The following is from Jeff Powers, Head Boys’ Basketball Coach, Naperville North High School (IL):
Peak performers are mentally strong and are able to achieve a consistent performance because they: Retain a confident, positive outlook even when things are not going well. Take a look at the following statements and check off which ones you have mastered.
- 1. Can deal with distractions by managing my thoughts.
- 2. Can tolerate pain and discomfort.
- 3. Remain persistent when the going gets tough.
- 4. Have the resilience to bounce back from disappointments.
Ask yourself these questions – How many times have I not played well because:
- 1. I was not mentally ready to play.
- 2. I was not physically ready to play.
- 3. I did not respond to pressure situations.
- 4. I was not aggressive enough.
- 5. I was not properly prepared in practice.
- 6. I made wrong decisions at critical times.
- 7. It was hard to keep my focus and confidence.
- 8. My skill set wasn’t as good as my opponents.
If you answered yes to any of these questions you need to increase your mental toughness. A mentally tough athlete is likely to:
- Perform consistently in a range of his potential regardless of situational factors.
- Retain a confident, positive, optimistic outlook when things are not going well.
- Deal with distractions in a productive way.
- Remain persistent when the going gets tough.
- Be able to rebound from a “big win” or “disappointing loss”.
Mental toughness is a combination of learned skills that will help you raise the level of your training and competitive performance.
Thought Management Self–Confidence
Here are some exercises that you can do to develop these skills in a productive way.
97% of successful athletes state they were successful because they used a formalized goal setting exercise. They felt that goals were a source of motivation, discipline and direction.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who am I? (strengths and weaknesses)
- Where do I want to go?
- What do I need to do to get there?
- Am I willing to do what it takes to get there?
Write down your goals and the date you want to accomplish them. Your goals should be specific, measurable and attainable. Be sure to set daily goals as they instill discipline and a sense of urgency. Put your goals in a place that you will read them daily.
You cannot perform to your potential unless you have the ability to stay calm and composed in pressure situations. Mentally strong athletes develop this ability by learning how to develop productive attitudes and train their self-talk. This enables them to remove distractions, to overcome mistakes and maintain their focus.
Exercise: Develop the skill of positive self- talk by using affirmations. Affirmations are the act of making a positive statement about yourself. Affirmations should be made in the present tense. Here is an example:
- I am playing aggressively and hard.
- I am playing under control and smart.
- I am playing with tremendous confidence.
- I am a great shooter.
- I am a lock down defender.
Think of the way you want to perform and develop affirmations to guide you in that direction. You must write them down and internalize them by reading them aloud at least 3 times each every day. Affirmations strengthen us mentally as weight training strengthens us physically. The key is to consistently repeat your affirmations.
Self – Confidence
Self – confidence occurs when we have a steady diet of perceived success. A simple definition of successes is the “progressive realization of personal, pre-determined, worthwhile goals.”
Check off things that you are doing to increase your self confidence:
- 1. Increase your physical strength
- 2. Increase your endurance and fitness level.
- 3. Improving on your weaknesses in your skill set.
- 4. Set realistic goals
- 5. Thinking positively and making an effort to create enthusiasm.
- 6. Repeating positive affirmations.
- 7. Increase self – discipline. ( Being on time, keeping your word, staying organized)
- 8. Standing tall, making eye contact with others, strong firm handshake.
Concentration and focus are the keys to consistent performances because it determines your ability to handle pressure. Athletes that are able to focus on the present are those that are able to manage their thoughts.
Practice focusing in class and at practice by recognizing when you have a distracting thoughts then drag your mind back to the object of your focus.
At home, practice focusing on a thought, word or object. Keep your focus as long as you can. When you lose your focus, fight the distraction and bring it back to your focus. Gradually with practice you should be able to keep your focus longer. As you focus try to get more details finely in tune.
Winners “see” what they want to have happen in their “mind’s eye”. They “see” themselves performing skills or playing the way they want to play. Winners are able to use a centering breath to calm their body and get focused. Your mind doesn’t know what is real and what is not real. Practice perfection in your mind’s eye.
In a quiet relaxed setting close your eyes, center your mind by breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Visualize a skill or action that you want to do and continually run it through your mind and see your-self being perfect and successful at that skill.
These are some of the exercises peak performers use to increase their mental strength and toughness in order to improve their play. As an athlete you are seeking personal excellence – not comparable excellence. You want to achieve your potential.
Mental strength is developed by following a program on a consistent basis. As we need to stress our physical muscles to get physically stronger, so too, we must stress our “mental muscles” to get mentally stronger. You do this by seeking challenges and putting yourself in adverse situations at practice. The true test of mental toughness occurs during adversity.