When your body breaks down and injuries occur we have doctors, science, blood tests, MRI’s, CT scans, and X-rays to diagnose, assess and remedy the problem.
What happens when your body feels great and you feel strong, but your results are “eh” and your game is flat and stagnant? What do you do when everyone says, “you’re good, you have great potential, you’re athletic,” but you just can’t produce?
This is when you, as an athlete, must dive deep into understanding and knowing yourself: your mind, your emotions, and your fears.
Sports psychologists and peak-performance trainers may also use questionnaires, scales, and checklists and assessments to assess your sport-specific mental status. Often, however, a deeper conversation with yourself and your mental trainer (psychologist, coach, performance trainer, etc.) is an excellent way to bring about great clarity.
Make an appointment with you to understand the following:
- What do I feel?
- Is it an emotional problem: Am I lacking motivation, am I tired, sad, upset at my coach, my teammates, my girlfriend/boyfriend, my family? What is it?
- Is it a focus issue: Do I lose focus quickly? Do I have trouble maintaining focus throughout a game? What triggers this loss of focus?
- Anxiety/Fear/Failure: Do I tighten up at the end or in big moments? Or do I play too loose and relaxed until the end of the game and then need to play catch up? Am I fearful? What am I fearful of?
When adversity in match play strikes, and it will, which of the above-mentioned factors or states of being will likely get in your way? And how will you deal with it? Issues that may be unconscious or unknown become magnified by adversity or conflict on the court/in the game.
Your Journey to solving your on-court issues begins in the mental laboratory off the court.
Mental Inventory Checklist:
- Make a list of your known mental strengths and weaknesses.
- Assess your game. Where do things usually fall apart? What’s going on when you feel stagnant, and wonder “where did my Mojo go and why”? What is happening when you’re winning and having positive outcomes?
- Understand your intensity level. What drives you to compete and dominate at a high level? What type of feelingstates do you need to win? What states do you thrive on and at what times of the game? Some athletes need to calm down, play relaxed, let go. Some need to yell, scream, and aggressively propel themselves. Often athletes fluctuate between the two.
- Video yourself. Look at body posture and see how it affects your game: head up or head down, negative look or positive look?
- Pregame and Postgame mental assessment.
- Pregame: What’s my mental focus for this match? What will I do to reset? What is the mental strategy or goal?
- Postgame: What did I/we do well? Where could I/we have been better?
- Understand your fears. Come to an understanding and get clear with your fears. Be ready to face them and move towards them, not away from them. Fear often brings about Fight or Flight. Gravitating to either of these extremes often results in faulty patterns in Sport. A good balance that works for your personal emotional state is ideal.
In a recent interview after winning Gold in the 2014 ASICS World Series Beach Volleyball Tour, Kerry Walsh Jennings (beach volleyball icon) talked about her partnership with April Ross and expressed, “We’ve been really honest with this partnership and our play, and we look at ourselves and evaluate ourselves,” she went on to say, “To be great, you have to look at the dark side, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable and we’re more than willing.” This is a great an example of champion who has done a great deal of introspection and who has stepped into her fears and took the risk to be great by being ready to be uncomfortable.
You can start your assessment on your own. But it can be challenging to step outside yourself and assess and understand your faulty mental patterns and functions.
Support systems around you can help you navigate and understand of yourself better, facilitating and speeding this process.
Lastly, you may have noticed, “WOW, there are a lot of questions in this article.”
Exactly!! Yes, this is the point. You cannot get to the answer and the resolution to reaching your MAP (Maximum Athletic Potential) unless you ask the right questions. So ask the tough questions, be critical, dive deep, unveil your fears, and identify your already present mental strengths, and be ready to be uncomfortable.
Previously, I discussed breathing and resetting.
Resetting is understanding a faulty mental pattern or ineffective thought process, then forming a new process or pattern to deal with adversity in a productive and positive way.
Breathing—diaphragmatic breathing is an excellent way of going deeper within yourself to understand and unearth what really is making you feel stuck, stagnant, or not reaching your MAP (Maximum Athletic Potential).
Ami Strutin-Belinoff, M.A., LMFT
Mental Peak Performance Training