Social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic has created a murky, question filled future for athletics at all levels. Being away from our teams, slowing down, and staying in one place feels unnatural, but with the right mindset you can still make the most of the present. By viewing this awkward, uncomfortable feeling as a challenge you can create a space to improve your mental game. Sometimes it can be helpful to imagine our future-self looking back at our current self. Check in with your future self and see how you feel about your use of this time. If you aren’t feeling strongly about your use of time, it is never too late to channel your Champions Mentality to navigate. Although we are all experiencing the effects of social distancing, we are not all in the same boat with the obstacles we face daily. As adversity arrives in different forms from person to person begin by asking yourself, “What is my response?”. Below are 10 Tips to help you stay mentally ready.
- Grieve what you have lost, feel it, speak it, and let it go. It’s ok to feel hurt, sad, angry, frustrated, disappointed.Take time to reflect on what you have lost this spring. It can be helpful to get your feelings out as best you can by journaling, talking to loved ones, teammates, coaches, or even a professional. Our deep commitment to the game creates a complex relationship that can reflect loss when it is taken away. It is ok and natural to grieve what you have lost and work your way toward acceptance.
- Focus on what you can control. There are only a few things that we as individuals have control over in athletics and life. Constantly scanning where our focus is can help us be our best. Many of the decisions about school, practice, games, work and travel are not within our control, but how we respond is 100% controllable. As you work on staying mentally ready you can focus on your response, taking control of you, your emotions, what you do, and what you choose not to do. How are you choosing to respond day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute?
- Develop your identity. Now can be an ideal time to develop your identity outside of athletics. By developing other aspects of your identity, you will feel more balanced as a person. Examples of developing your identity may include: listing the values most important to you and working on a check in for those values, reading a book or article on a topic or value that interests you (softball excluded), learning about various careers in fields that interest you, talking to others about their career paths, spending time demonstrating your values (ie if family is a value for you are you doing anything daily to keep that value strong?) These are just a few examples of steps to your identity development. When you return to practice and competition you will be able to see and feel the sport from a new perspective. This will make your time in your sport feel enjoyable, but it will also take some self-induced pressure off. When you know that your sport is not 100% who you are, but rather something you do, it decreases pressure and helps us worry less about outcomes. Stepping back and thinking about life after competition can be difficult, but it can make the transition out a little bit easier.
- Build daily routines. Challenge yourself to set daily routines to get things done. Make time for physical training and include your mental training (routines), identity development (new or existing interests outside of your sport), social development (reaching out to teammates, family, former coaches), school or work tasks, home tasks (helping family), and you time. Try to get up when you normally would get up for school or work and prepare to welcome the day. I love the saying, “Win the Day”. How will you win your day? What does it even look like to win the day? In the simplest form, it is following through with your tasks, routines, and whatever pops up outside your routines to the very best of your ability. It can be venturing further into your to do list, taking initiative to be productive with your time, and making the most of what you are doing in a way that you feel pride and or enjoyment. If your daily routine consists of some things you may not like to do as much (a school or work project), trying to tackle that first is a wonderful step toward winning the day.
- Set daily goals. Set daily and weekly goals that help you stay on track. Include goals that challenge you to work on your mental game such as being present, improving your self-talk, practicing imagery, and uncovering your motivation. Additionally, set goals for identity development, and down time. Your goals can revolve around personal growth that includes these 10 tips, or they can focus on a specific aspect of your daily routines, self-talk, or other mental skills.Write your daily and weekly goals down or have them pop up in an alert on your phone. Keeping your goals visible reminds us that we are trying to work toward something and helps us feel purpose.
- Strengthen your self-awareness. The foundation of a strong mental game is self-awareness. Self-awareness is a concept that runs deeper than simply knowing how you feel and respond to certain people and or situations. It’s a constant learning about yourself, it can be uncomfortable at times, and it is ever changing just like the world around us. It’s easier to get the best out of ourselves if we are self-aware. Self-awareness is a skill that can be practiced and improved. Now is a great time to start a self-awareness journal where you track your thoughts, feelings, self-talk, actions, and reflections. The goal of the journal is to learn about yourself, and then take steps to make changes to help your development.
- Master your slow steady breath. A slow steady breath or continuous slow steady breathing can help reduce stress, anxiety, tension, and bring you back to the present. The slow steady breath is an important tool we can be incorporating into our daily routines, athletics routines, and to help us change habits once we improve our self-awareness. To find the breath that is most comfortable to you, practice breathing in through your nose slowly and deep enough to where your stomach may extend out slightly, holding for a 1-2 count, then exhaling slowly through your mouth for a little longer than the inhale. Try to count each inhale (usually between 4-6), hold, and exhale (between 4-8) to see what feels most comfortable for you.
- Use imagery. Imagery helps us build mind movies where we can practice being successful in game situations even when we are not actually in the game. Repetitions of imagery scenarios can create familiarity for our body, so when we actually get in a situation in the game we feel as if we have been there before. Using all 5 senses to create the image will help improve clarity and feel more physically realistic. See, hear, and feel yourself competing the way you want to compete, having confidence, and executing. Imagery scenarios should include pressure situations on offense and defense, as well as making mistakes and bouncing right back from those mistakes. Practicing your imagery for 5-10 minutes a day can have far reaching positive effects on your game if done properly. (CLICK HERE to request generic or customized audio imagery scripts by sport/position)
- Use video of physical skills to improve your mental skills. Watching yourself on video is a powerful tool for learning. Usually we are focused on watching only our physical mechanics on film, but we can also be working on our mental game, routines, and learning our feel through video. Learning your feel is helpful to the mental game because it can improve imagery ability, keep us fluid, and can be used as a tool when we begin to overthink our mechanics in practices and games. You may find that your best feel is effortless, loose, and fluid. If your mind can recreate this feel it will improve your chances of staying loose in situations where you normally may tighten up. In pressure situations, or when we seem to lose focus, we may tend to over think our mechanics instead of trusting our feel.
- Be present, be mindful. Striving for success as an athlete comes with hard work, commitment, and sacrifice. Usually the motivating factor for a team or individual is a goal that is future based, such as winning the league, a tournament, or hitting for a certain batting average. Keeping our sights on a future goal can cause us to forget how to be present and enjoy the journey. The present moment is the most important one in sports and in life. Regardless of how much we want to plan for and stay ready for what is ahead, we also want to make the most of what is now. The present is a piece of what we can control. Each day while you work on breathing, allow only the present to be in mind. You can focus on all you do have currently, all you are grateful for, and be mindful of how your body feels in the present moment as you practice this. You can also let your mind fall on what you may not have during this time, accept it and be grateful for the new strengths, challenges, and feelings you are developing because of it.
The mental game can be difficult and sometimes just when we feel like we are getting it something may happen or change, like a pandemic. When changes are forced upon us taking little steps toward controlling our days via our mental game can help us feel grounded and maybe even strong during this time. Whether you decide to improve your Champions Mentality by focusing on one of these 10 tips, or perhaps something totally different, now can be a great opportunity. Wherever you may be mentally, know there is support for you and that seeking support does not equal weakness. For more information on any of these 10 tips feel free to reach out to Coach Snow, CMPC or another professional for guidance.