Back to school, back to sports: How Sport Psychology can help you prepare for the new year
As summer draws to a close, athletes and coaches alike are heading back to practice in preparation for the upcoming season. With new rosters to fill, sports equipment to organize, uniforms to order, and practices to organize how do you keep from becoming too overwhelmed and missing out on the beginning of a great season? There is an underlying reason or purpose to why you put up with all the stress and frustration; for the love of the game, the team, and the love of playing or coaching. If these are kept at the forefront of our minds it makes doing and dealing with everything else worth it. One way to achieve this is to constantly remind yourself of why you do what you do. This can be easily done as a mental reminder or a written reminder. I am sure many of you have your favorite quote for team-work or motivation. Find one or create one to help keep you motivated and to use as a reminder. It is also helpful to take your own breaks, both physically and mentally. When the team gets a water break give yourself a quick break. Take your mind on a “mental vacation” and let it wander for a minute or so and think about something else. You can even just look up at the mountains or off at the distance, take a deep breath, and clear your mind. It can also be helpful to have a good support system in place, with delegated responsibilities where everyone knows their role on the team. This goes for athletes and coaches. This can help foster a strong sense of belonging, which can help make your team stronger.
Being in control of one’s emotions and learning how to handle anxiety and stress is an invaluable skill for everyone. One way to achieve this is to learn relaxation techniques. There are many to choose from but it is most beneficial to start with deep breathing. This is done by inhaling a full, purposeful breath. Filling your lungs and expanding your belly then exhaling fully letting go of all fear, worries, anxiety and nervousness. Deep breathing can help clear your mind and calm your body and help you to regain control and refocus on the task at hand. Deep breathing can also increase the amount of oxygen in your blood, which will help with fatigue. For other relaxation techniques please see the April 2013 newsletter.
When things get rough remind yourself of what is within your control. Many times we dwell on things that are outside of our control and we end up wasting time and energy. Instead, when a situation arises take a moment and decide if you have control over it. If you don’t, let it go. If you do, then focus on it and create a solution that will work best for you. Letting go of things we have no control over can be a liberating experience and can free up some mental space to focus on more important things.
As the start of the season draws closer so does the beginning of school. Many athletes may have a hard time focusing on practice. As a coach, give them some time to digest all the new information and excitement that comes with a new year. It may even be advantageous to give them 10 minutes at the beginning of practice to talk as a team and to get out all of their excitement. This may help rein in the focus and keep the concentration level higher. Another suggestion would be for them to “park their thoughts”. This can be done by having them leave everything not pertaining to practice in the locker room or at the door and it can be picked up after practice.
Everyone that plays a sport wants to be their best, both mentally and physically. Lots of preparation goes into getting a team physically ready but not much goes into preparing mentally. Why leave mental preparation to chance? Many times it can be the level of mental toughness of a team that decides who wins and who loses. Help your team mentally prepare by staying focused in the moment, staying motivated, playing for the love of the game, visualizing the success they seek, and working together as team.