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A Mental Performance Minute

Questions that frequently arise when a potential client is shopping for a mental performance program are:

1) Will incorporating mental skills into my athletic program be difficult?

The answer clients wish to hear is that it will be easy and effortless to adapt a mental skills training into their athletic program. Developing mental skills takes conscious thought before it becomes automatic.  The process of helping a client achieve the results they want moves faster when we initially sit down together, in person or via videoconferencing, and discuss, a) What does the client already know about mental skills training.

b) What do they know about their current process and in which environments/situations do they recognize they play up to their potential. Examples of this often are, “When I know I am going to win, or When I am the underdog and have nothing to lose.”

c) Identify the sticky points that trigger their fight/flight or freeze response in pressure situations.

d) Identify what they perceive as pressures they feel both on and off the field that impact their mental focus.

To achieve success we need to efficiently apply the right tools to the process so it fits the needs/goals of the client.

The second question that frequently arises around mental skills training is:

2) Do mental skill take a long time to learn?

Mental skills exercises are often quick & simple. What can take a longer time is for the client to begin to notice their knee jerk response to a situation, take a step back so they have time to  readjust their outlook, attitude, problem recognition and problem solving skills. This is the work I do with clients so they begin to shift into conscious useful mental skills habits, that free them up to be athletically engaged with confidence.

The Test

Stuck inside during the, shelter-in-place order with time on your hands?  You may enjoy watching the Amazon Original docuseries, The Test. This 8 part series follows the reorganization of Cricket Australia following a ball tampering scandal that disgraced the team in 2018. This inspiring docuseries touches on many mental training concepts and the process of player/team development under pressure. Some of the take aways are:

*Coaching and the process of bringing out the best in players.   *Shifting coaching style to fit players’.  *Coaching that invites and listens to player feedback to help the overall process.

*Captain/Coach leadership.  *Staff honesty and communication with players’.  *Communication/unity amongst players’. *Working with a purpose as a team towards a goal. *Creating Positive Team Culture. *Focusing on process vs. outcome in working towards a goal.  *Player motivation/self-confidence.  *Winning the mental battle.  *Achieving consistency. *Overcoming adversity.  *Player/team resiliency.  *Self control under pressure.  *Perseverance.

*Upholding the tradition of the sport. *Team/national pride.  *Media scrutiny.

Surprisingly, the docuseries didn’t have any signs of mindfulness training. The team brought in strategic, technical, physical and strategic experts but there was little to no specific mindfulness training. Many episodes showed the heartbreak the team experienced as it lost momentum in matches when mindfulness training could have helped keep their mental game in balance during crunch time. The coach talked a lot about staying focused and staying with the mental battle, but there were few signs of technique to achieve this skill.

The story is quite interesting and whatever sport you participate in the episodes are filled with Sport Psychology performance concepts which are easy to list but challenging to consistently produce in the heat of the battle against the greatest teams in the world.

Productive Downtime

At this time there isn’t a predictable date for athletes to return to training, or reconnecting with their teams. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, we are waiting for the trajectory curve of the virus spread to drop before entertaining the thought of returning to some degree of normality in general. A recent Q & A by Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors with Dr. Fauci is a resource that offered the public an opportunity to have some of their general Covid-19 questions answered. Hopefully there will continue to be ongoing detailed and relatable interviews with knowledgeable health experts that continue to provide an intelligent road forward through this pandemic.

In the meantime athletes can productively utilize this gap time to start or improve upon their mental performance skills. For athletes beginning to learn about the mental training process I recommend two classics by Terry Orlick,

PhD.  1) “In Pursuit of Excellence – How to win in sport & life through mental training.”

2)  “Psyching for Sport – mental training for athletes.”

Both books are excellent reads to begin steps towards developing a mental skills platform to your training. This doesn’t substitute for being with your  team or returning to your practice environment but it is a form of action that is within your control that can provide benefits going forward. Use your time well.