Playoff Season: The Winning Strategy

Photo by Stuart Seeger

Athletes tend to calm themselves down before a high stakes match by practicing self-talk, stating, “It’s fine, it’s just like any other game.” In some ways, of course, this is true. The rules are the same and the players that have been beside you all season are still right there. However, don’t be fooled because it is a different game. The challenge of a playoff game is that it may seem like any other game, but it is an entirely new playing field.

These games hold much more importance for each individual player, the team as a unit, the coaching staff, and the fans. The heightened stress of these games for everyone involved raises the stakes and changes the environment in the stadium or arena. The challenge for teams, or for any high-level performer, is simple: Take the focus off the result and put it on the  process or the things you control.

In order to do this, you need to prepare for changes in environment and how you are going to adapt. Some teams do this by practicing in similar temperatures to what they will be facing or by replicating loud crowd noises. This commitment to total preparation is what gives a team the edge that it needs to come out on top. The focus on details during preparation may seem unimportant, but these are the factors that allow players to perform at their best, despite the pressure of their surroundings. The next step is to make sure that you have a solid mental preparation. By working on your mindset, your level of relaxation and your ability to focus, you will play the best you are capable of, playoffs or not.

 

The Psychology of Responding to Injury: The Birthday Complex

A common psychological response to injury is what I like to call the “Birthday Syndrome.”

Photo by Akadruid

As kids, our birthdays were the single greatest day of the year. I remember I would start counting down the days about a month before my big day. In fact, I would think so much about my birthday that while I was waiting for it to arrive, I would practically forget to focus on experiencing day to day life! The same is true for athletes when they are faced with an injury that prevents them from participating in their chosen sport for any extended period of time.

Daily rehabilitation is not a priority because their focus is on the day they can return, and getting back to their optimal level of performance.  To prevent this from happening, I recommend being process-focused, which means to engage with each moment. The way that we think impacts how we recover, and there are many simple mental techniques that one can utilize to foster engagement. It’s important to encourage the mentality to focus on what you can control, such as sticking to your rehab schedule, staying positive, and improving meaningful relationships. For instance, working to find ways to better support your teammates is a huge part of sports! A process-focused mentality will improve recovery time and develop mental strength, which will in turn enhance your game in the future. Make every day your “Birthday” and you will find that before you know it, you’re playing again!

Sport Psychology of Injuries: The Break Up

Photo by Michael Pollack

An easy way to understand how a sports injury affects a person is to compare it to a romantic break-up. The connection that one develops to their sport becomes a key part of their life and it can be very difficult when an injury causes that relationship take a break or end. This is both a loss of identity, and of the physiological benefits that come with sports participation. Exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals that reduce perception of pain and trigger positive feelings in the bodyWhether you are a professional athlete or just play for fun, not being about to participate can be devastating. But there are things you can do to lessen the blow while you are sitting on the sidelines. Here are some of my favorite suggestions:

1. Don’t ignore or try to suppress what you are feeling. Be aware of how the injury changes your daily living.

2. Build a routine that helps compensate for this change. It could include modified workouts, getting support from friends and family, and using mental tools such as meditation, imagery and visualization to help with both physical healing and keeping your sports skills sharp.

​If you want to learn more about new mental skills to optimize your performance, please check out my book: Life as Sport

What is Mental Toughness?

What Is Mental Toughness

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

We’ve all heard this at some point in our lives. But aside from being a sports movie cliché, it also happens to get at the core of the rapidly growing field of sport psychology. Athletes succeed through thousands of hours of grueling physical training. But at the professional level, physical ability is not always what separates the professionals from the champions. In fact, many pros are increasingly attributing their success to mental toughness. …continue reading