Imagine a lacrosse player who is struggling with making mistakes in the game recently.
When the ball comes to her, she finds that she tightens up and can’t seem to play like she normally does, which leads to turnovers, errant passes and passive play. She feels anxiety rise in her as the play comes her way knowing all eyes will be on her. In practice, the athlete starts to make mistakes when the coach is watching her too, as she’s worried about losing her position.
The coach says she needs to focus more if she wants to keep her position. This makes her even more anxious and the athlete tries to remind herself to focus more. She also tries to play more aggressively. No matter what she does though, it just seems to create more mistakes.
What might you do if you were this player?
One of the concepts I often bring up with an athlete like this is acceptance. This idea can sometimes be met with resistance, because acceptance can be interpreted as giving up, but that’s not what I mean at all.
I do not encourage my athletes to accept they can’t work to improve their performance and influence future outcomes, but instead practice acceptance of their current experience as opposed to getting caught up in trying to change it. What this looks like is that we often look to doing more when faced with a challenge in our performance, instead of looking to rely on our practice and developed skill.
If you’ve ever heard “you’re overthinking it,” this is in essence what is being described here. Your mind is getting in the way of you performing. With the athletes I work with, I don’t tell them what is happening to them but instead encourage them to see if this might be the case. What I often bring up along with this is balanced effort. In all things, we can do too much and also not do enough. Our challenge is to find the balance point for ourselves. For some athletes who have been taught that hard work is the solution to many problems, acceptance can be a helpful concept to help discover where balanced effort exists to aid in their optimal level of performance.
When difficulty arises in sports by getting our minds involved and overthinking things, we sometimes can contribute to the problem as opposed to allowing solutions to arise.
This is what acceptance looks like: letting go of past experience and future expectations when we are performing and relying on our developed skills. This doesn’t mean we can’t work to learn from our mistakes, try new strategies and continue to develop our skills through practice, but when it’s time to play, we’re accepting whatever our experience is in that moment whether pleasant or unpleasant, and allowing our body and mind to go out and do what it knows how to do.
In lacrosse, there is plenty of time for strategizing and analyzing, but when it’s time to go out there and perform, you often are best served to go out there without expectation and do what you do best.
I’ll offer three simple steps to put this concept into action:
1. READY: Take a moment to prepare yourself to perform. What do you need to get ready — right now, in this moment?
2. SET: Set your focus on the task at hand. All your attention should be brought to performing.
3. GO: Thinking time is over — let the past and the future go. Be here in the moment, and let it fly!
What’s wonderful about this process is that it can be completed in just a few moments during the game or span several hours if you’re preparing to play. Remember, too, this is just a framework and is designed to give you something to try and make your own.
There’s no perfect answer for every athlete, and I always encourage my athletes to develop an awareness and trust of what works best for them over any suggestions I provide.
Ready. Set. Go!
Landon DuMar is the Mental Performance Coach at RPM Athlete Performance in Natick, Mass. He currently is pursuing a master’s degree in athletic counseling at Springfield College and has experience working with a variety of collegiate and youth athletes, coaches and trainers on the mental aspects of sport and performance that focuses on flow, mindfulness, expertise and positive psychology. His background in counseling psychology and extensive experience working in youth mental health programming informs his holistic approach to health, wellness, and well-being. Learn more at www.rpmathlete.com.