All athletes deal with adversity. A second baseman will eventually make an error; a quarterback will sometimes throw a pick, a sprinter will take a tumble. Mistakes are unavoidable. The question is how to deal with them. If you let a ground ball go through your legs, you have two choices.
You can hang your head and obsess about your error, or you can shake it off and focus on the next play. There is always another ground ball, and the strong athlete will be ready for it.
This is where mental toughness comes in. You can be bigger, stronger, and faster than your competition but if your mind is not right, it won’t matter. The athlete who is continually focused on the last play, the last move, the previous blunder, can’t be present. And what happens when you are not completely focused on the task at hand? You’re more likely to make a mistake.
Here are three things that can help you stay in the moment and shake off your mistakes. Self-confidence, mindfulness, and intensity.
Self Confidence is Everything
Just like a person in any endeavor, the athlete is not just the sum of her successes and failures. This is why it’s essential to have an identity as an athlete. If you’re the point guard and your role is to call plays, distribute the basketball, and pick apart the defense. You have confidence in your role, a stolen pass won’t mean much.
The next time down the court you will continue playing your role and doing the job you have to. If you don’t have confidence in who you are to the team. You may think back to the bad pass and focus on not making another one instead of moving forward with confidence and playing your role.
Know Your Role
A good coach will make sure that each player understands her role and how to execute it. This is a coach who has a vision for her team. If you are unlucky enough to have a coach who lacks vision, you will have to figure out your role on your own or with your teammates. Do not take this for granted.
A player with no idea of her place on the team is adrift. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a point guard try to dribble through a defense or a post player shooting threes. But with no guidance and understanding of individual roles, the result is often chaos.
Mindfulness is key to the success of any athlete. It can be hard to remain present when there are many distractions at any given time. Noise from the crowd or something from your personal life may get in your head and throw you off.
It can be useful to have strategies to help you focus. Most batters have some sort of routine they go through each time they come to the plate. This helps them get into the right hitting mindset.
Whichever position you’re playing in whichever sport, it’s essential to have control over your mind and not to let your mind control you. Perhaps it’s taking a deep breath at the free throw line or focusing on a certain blade of grass before the ball is snapped; the athlete who is a charge of her mind and able to remain present can overcome adversity and stay in the game.
Nothing is learned overnight. Being present requires you to be patient with yourself. You will not be perfect all at once. You’ll find at times that your mind is drifting away from the task at hand. When this happens, you have to snap back to present and do your best to feel at the moment. Don’t get down on yourself if your mind drifts for a second or two. Forget about it and get back to the moment you’re in.
Conquer The Zone
Many athletes talk about getting in “the zone.” This can mean different things to different people but in general “the zone” is a state of mind you enter where everything makes sense, and you’re able to perform at your best.
It can be challenging to achieve this level of intensity, and perhaps it’s impossible to maintain for an entire game or competition. It can be useful though to go through a ritual before a game to prepare for getting into “the zone.”
You can think of it like “flipping a switch” before you take the field. Your ritual can merely be envisioning yourself playing well and going through the things you need to do during the game. Or it can be something more unique like standing on one foot in the dugout for twenty-two seconds. It doesn’t matter what the ritual is, only that it gets you ready for competition.
“The zone” can be thought of like a heightened state of awareness. If you are mindful and present at the moment, it’s easier to get into “the zone.” The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will be to conjure the clarity and intensity to find “the zone.”
It should be clear to all athletes that the mental side of the game is just as important as the physical. When things go wrong, it’s good to have a bag of tricks to pull from to get you through. The more you work on your mental capabilities, the better chance you have of overcoming adversity.