It may not come as a great surprise that mental training for athletes is basically the same for all sports. But, you may be a bit surprised to find out that relaxation is the the key to mental toughness regardless of the sport you play.
How does that work? To begin with, if you desire to take your game into the elite levels, there is absolutely no substitute for hard work in your physical training. There is just no way around it, to be a champion, you have to pay your physical dues. Since most training programs concentrate on conditioning and the physical skills of the game, you will probably be fine in this department. You might consider being in top physical condition the base of line, the starting point if you will.
However, considerably less attention is placed on the mental side of your training. While you may be one of the rare mentally gifted athletes who is laid back, keeps their head under pressure, doesn’t let mistakes faze him or her, and can keep their confidence level constant; the vast majority of athletes struggle with one or more of the mental skills of their game. Even athlete that have made it to the elite levels of play sometimes have difficulty keeping their composure under fire.
For this reason, training athletes for peak performance should include educating their mind to control their thought processes so that they can develop a killer psychological game. It doesn’t matter if you are the highest skilled and best conditioned player on your team, if you can’t keep your head when the pressure is on, your play will collapse.
Some behaviors that mentally challenged athletes exhibit are easily recognizable. They get overly nervous before the game. They get overwhelmed and worry too much about their performance. They tend to hang on to their past mistakes and when they fail, they use it as evidence that they just aren’t good enough. Or, they are easily intimidated by their opponents skills, size, record, and strengths.
A key element in developing mental toughness is learning to stay relaxed and calm under pressure. Any training athlete should recognize the critical importance developing the mental side of his sport.
8 Cool Techniques For Staying Calm Under Fire
1. Get your mind off the upcoming game. Distract yourself by talking with friends, watching a movie, or reading a book. Do something that has nothing to do with the upcoming game. Fill all empty time so that you don’t spend it working yourself into a stressed-out heap of nerves.
2. Listen to music. Many athletes like to use music before the game to both distract and calm themselves down. If music tends to work for you, use it regularly as part of your pregame routine.
3. Get and use a pregame ritual. This can be anything from stretching a certain way, to listening to music, to sitting by yourself, or whatever. Rituals are relaxing and calming because they are familiar.
4. Breathe from your diaphragm. By deliberately slowing and deepening your breathing you will calm yourself down. Before you go to bed at night, practice breathing these slow, deep breaths.
5. Stretch correctly with awareness. Concentrate on your stretching while you are doing it. Focus on the feeling of the particular muscle group you are stretching and not on the upcoming competition. It might help to close your eyes while you are stretching to help block out any distractions.
6. Tighten and relax specific muscles that feel tight. Isolate them and deliberately tighten them. Hold the tension in them for a slow count of ten, and then release them. Repeat this exercise. The procedure of tightening already tight muscles, holding the tension for ten seconds and then releasing it, will diminish your nervousness.
7. Rather than fighting with your nervousness, accept it. Make friends with it. Avoid wishing it away or labeling it as bad. Usually if you can accept that you are nervous, that acceptance itself will calm you down.
8. Develop a mental “safe place” to go to prior to the game. Mentally leave the pregame stressful environment. Visualize yourself at the beach, fishing, relaxing with your girlfriend, listening to your favorite music at home, or any place that is calm and soothing. For this technique to be successful, you should mentally develop your safe place at home and then practice going there regularly so that you’ll have the technique in place when the pressure of the upcoming game is rearing it’s nasty little head.