“Whatever your mind can conceive and believe the mind can achieve regardless of how many times you have failed in the past.” –Napoleon Hill
It is often said that sports are 90% mental and only 10% physical; but when we train, the focus is almost always on improving the physical aspect of ourselves. We go to the weight room to get stronger, head to the gym for repetition on our shot, or increase cardio to gain the physical edge over competition. There is only so much physical training you can do to reach your peak condition. If you look at these percentages, you have a much greater chance of gaining an edge over competition if you focus even a little bit on improving your mental mindset. At Focus Therapy, I take a three step approach to help athletes reach their peak mental performance to gain that edge.
The first focus is guided exploration in identifying what specific mental barriers are present for the athlete. These barriers often manifest as negative thoughts developed from their past experiences. These negative thoughts impact how they feel, which then impacts their performance. The more frequently these experiences happen, the stronger the negative thought becomes, until it is developed into a generalized belief about themselves as a competitor. For example, a quarterback throws an interception on the last play of the game which results in a loss; how does that experience impact him the next time the game is on the line and he steps back to pass? Thoughts like “I have to complete this” or “Don’t mess this up again” create feelings of stress and anxiety which puts the brain on high alert. On high alert we become timid and scared to make a mistake which then impacts performance. We are more productive and successful when our brain operates in a calm and focused state, also referred to as “being in the zone.” Imagine if this experience happened again for the quarterback; it strengthens the negative thought and can develop into a generalized belief about himself such as, “I always choke under pressure,” or “I can’t finish a game.” Once the mental barriers are identified, we work together to break them down and restructure them. To do this, I integrate clinical intervention from theories I’m trained in such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
The second focus is on growing the individual personality strengths of the athlete. My goal is to make the best parts of the athlete even better. These are the natural strengths and easiest to enhance. By focusing on their strengths, it increases their confidence; and confidence in an athlete is one of the most important predictors of success.
The final focus is coaching the athlete on specific skills and control strategies to enhance their mental toughness and mindset during competition. I refer to this as a “mental workout.” These skills are taught and practiced in session, but to gain maximum benefit, I ask that the athlete practice these consistently every day. By practicing the skills, it strengthens their “mental muscle” the same way physical training improves their performance. Repetition in skills is key to developing consistency and predictability for the athlete. For instance, working on your shot form, backswing, or footwork over and over, trains the muscle memory in the body; likewise, if the athlete trains their brain to be calm and focused, that becomes a more natural mindset under stress.
To reach your highest potential, the focus in life should always be on changing things that are within your control. Genetics and height are an example of things that are unfortunately out of our control; however, your mental mindset is one thing that can always be in your control. Skills such as mindfulness, meditation and guided imagery have been utilized by teams such as the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Many high performing athletes including Derek Jeter, Kerri Walsh, and LeBron James also practice skills to gain a mental edge. Every athlete has the goal of achieving their maximum potential, but only few realize the importance of their mental training. Allow me to help you gain this edge as you work toward reaching your own potential, not only in athletics but in every aspect of your life.