This post was inspired by a conversation I had with an athlete this week and is shared with their permission.
We are working on increasing this athlete’s confidence and consistency. One major barrier to that has been their self-talk – the things we all say to ourselves in our own mind. Their self-talk has historically been quite critical.
Realizing we had a short turn-around between our session and an upcoming tournament this weekend, I was looking for ways to have them practice the skill of quieting their mind in everyday life between now and game time.
“Are you as critical of yourself in everyday life as you are in Ultimate?” I asked.
A knowing laugh and sheepish “yes” was the answer.
“Me too!” I said. (I don’t think they were expecting the mental skills coach to say that).
“For example, this morning when I was unloading the dishes from the dishwasher (and our son was sleeping in the next room) I banged a metal baking pan against another pan. I instantly berated myself with a harsh, ‘aw c’mon!’”
There was that knowing laugh again.
“But that was the end of it,” I said. “I couldn’t stop that first millisecond thought, but after that one thought I took a breath and emptied my mind.”
“But don’t you want to fix it?” They asked. “Isn’t the point of the criticism to help you fix the behavior and wouldn’t it be selfish not to fix it?”
“Absolutely. But who says I didn’t fix the behavior? I did: I was more careful and quiet with the rest of the dishes with a quiet mind instead of continuing to berate myself.”
This story might make me seem like I'm good at this all the time. I'm not. Quieting the critical mind is a skill, a process, and a practice. We may not always find success, we may not always remember, but the point is that we always choose to return again.
This is the choice we all have: We can continue to berate ourselves as we fix the behavior, correct the mistake, or simply carry-on with our task. Or, we can fix the behavior, correct the mistake, or simply carry-on with our task with a quiet mind. That quiet mind allows us to be in the present-moment instead of in the past. Being in the present moment is our best chance of being our best.
“But don’t some people use that self-criticism to motivate themselves?” They asked.
“Sure, we can do that. But is it the most helpful and effective motivation?” I said…answering a question with a question (my athletes get used to this overtime).
We talked through another example, this one Ultimate related: you drop a pull in a close game.
In that moment, you could think of that dropped pull and maybe the guilt you’re feeling and use that to motivate yourself to play really hard defense and work and try your hardest to ‘get the disc back’ by making a big play. And we see TONS of athletes do this…and coaches reinforce it. But that motivation can be counterproductive.
If you're over-amped and working so hard to make a big play to get the “D” – you might be thinking about poaching the lane and let your cutter get away from you. Or you might be thinking so much about redeeming yourself with a hand-block causing you to over commit on a fake and give up an easy around.
If you were able to let-go of that mistake, quiet your mind, and play in the present moment you would be more likely to be focused on playing your best defense in that moment. You'd probably stay more focused on your cutter and stay truer on your mark…which is what your team actually needs from you in that moment.
I wanted to share this quick story because I think a lot of people are in this boat together. We think that being critical of ourselves can motivate us to fix the behavior or the mistake we made. Perhaps that’s true, but couldn’t we also fix the behavior or correct the mistake with a quiet and gracious mind? How would life be different if that’s how we operated?
The point sank in for my athlete. “I feel like that’s a big life change to make,” they said sort-of jokingly.
So often when I work with athletes on their mental game in sport, we also end up talking about their mental game in life. If you train your brain to think in a certain way all day every day, how can you expect it to think differently on a moment’s notice?
That couldn’t be more true of a critical mind. Learn to quiet your mind in daily life and the skill will transfer to the moments that matter.
JOURNAL WORK: Learning to quiet the critic
When you make a mistake, become aware of the critical thoughts that enter your mind. As soon as you regain control, find a way to empty your mind.
For me, I actually either say the words “blank” or “empty” to myself, take a breath, and fill my mind instead with my current surroundings. If I’m in the kitchen, it’s as if my mind becomes the kitchen. It might seem silly, but it literally takes your attention away from the self and puts it in the task or moment.
Imagine how powerful that would be if you were on the Ultimate field and your mind became the field and everyone on it and that was the only thing in your mind. That is present-moment-focus.
Quieting your mind is a skill.
Your way of emptying your mind may be different than someone else’s. You may have to do some trial-and-error to discover the best strategy for you.
Quieting your mind is a process.
Success may ebb and flow. Some days may be easier than others.
Quieting your mind is a practice.
You may not always remember, but always return again.
I’m going to start today with a true story from my own athletic career.
I had a teammate on my college soccer team who, before every game, would turn up the music in the locker room and jump around like she was at a punk rock concert. As she got more and more pumped, she would jump and bump into people on purpose, get in their face and shout something like, “C’MON!! GET PUMPED! AREN’T YOU PUMPED?! I’M SO PUMPED!”
It sounds funny, but it’s true.
Whenever she would do that to me, I’d hardly respond. I’d give her a light chuckle and a bro-like hug and say, “Yeah, yeah…I’m pumped. I’m ready.” Each time I responded this way, she’d remember that I like to keep a lower energy and she’d go bouncing off like Tigger to someone else.
You see, the energy she needed to be at the top of her game was super high - quite literally bouncing off the walls. The energy I needed to be at my best was much lower – a reserved intensity. Were we both ready? Absolutely.
But there’s three important lessons to this story:
The essence of today’s post is:
what do you need to do/think/feel prior to game-time to get there?
TODAY’S JOURNAL WORK:
To get after this, I’m going to pose a series of questions and a few examples to help you think more deliberately about how you prepare for game-time. Take care as you answer these questions to base your answers on experience as much as possible. Think back to performances where you’ve accessed your ideal state and recall what you did prior to those games that you felt worked and didn’t.
*A note before you begin: I encourage you to read through the whole list before embarking on answering the questions. Some people may find they only really need to focus on a few areas while others want to take-on the whole list. Additionally, once you’ve read through the list, decide whether it will be most productive for you to go in the order I’ve presented or in the reverse order (game-time backward).
-What is important to you to feel prepared in the 2-3 days leading up to game-time?
A couple final notes:
*Your answers may be different than those around you and making sure you get what you need could take some tactful social-navigation.
*As much as you can, the elements of your preparation should…
- be controllable (i.e. they shouldn’t depend on anyone else or any particular circumstance).
- not be controlling (i.e. if I don’t do XYZ exactly and perfectly and in the right order then I’m doomed).
As usual, shout out with any questions or comments. I know a lot of us have Regionals coming up this weekend…If there’s anything I can do to help with your mental game last-minute, let me know! If you’ve got a question, it’s likely someone else does as well so I am going to try to run some Q&A on the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/performancecolorado.
Happy planning & happy playing!
For most club players across the country tryouts are over and you’ve either made your dream team or you haven’t.
Maybe some of you made your dream team and you’re flying high, feeling all the confident feels (feelings) in the world. Or, maybe you made your dream team and now the doubting thoughts are kicking in (“uh oh, am I actually good enough to be here?”).
Maybe you didn’t make your dream team and you’re taking it hard. The thing is…it doesn’t really matter which of those boats you’re in. This post is for all of you. It’s even for all of you who made the team you’ve been playing with for multiple years. This post is for anyone who has ever doubted themselves or their ability.
Let me ask you this question: where does doubt come from? Like always, please actually take a minute to think about this question before reading onward…maybe even write your answer down in your journal.
What did you write down? Where does doubt come from for you?
If you’re like the majority of the people I work with, your answers look or sound something like this:
-Past failure or loss or bad performances
-Other people telling me I can’t
-Me telling me I can’t
-Seeing someone else fail
-Seeing someone else succeed, but that person is way better than me
-Past inexperience – I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve never done it before
-Not being prepared
-Feeling unfit or unready
Okay good. Let’s leave that right there for now because I want to flip the question.
Where does confidence come from? Like always, take a minute to think about where confidence comes from for you and jot down a note or two.
If you’re like most people I work with, your answers probably look or sound like a few of these below:
-Past success or wins or good performances
-Other people telling me I can
-Believing in myself
-Seeing someone else succeed
-Seeing someone else succeed who is less skilled than me, so I know I can do it
-Other things I’ve done that are similar
-Feeling fit and ready
Here’s the thing. These two lists, the list of doubt and the list of confidence, are essentially the same. The answers can be categorized into the same 4 groups:
-Past experience (things I have or haven’t done; times I have/haven’t succeeded)
-Vicarious experience (watching other people)
-Verbal persuasion (things I say to myself and things others say to me)
-Physical state (my fitness, health, nutrition, sleep)
So…what’s the difference? How or why can something either make you more confident or more doubtful?
You’re probably onto me at this point: it’s all about how you think about it. And that’s exactly my point. Here’s my next question: are you thinking in a way that is generating confidence or fueling doubt?
Much of the time, the way we interpret success and failure is related to the stories we tell ourselves (see previous post). Part of retraining our brains to tell more successful stories and to be more helpful in general is to break it down and retrain our brain in specific areas.
TODAY'S JOURNAL WORK
People often believe that confidence is just a thing that is developed over time. While that can be true, it can also be developed faster if we are more deliberate about our thinking. Your homework today is all about deliberately retraining your brain to generate confidence more than fuel doubt.
To help you with that endeavor, I've got another downloadable worksheet for you (click on the image below to download).
I often get asked to work with individuals or teams right before a big performance. When that happens, two tips have emerged as the most helpful for athletes on short notice. I originally wrote this to share those two tips with all the college players headed to DIII Nationals this weekend and DI Nationals next weekend, but really these tips can be used by anyone in any performance.
Tip #1: Know that nerves are normal
Got the butterflies? Hands or knees a little shaky? Feel like you’re going to puke? That’s all normal. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to play well and it doesn’t even mean you’re “nervous.” All it means is that what you’re about to do is important to you and your brain is sending that message to your body. In response, your body prepares itself to perform and the results are the sensations we label as “nerves.”
Tip #2: Breathe
This might seem like the most obvious piece of advice ever, but in those clutch moments it is quite possibly the most important thing to remember...and do. Remembering to take a deep, intentional breath or two can improve your performance in a number of ways:
TODAY'S JOURNAL WORK
1. Identify the "nervous" sensations you experience from the list above. Write out how each symptom is actually just your body's way of preparing to perform and how that function can help you perform better.
2. Identify specific times you will breathe intentionally to take control of and improve your own performance.
Enjoy! And remember to tag or share with a friend or team you know headed to Nationals or any other big event coming up!
If you're struggling to play your best in big games or to make the team you’ve tried-out for every year or to be confident with the disc in your hands... the story you're telling yourself may very well be what's holding you back.
The stories we tell ourselves matter. They lay the foundation for our overall mindset. Our overall mindset significantly influences our thoughts. Our thoughts drive our emotions and reactions and performance.
Take a moment to re-read that last paragraph again and let it really sink in.
So...What’s your story and how is it influencing you?
Watch the clip below as an example of how we develop the stories we tell ourselves and how the stories we tell ourselves playout in everyday life. (Click on the image below to view the video, then hop back here to finish the post.)
This kid could have walked away from the field that day telling himself he was the worst hitter who ever lived. That would have been easy for him to do (and for us to understand) because the evidence pointed in that direction.
Think about how often we do this in our own lives - how often we let one ‘failure’ experience determine our mindset about that skill, activity, task or assignment. Don’t be fooled, it can be very subtle. Maybe you drop a disc that hit you in both hands and the first few thoughts that run through your mind are: “man, I suck” or “I can’t catch anything today.” No big deal, right?
It isn’t necessarily going to be a big deal, but it definitely can be a big deal. Each of those thoughts, compounding over the course of a practice or day (or a season or years), can become a bigger story you tell yourself - whether or not it has much basis in reality.
Now some of you might be thinking that he isn’t a great hitter and ignoring that fact isn’t going to help him improve. I sort of agree. But I argue that ignoring it is better than labeling it with a generalized negative attribution. If he ignores it and doesn’t draw attention to it, the next time up to bat is more likely to be a clean slate than if he had created a story that he isn’t a good batter.
Let’s translate this to Ultimate. If the disc hits you in both hands and you drop it and your thoughts tell you, “you suck” or “you can’t catch today” will that help you catch the next disc? No. And, are those thoughts actually true? Most likely not. Most Ultimate players (spare very beginners) can catch the disc, they just have momentary lapses. How long those lapses last and how big of an impact they have depends on how people interpret them.
Do you interpret those mistakes in a way that draws attention to them, makes you think about them more and starts to create a story that affects each subsequent attempt to catch the disc?
Or, do you deliberately try to interpret those moments in a way that deflects them or switches perspectives and allows you to do what you know how to do the next time the disc comes your way?
TODAY'S JOURNAL WORK:
1. Identify your story (and your Ultimate story)
-If you’re not really sure what your story is, start tuning in to your top-of-mind thoughts. Is there a pattern or theme there? What thoughts come to mind when you make a mistake? What do you imagine other people are saying about you in those moments? Is your Ultimate story different than your school story or your work story?
-If you already have a sense of your story, dig in a little deeper and tease it apart. How long has that story been with you? Where does it come from? Don’t be surprised if you encounter a little resistance from yourself in this process, that’s totally normal. This is where getting out of your comfort zone starts to produce real change.
2. Reflect on how it influences you
Is your story effective? Is it helping you moment-to-moment? Is it helping you somehow over-time? Or is it doing more harm than good? How is your Ultimate story influencing your play?
3. Decide what to do with it
If your story is helping you, you’ll most likely choose to keep it and perhaps even reinforce it. Identifying or clarifying that story can make sure you’re using it to your fullest advantage.
If your story is harming you, or is just not effective, you can decide if you would like to ditch it altogether or modify it a bit.
If you decide to ditch or change your story, try these strategies:
*Be sure to write the thoughts you have and your reflection on them in your journal.*
Hi! I'm Piers. I am an Ultimate player, spouse, parent, and human performance coach. My passion and my profession is to help individuals and teams perform at their best through research-based mental skills, resilience, leadership and team dynamics training.
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