MENTAL TOUGHNESS IN SPORTS


Most poor mental performances in athletics are tied to doubt, distraction, and hesitation.

Overriding these demons and “I can’t” thinking is vital. The first step is to know our typical reaction to threat (our primal competitive response).

Do you fight, flee, or freeze? Competing successfully requires learning to override the emotional drama associated with high stakes competition and then knowing why you can believe in your ability to win.

Primal competitive responses are strongly tied to our genetics as well as our upbringing. Many of us have parents who tend to step in when things get tough in our lives and help us handle the pressure.

Others have parents who push us to learn to step up and find solutions for ourselves.

These coping styles as well as genetic factors determine our reactions to threatening situations. But no matter what our typical reaction to confrontation may be, all of us must be able to override it and get some attitude in challenging competition.

Genetics and home environments do affect how we respond to difficulties, but those factors are just that, factors. If we’re able to override panic and negative thinking and take control of our emotional reactions, our primal competitive response is irrelevant. Through honest self-reflection and determining our primal competitive responses like fight, flight, or freeze, use of new language, and consistent mental rehearsal, all of us can improve our reactions to the spotlight.

We can have more confidence under pressure, be more fearsome and more respected competitors. Competitors melting down are in a mind state that is dominated by thoughts of embarrassment, inadequacy, and failure. Negative “what if” scenarios of things that could go wrong take hold and can result in utter despair.

To successfully battle intense pressure and override doubt we must learn to answer the “why can I believe” question with tangible, positive descriptors of times when you were in the zone and executing at a high level.

Also changing our self-talk to something like “I’m not afraid of the spotlight, I have a great game, and this team is going down, so watch this!”

Effective performances are about doing what you want to do on the playing field/court. It’s not about trying – it’s about doing.

When you don’t believe, you hesitate and end up out of position, making a bad pass, or throwing up an air ball. It’s a cause and effect relationship. If a martial arts student hesitates while trying to break five boards, he will break his knuckles.

A warrior doesn’t try to defeat the dragon – he slays it one maneuver at a time. No matter what, a competitor must command unflinching confidence that obliterates doubt and destroys hesitation.

Period. Once we begin to discover our real competitive selves, we can start to welcome the butterflies, the doubt, the apprehension and the nerves.

Doubt and intimidation will surface at the worst possible times. Being able to welcome and deal with emotional turbulence during critical moments is what makes a competitor clutch. Clutch competitors have the skills and core belief to look intimidation square in the face, smile and say, “Oh yeah, watch this!”

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