic Pole Vault: Hooker Needs a Better Imagination

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

 

Pole Vault London 2012Anyone who has ever watch the pole vaulting knows its not for the faint hearted!

Sticking a long bendy pole into a hole in the ground and positioning yourself upside down as you patiently wait to be catapulted into the air and over a 5-6 metre bar before landing on a mat can seem nuts to the average person.

Of course this is what happens when it all goes to plan – but sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and its then we see the true character and mental toughness of these outstanding, if not a little crazy athletes!

At the recent London 2012 Olympics, Lazaro Borges’ (Cuba) pole snaps into multiple pieces during his qualifying jump, throwing him upside down into the mat.

He simply dusted himself off, returns to his very long kit bag, selects a new pole and does it all again – he clearly has the right mental toughness.

Pole vault has always intrigued me, I love the biomechanics of the sport, the sheer guts and determination required and the mental difference that these athletes have – its a very primal sport and one that resonates well with my days as a Gymnast.

When I first saw Australia’s Steve Hooker jump, I was amazed that this fuzzy haired dude could actually jump – I almost wrote him off before he had even put one foot in front of the other let alone sunk the pole into the ground to launch himself skyward!

But Steve Hooker clearly has massive talent and incredible guts. He has been Olympic Champion 2008, World Champion 2009, World Indoor Champion 2010 and Commonwealth Champion, so the guy knows how to jump despite his unassuming appearance.

That being said, this past year or so Hooker has a very public nemesis who has recently been beating him, who trains with him, lives with him and, dare I say, sleeps with him.

No, not is partner – but himself, his mind and his own very maverick imagination.

Last year Hooker misjudged a jump and toppled off the landing mat and onto the ground, damaging his knee. Of course the physical damage could be repaired and after physical therapy he was able once again to jump.

The Australian Athletics community gave a collective sigh of relief, thinking this sporting champ was once again back on track and heading towards the London Olympics to defend his title.

However, he was physically repaired but the psychological damage was running much deeper. Hooker had lost his nerve and confidence in jumping and London 2012 was looking shakier than ever.

As a gymnast, who had practically come to be on first name terms with many of the medical staff at the local hospital, I can certainly understand what an injury of this nature could do to your mind.

The random thoughts of it happening again, the physical changes you would subconsciously make to the pragmatics of the technique would rock your sense of familiarity and control and feeding an over active imagination…

… Your mind running through multiple worse-case scenarios as you stand there looking down the lane towards the jump, trying to collect your thoughts and think about what needs to be done…

It’s not like twisting an ankle on the track, the emotional monster goes into active overdrive, thinking that maybe next time it could be more than just a buggered knee, it could be spinal or even worse.

And so I imagine this is what began Hooker’s internally animated downward spiral, missing and avoiding jumps and worrying about what could be just around the corner. The knee was the catalyst but the mental torture was relentless in proving to himself why he shouldn’t jump.

Hooker publicly acknowledged at the 2011 World Championships whilst defending his title he felt lost on the runway. He admitted to being very nervous and even scared of the jump, choosing to run through three times, culminating in his being eliminated from the competition.

Back home in Australia, Hooker was dubbed as having the ‘yips’. (Urban dictionary – The Yips: Overthinking something so much you become unable to do it. You will often proceed to implode.)

Steve Hooker is just one example of an athlete mentally letting something in, something that eats away at you, as your confidence collapses and your imagination takes on a life of its own.  I have seen this in a number of sports and with a number of different catalysts.

Steve Hooker may not have even thought about the Rio 2016 games just yet as he comes to terms with his dramatic loss in London. However, as a Mind Coach, I think it needn’t have been this way, there are as many ways to combat the ‘yips’ as there is to get them and Hooker just needs to learn a better strategy of dealing with his imagination and more specifically his fears.

Hooker needs to learn to acknowledge what he fears and then, without emotion, deal with it. This very straight forward strategy could have enabled Hooker to have a different outcome in London 2012.

Something that I feel is paramount for all athletes is learning how to read, understand and effectively manage their emotions, they can drive you forward but can also hold you back, so understanding them is paramount.

To have such a grasp on what makes an athlete tick and what is likely to give them the wobbles can help manage them when a sniff of the wobbly wheel occurs, nipping it in the bud and bringing them back on track, maintaining direction and ultimately giving them back their control.

Fear becomes debilitating when our primal imagination becomes overly active and we begin to not only imagine all sorts of hairy things, but ultimately convince ourselves that its a forgone conclusion.

Having strategies that bypass this and keep you well and truly on the straight and narrow enables an athlete to do what they do best, whatever sport it is and to leave the worrying to the parents in the stands.

 

 

Image Credit: Flickr mrtopp

Mental Output in the Game of Tennis: Advantage or Disadvantage – Your Call

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

 

As a self proclaimed tennis tragic, I found myself in an emotional quandary this weekend as my all-time favourite tennis player Roger Federer was going for yet another record as the longest standing World Number One and seven times Wimbledon Winner at Wimbledon 2012…

 

… but he was playing Britain’s Andy Murray, our first real hope since Fred Perry of seriously contesting men’s world tennis and his first grand-slam title.

The weight of expectation from the British sporting nation were squarely on Andy’s shoulders. In this Olympic year, when our Olympic team and city is shining brighter than ever, the English Cricket Team is firing on all cylinders and the England Football Team – well, are not! (but that’s another article) – my loyal head was with Federer but my British heart was 100% behind Murray.

As I stepped away from this internal battle raging within me and looked at the two players as no more than individual athletes, and more specifically from a Sports Mind Coach perspective, and what I would do to improve someones chances of winning given the opportunity, I realised just how immensely different these two players really are at this stage of their careers.

The Federer we have come to know and admire epitomises the cool, calm and collected athlete, the one who has a plan, has a cast iron strategy and no matter what gets thrown at him – he accurately and systematically applies the blueprint. The Swiss timepiece, as he is known, very rarely lets his emotions out to play and they almost never dictate his game. I am not sure he even sweats under pressure.

Murray, on the other-hand, is a more emotional athlete. He is outwardly passionate and prone to the odd blow-up, tantrum, dummy-spit and teary moment – reminding us of past champions who too were prone to an uncontrolled emotional lashing or two!

Andy Murray is extremely talented and is known as being both one of the hardest working athletes on the professional tennis circuit, and also a little difficult to be around if things are  not going his way.

With Andy Murray you can see every play. His every hit and every miss is written all over his face, on and off the court. During his game he telegraphs his emotions in big neon lights through his physiology to his opponent, broadcasting how he is feeling, when he is up and firing and when he is down and they are best poised to strike. For Andy Murray it is all or nothing – 100% raw, random, uncontrolled and unpredictable emotions

If the old adage ‘You can have mental output without physical action but you cannot have physical action without mental output’ is true, then this statistically close game was always going to be won or lost between the players ears not on their physical skills.

Passion can be a good thing, it shows you care and willing to go to greater lengths to achieve, to do whatever it takes, and nothing is out of the question when talking about winning!

So passion is important. But so is stability, strategy and replicability if you want to be a champion. Assessing and understanding what needs to be done and then having the clarity of mind to just do it – this takes a certain kind of mental skill-set.

TennisOur emotional monster needs to be fed. And as we are what we eat, both physically and metaphorically, what we feed this monster depends on the style of our approach.

What emotions do you feed your monster?

Confidence, clarity and focus

Or anxiety, fear and anger?

When I watch Andy Murray I can see a frustrated champion lurking deep down inside, itching to get out. Like a destructive ADD child, incredibly gifted and talented, hardworking and tenacious, but one who is shackled by his own self-created demons. These demons are, for now anyway, dictating how he plays his tennis. These may be the same demons that arguably haunted Roger Federer when he was much younger, more fiery and unpredictable.

Over the years at the Smart Mind Institute, I have seen these unchecked emotional monsters cause untold damage to an athlete’s career.

Damage such as:

  • an increase in physical tension and emotional stress resulting in an increase of muscular and tendon injuries
  • to recurring injuries
  • lowering of their bodies immune system and an increased susceptibility to illness
  • to emotional self harming
  • performance and skill blockages
  • physically vomiting and diarrhea
  • a loss of performance focus resulting in competition chocking

 

To his credit, Andy Murray has managed to tame many of these demons in recent years which has seen him race up the rankings and to the position of the tour bridesmaid, appearing at a number of grand-slams but not yet bagging the top prize.

Over the more recent years Roger Federer too has not been impervious to the demons within, whilst Nadal and Djokovic have had Federer sitting in 3rd spot for the last year or so, you could say his clinically predictable and emotionless approach had left him blindsided and led him to take his eye off the ball.

Even though some would disagree with me, Federer is human after all (I think!) and initially his slip from number one impacted his confidence and he lost sight of what had made him so formidable. But thorough self analysis may have re-calibrated his perspective and direction.

Watching Murray at this years Wimbledon, I got the impression the pieces of his puzzle are coming together, his game is at an all time high, his on court performance and approach to the sport is definitely a world above previous years and the number of brides-maid gigs are increasing.

I believe the missing link for Murray is his lack of effective emotional management. The unpredictability of his performance, his not knowing who will be waking up to play – the whirlwind emotional ADD child or the precise, focused athlete.

If Murray can tame the dark side and unleash his skills for good not evil then a Grand Slam victory is surely on the cards for him. But whilst he reacts and doesn’t respond, the elusive number one will remain just that – elusive!

Our emotions are a skillset, not an excuse.

The difference between an athlete and a champion is NOT just knowing what to do – it’s being willing to do it – no matter what others think or say!