First of all, I would just like to say I SO WISH I knew more about athletic mental training when I was a younger athlete. Lately I have been really paying attention to my students reactions and behaviour towards different situations - specifically as pitchers. I have come to realize that a lot of athletes struggle to stay positive in difficult situations, which, a lot of the times then lead to negative outcomes or an overly frustrated teammate.
Mental training is a very underrated practice that most athletes have no idea what it is or how to utilize the techniques. To cover this super in-depth concept as a whole in one single blog post would be a huge task, and I am no expert by any means, but I would like to share with you one strategy to help you get started with mental training.
So, first off, there are a lot of different ways to incorporate mental training in your practices. As a coach, I focus mainly on positive attitudes and thoughts as well as visualization techniques. I am going to talk a little about these and I hope it will help you a little on this totally different side of your game.
Sports involve a lot of failure. And I don't mean that in a bad way, but it's a fact... losing a game, missing a pass, dropping a fly ball, missing a shot on net, etc. But the strongest athletes are those who can overcome the failure, learn from it, and continue to work their butts off and succeed in their sport. Think about it - what's a good batting average? In the MLB, most hitters range between .250-.275. Hitters meeting or exceeding .300 are considered very successful and a major asset to their team! That means a hitter with a .300 batting average FAILS at 7 out of 10 at bats. It would be super easy to be frustrated with failing so much more than succeeding and I think there are a lot of ball players out there that let their frustration get the best of them; coming into the dugout with a bad attitude and chucking their helmets across the bench for the whole team to see after striking out or a fielder catching your deep fly ball. Now, don't get me wrong, I have definitely gotten frustrated about striking out before. It's not a fun time, and sometimes you feel like you're letting your team down. BUT, as my sweetheart momma always says to me: "What you think about, you bring about." So, if you go up to your next at bat dragging your feet thinking about how terrible your last at bat was, or how awful the ump is, what will your outcome be? It probably won't be much different than what's replaying through your head. This is also where hitters sometimes think they're in a "batting slump". If you THINK you're in a batting slump, you are. If you're constantly visualizing striking out, you will.
Lets change up the pace. Your first at bat of the game you strike out. Boo. You're upset, your frustrated the pitcher beat you, you get over it, leave it OUT of the dugout, and continue cheering on your team.
Okay, so now you get another shot at it, you walk up to the plate like you're the absolute boss of the field. You focus on beating the pitcher this time and think about how great that hit is going to feel. Your vision of success is clear as day. The count is now 1-2. You're not letting the negativity sink in and you're still thinking about the feeling of making contact with the ball and running around the bases like a speedster. Sure enough, you get a hit! You wanted to make it to third but you only made it to first. Again, in stead of saying "Ugh, I FINALLY got a hit, that must have been lucky." or "I wanted to make it to 3rd, not 1st" - BE PUMPED!! Some of the Blue Jays get so hyped to get on base its insane! Others keep it contained but I swear I've never seen an MLB player get down on himself from GETTING A HIT!
I know I know, you're probably thinking you know all this stuff. Stay positive and success will come. Well, I'm sure lots of your parents tell you all the time you had a great game even if you didn't think so. They encourage you to stay positive! They focus on the diving catch you made in the outfield rather than your two strike outs. You roll your eyes and say "Yeah, thanks mom" thinking she knows nothing about your sport. Did I catch you?
I'm almost certain every single one of us have been in a situation where we didn't really need to be as negative as we were. We all do it. We are also human and are really good at telling ourselves we suck. I can openly admit I've been there. But, SAYING you're going to stay positive in a game and actually BEING positive in a game are two completely different things. Like I said, the strongest athletes are those who can pick themselves up after a crappy situation. They focus on the positives and visualize success to BE successful!
I want all of you to be successful. You're all capable of it if you let yourself be. The real question is.....will you?
I hope a couple of these comments about positivity and visualization will help you up your game, whatever that game may be.
PS I have a SUPER awesome friend that has come to talk to some of my athletes about mental strategies (she's more of the expert than I am). But I have learned so much from her and so have my students. If you're wanting more where this came from, I encourage you to see what she's all about on either her website HERE or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org