As you know, physical training is critically important. You can’t become a champion without it! However, when you go to compete, your confidence and success is totally dependent upon your ability to handle your fears and anxieties, manage negative thinking and self-doubts and focus on what’s important! Without these and other mental toughness skills, all of your physical training will be sabotaged!
The challenging times that we are living in right now demand that you find ways to manage your fears and the uncertainty that you face as an athlete and individual. How do you do that?
Sara and I are committed to helping you navigate these difficult times while you’re at home so that when you are finally able to go back to the normalcy that was once your sport, you do so mentally stronger and more confident. I will be posting regularly on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites as well as my website (www.competitivedge.com) so that you know what to do to in order to stay mentally strong and supported!
Your sport, like life is always loaded with the “uncontrollables!” That is, there are always things in that you have no direct controlover. How big, strong and fast your opponents are, the officiating, playing conditions, weather, having to deal with a nagging injury when you’re not at 100% physically, a mistake you just made (the past), whether you’ll perform well and win or not (the future), how you felt in warm up, whether your coach or parents might be disappointed in you if you perform poorly, and dealing with a world wide pandemic that has stopped your training as you know it!
Focusing and dwelling on these “UC’s” will always make you unhappy, jack your nervous system into the “red zone,” undermine your confidence and sabotage your performance. For you as an athlete, you want to learn to identify the things that you have no direct control over and discipline yourself to focus on the the one thing that you can always learn to control: How you choose to respond to these uncontrollables!
Sometimes the impact of these uncontrollables can rock our world and the effects can be felt far beyond your sport. For example, your favorite, long time coach suddenly leaves the team, you develop an illness or sustain an injury that takes you out of training for months or even longer, your parents suddenly decide to move to another part of the country, you have a family trauma, etc. When these upsetting events happen, it’s easy to get depressed, lose your confidence and feel your motivation do a disappearing act!
But these unexpected, upsetting and uncontrollable events pale in comparison to the disruptive effects of what is happening in our country, sport and around the world right now with this pandemic! Schools have been shut down, seasons have been cancelled and your team can’t practice anymore because of the fear of the virus spreading! And the most unsettling part of all of this turmoil is that, right now, there’s no clear end in sight!
So how do you as an athlete and person effectively ride the waves of the anxiety and other emotions generated by this massive uncontrollable so that when it’s finally in our rear view mirror, you can come out of this experience stronger, calmer and confident?
As a dedicated and committed athlete, you probably train 2-3 hours a day, maybe 5-6 days a week, depending upon your age and level. You have important goals that you use to drive yourself that you’re focused on accomplishing. Your sense of identity is closely tied up in being a baseball or softball player, a swimmer, a tennis, basketball, soccer, or football player. Your self-esteem comes from your training and competitions as does your ability to cope with life’s stresses! You probably workout to help manage the challenges that life tends to throw your way. Finally, and equally as important, your sport often becomes your your social life! When you’re a dedicated athlete, you usually don’t have time to have a “normal” social life and your friends are usually your teammates!
When you can no longer train because of an injury or something as out-of-the-blue and disruptive as this pandemic, you suddenly find yourself totally lost, isolated and continuously anxious! What are you supposed to do now if you can’t regularly train with your coach and your teammates?
You want to DO everything in your power to manage how you respond to this huge stressor in as positive a way as possible and stay focused on what you CAN control, NOT on all of the things that right now are totally out of your control!
Here are some guidelines for those athletes who plan to continue in their sport once the pandemic has subsided: (I promise to also speak to those of you who are suffering from the loss and devastation of having your final season in your sport suddenly terminated!)
1. First, try to keep a long term perspective. While your season or playoffs may have just been cancelled and the next season is totally up in the air, your athletic career is not over! Understand that while what is going on right now is unprecedented and really scary, eventually things will get resolved and your life and sport will return to something more normal! Right now, we’re all in a state of extremely high activation (anxiety, upset, frustration, etc.) and sooner or later, like any activation, what goes up will come down! Even if it’s a month or more, things will eventually begin to settle!
2. Whatever hardship you’re dealing with right now, don’t go it alone! Let yourself feel the feelings that have come up around this disruptive event and talk about them with someone you trust. This could be a friend, your parents or even a counselor. While we’re all asked to “socially isolate,” this does not mean you should emotionally isolate! You can still continue to talk with family, friends and professionals remotely, by video chat!
3. Sharing your fears, frustration and feelings with others is critically important to you maintaining your health! Allowing your fears to escalate out of proportion and regularly bathing in these stress hormones will only make you extremely unhappy and depress your immune system. When this happens, you’ll be less able to fight off sickness. Talking with others is a way to calm your fears!
4. Let yourself “lean into” this forced rest. Most athletes forget that “rest is an important part of training.” With the insanity that is a committed athlete’s life, many training almost year round, multiple times a week, school and it’s intense demands and stressors, and almost no free time to let down, having adequate and regular time off tends to get lost in the shuffle. Most athletes are used to hitting the “override button” and just keep pushing. Resting your body, even if it’s a forced rest is not all bad! It will help recharge you both physically and emotionally.
5. Stay mobilized and continue to take action! When we face any kind of “trauma” or adversity in our lives, it’s critically important to do whatever YOU can to help yourself and those around you. Upsetting events become traumatic and potentially long lasting in our psyche when we allow ourselves to become immobilized and go into freeze because of them!Therefore, you want to make sure that you get enough rest, eat the right kinds of food and stay hydrated as if you were still in the middle of active training and take good care of yourself! In fact, I would strongly recommend that you act as if you were still in the middle of active training!
6. A critically important part of this staying mobilized and “taking action” is for you to continue to “train.” If you were injured, I’d be recommending to you that you train “around” your injury. That is, if your shoulder was injured, you might not be able to do upper body work and movement, but you could continue working on cardio and strengthening both your core and legs. So if you have the luxury to be able to actually continue to train without putting yourself at risk, then do that! However, most facilities, indoors and out, have been closed and you can’t continue formal practices. Equally as frustrating, you can’t go to the gym and use the cardio and weight equipment. If that’s the case for you, find other ways to keep your muscle tone and cardio up. Go out and run, do consistent ab work, exercises and weights at home, etc.
7. Keep your long term goals in mind. Even if you can’t practice and compete, you can still continue to work towards your goals! When you’re taking care of yourself, making decisions about what to eat or whether you’ll get up early to run, you want to continually ask yourself, “How is what I’m doing today, right now, going to help me get to my goal?” Keep in mind that all of your competitors are in the very same boat as you! The athletes who are going to come out of this adversity in good shape both mentally and physically are the ones who will continue to consistently “train” and work towards their goals in any way that they can!
8. Please limit the amount of time you watch and read about this pandemic. Being informed is certainly important and helpful, but overloading your nervous system with anxiety laden information that you have no direct control over can be depressing and immobilizing! I suggest developing a regular schedule of activities throughout your day so that you stay active and constructively distracted! Within this schedule you can build in a regular, but limited time to take in the news, if that feels necessary to you.
9. Work on strengthening your weaknesses! Whenever adversity hits, we all tend to focus on the terrible parts of the event and not on the opportunities that these upsets can potentially provide us with. Forced time off can offer us the chance to work on parts of our sport that we wouldn’t normally work on, and specifically our weaknesses!
So if you can’t train much in your sport in more formal practices with your teammates and coaches, you can always work on different aspects of your game by yourself. If you’re a tennis player, you can hit against a backboard, or with a ball machine or practice your serve. If you’re a soccer or basketball player, you can work on your ball skills, shooting, dribbling and passing. If you’re a skater or hockey player and you have no ice to train on, you can always do off ice conditioning and training.
However, for every athlete who is struggling with the emotional toll that this pandemic is generating, the one thing that you can consistently work on which will both help lift the level of your game as well as providing you with some solid coping skills to manage the stress and anxiety of these uncertain times is your mental training. We will be offering very specific strategies to help you calm yourself down and begin to manage your anxiety and stress!
Now that you have more free time than you’d like, this is a perfect opportunity for you to work on developing your mental muscles and eliminating some of your mental weaknesses! For example, if you’ve had a history of falling apart under pressure because of out of control nerves, you can begin to systematically learn how to calm yourself down when you’re stressed. If you’re confidence has been lacking and you regularly get flooded with last minute negative thinking and self-doubts, you can learn how to manage these last minute negatives so they no longer erode your confidence! If you have a tendency to self-sabotage yourself leading up to big competitions, then you can learn how to mentally prepare for important performances using mental rehearsal/visualization. And finally, if you have trouble controlling your focus of concentration under pressure, you can work on your focusing skills! This upsetting, anxiety provoking time that we all find ourselves in is a perfect time to for you add some really effective tools to your mental toughness tool box! As I’ve mentioned, we will be regularly offering guidance on social media as to how to learn and master these!
I also have a ton of free articles and videos on my website (www.competitivedge.com) to help you develop these skills! This kind of mental training will pay off big time for you when things eventually return to normal!