It happens to ALL athletes – distractions, concerns, negative thoughts. But the most consistent athletes, they control their thoughts, they conquer distractions. One of the best strategies you can use is to play A POSITIVE CD IN YOUR HEAD. It works.
A couple months ago, I had a consulting session with a multi-sport athlete; for this blog, I’ll call her Jan. She’s a high school sophomore, lean, muscular, a pure jock, and was near the end of cross-country season – her fall sport. Her dad contacted me and asked if I could help her; Jan had NOT been able to perform well. She’d been struggling all season with migraine headaches, nagging tendonitis, and feeling low about herself, especially compared to her very successful freshman year with copious accolades and attention. Now, she was in a hole.
Jan and I met. I told her that I’d experienced debilitating struggles when I was 15; I nearly quit my sport. But then I worked closely with a sports psychologist and learned important tools that helped me overcome distractions and fears.
I asked Jan: Do you have distracting thoughts? For instance… Man, everyone here is really good. Oh my gosh, she’s fast. I don’t think I’m good enough. What am I doing here? I feel slow. I have hardly any energy.
Jan said with conviction, “I have them ALL the time.” (Hmmm, just what I thought…)
I continued… There are ways to manage those thoughts. There are 6 main Mental Skills: 1) Concentration, 2) Breathing, 3) Relaxing, 4) Positive Self-Talk, 5) Recall, and 6) Visualizing. But first, let’s get simple: When things feel out of control, you need perspective…
Question: What CAN you control on your path to achieving your goals? I gave her an exercise to do on a sheet of paper. This is it, below…see THE LIST, THE MOUNTAIN, and THE EXERCISE.
THE LIST: Thoughts, Feelings, Anxiety, Nervousness, Breathing, Communication, Actions, Decisions, Sleep, Food intake, Texting/FB, Social time w friends, Accomplishing homework, Participating in family activities, Respecting yourself, Respecting others, Supplementary/extra workouts , Athletic field, Weather, Injuries, Officials, Time/clock, Opponents/competitors, Parents/rules, Others’ expectations, Coach, Teammates, Your health, Colleges you apply to, Colleges that accept you.
Write down each item (from THE LIST) that you can NOT control, put those at the bottom of the mountain. On your journey to the peak, you will leave those items behind. And write along the outside of the mountain, going upward, the items you CAN control – those are what you will take with you to the top. This exercise will make it distinctly clear what you can control.
The first item on the list is THOUGHTS. Now, instead of allowing negative and distracting thoughts to enter your mind, you need to create new thoughts. New thoughts will be POSITIVE AND TRUE FACTS and they will replace the others. So…let’s create a Positive CD you can play in your head.
MAKE A POSITIVE CD
I asked Jan what kind of compliments she has received. No answer. I asked, Has anyone ever told you, “You’re fast”? She smiled and said, Yes. I said, write that down. She did. We came up with two more facts so she had three total. This was the beginning of her Positive CD.
Five days later, equipped with a Positive CD, Jan was ready. She played her positive messages in her head at the race, and she had her BEST X-Country race of the season! Wow! She came to me for a second session and we worked on the Positive CD and relaxation techniques. After that session, at her next race, she got a PR, improved 30 seconds over the week before, and made All League. Amazing! She listened to her own positive voice and conquered her distractions.
With practice, you will find that YOUR positive voice is louder than anything or anyone else. Of course, still listen to your coach, teammates, and the game plan, but balance that with being directly in tune with yourself. You will be focused, and sometimes, when you are that focused, a certain seriousness may show up on your face. I know a college gymnast who tells me, for balance beam, she puts on her Bitch Face. Which means her ultimate concentration is in action – nothing can distract her. I love that. Bitch Face. Maybe put that on your Positive CD – it will make you laugh. And that’s a good thing.
reach, sweat, and believe,
A very energetic mentor of mine, Ellie Bryant, author, and college professor in the Spalding University MFA program (where I graduated) – Ellie helped me with my Positive CD for writing! Thanks, Ellie!