In sport the majority of players and coaches tend to focus their time and energy on the physical part of the game, such as their skills and/or fitness, but what if I told you that you are missing out on another side of sport that many don’t know much about?
Although both skills and fitness are important components in most sports, I believe what gives a player or team a massive advantage is the ability to manage their emotions and this comes down to how they think and what is going on in their brain.
In a game this could be demonstrated by having the confidence to take a risk even though there’s a chance you could mess up or stepping up to take a penalty and scoring despite any fear, pressure or doubt you feel. It could also be how you react after a mistake or staying focused on what you can control when things don’t go your way, such as bad refereeing decisions, for example.
How we think affects the decisions we make and the actions we take, so next time you make a mistake, ask yourself this:
Was it a physical error or a mental error?
Physical errors simply mean we need to spend more time practicing the skill under no pressure.
Mental errors are common in game situations. They happen when we CAN do something in training (under no pressure) but we are NOT executing it in a game situation when there is more riding on the outcome.
Nowadays there is so much emphasis on developing the correct technique because most coaches are trained to point out and correct our physical mistakes but this can be very frustrating for a player when the real problem is actually a mental mistake.
Most players and coaches don’t really understand the mental game or how to improve it and one of the problems is that there is often a negative connotation attached to the word “mental” as though you’re not normal or you belong in an institution if you feel fear, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
But just because we don’t understand something it shouldn’t just be ignored.
Humans are driven by emotion, it is the reason we do what we do, yet so many people deny their emotions and put on a mask or are told to “get over it” not considering how someone might be feeling at a deeper unconscious level.
Many will agree that the mind plays a huge part in sport and is often what separates the good players from the great players, but very few understand how to unlock this inner power and control that we all possess.
This was evident in my own journey when I went from missing out on selection as a junior hockey player to making my senior international debut just a few years later. The difference wasn’t any new physical skills but instead I learnt how to think like a champion.
I developed emotional intelligence which resulted in no longer letting other things affect my performance and I started to believe in myself at every level, not just on the surface.
As a performance coach I look at the bigger picture for each person I work with, often taking every factor of performance into account. To this day mental game training has proven to make the biggest impact for all the players that I’ve work with, ranging from teenagers up to over 55 years international Masters players.
The reason it makes such a difference to their sport is because it’s not something they were even aware of because no-one talks about it or teaches it.
The challenge is getting players to realise that they can be so much better if they embrace mental game training and that working on your mental game doesn’t mean you’re weak - rather it’s a sign of strength because you want to keep improving yourself.
My aim is to help players to see how much more consistent they can be if they’re willing to open up and be honest with their emotions, instead of hiding behind a facade of “everything is ok.”
How we think is just another skill that’s part of sport which may need to be developed whether you’re a player or a coach.
Without an inner confidence and belief in your ability, you will probably not get as far as you can because if you can’t convince yourself, how can you expect to convince others?
The good news is that even if you doubt yourself at times or lose your cool then you can do something about it and just like other skills, your mental game can be trained so that you feel more confident and in control of your performance.
Mental game training isn’t just for the elite level players, it is something that can help anyone who wants to get more out of their sport, whether it is to be more confident, overcome the fear of failure, beat distractions, manage frustration or anger, perform under pressure at trials or in the big games, etc.
So what’s the next step? Let’s get started with these...
Five Reasons Why You Aren’t Performing
1. You’re psyching yourself out
We often worry more about what might go wrong before the game even starts, than thinking about what might go well. I call these the “what ifs” such as ‘what if I don’t play well.’
Instead of worrying about those “what ifs” focus on what might actually go well. Maybe it’s a new skill you have been practicing that you use effectively today or what if we beat this team even though we are not expected to.
2. You’re dwelling on the past
As an attacking player I have missed plenty of goal scoring opportunities, just like most. When you make a mistake the most important thing is how quickly you can move forward and get ready for the next opportunity. If you’re still thinking about the last mistake you made, you will probably do the same thing again.
If things are not going well then go back to basics and just focus on getting the simple things right. Instead of dwelling on your past mistakes, focus on what is important in each moment of the game so that you’re ready for the next opportunity.
3. You get hung up on things you can’t control
Often people focus too much on the things that they can’t control such as refereeing decisions, what the coach says, spectators, the weather, pitch condition, what team mates say, who you are playing, what the opposition are doing, etc.
Rather draw your attention to things that you can control, like putting in 100% effort, encouraging others and contributing towards the team.
4. Don’t be so hard on yourself
We all have conversations with ourselves on a daily basis. People often say negative things about themselves without even realising it because they are so used to that way of thinking. Become more aware of the conversation that you have with yourself.
For example if you make a mistake on the field do you think things like: “Ah, that was stupid” or “I am such an idiot?” Remember your mind communicates with the rest of your body which affects your body language, your behavior and ultimately your performance.
5. Stop expecting perfection
Everyone makes mistakes and no-one is perfect so don’t go into games expecting to play perfectly or you will always be disappointed. It is more about how you react to the mistakes that you make that really counts. We need to make mistakes in order to learn so accept that they are going to happen and be ready to learn from them.