Question: "Are there mental warm-ups we should be doing in addition to physical warm-ups?"
I love this question.
Think about the purpose of a physical warm-up: to prepare your body for whatever you're about to ask it to do...train, practice, or compete. We know - and have normalized - the fact that our bodies need some deliberate preparation to perform optimally.
Funny thing is, while most of us acknowledge that our minds also need to be ready in order to perform optimally, we haven't normalized that our minds also need deliberate preparation.
I have two opinions/approaches/recommendations on both physical and mental warm-ups that I'll share first. Then I'll dive into a few strategies to try.
First, your physical warm-up should be what you need as an individual player to get your body ready. I know most teams have specific team warm-ups with running and plyos and mobility and stretching. All of that is good. And, each individual athlete, if they want to perform at their best, has to know which of those exercises in which order at what intensity is right for them.
My opinion is that while teams can/should run some element of a structured physical warm-up for those who need it, they should also be open to athletes who say "I need something different."
I insert this opinion on physical warm-up within the 'mental warm-up' post because ultimately, being ready physically can have a big impact on our mental readiness. Allowing individuals the time and space to do what they need to do to be ready is one small step captains/coaches/leadership can take to improve the mental performance of their athletes.
Second, your mental warm-up should be what you need as an individual player to get your mind ready. While I would say the vast majority of teams still don't incorporate deliberate mental warm-ups at all, I would also say those that do often miss the mark. Largely what I've seen is captains/coaches/leadership taking the same approach as they do to physical warm up: asking everyone on the team to do the same mental warm-up at the same time. This is usually imagery of a highlight reel, talk to your pump-up buddies, or breathe/meditate.
While these are three great go-to strategies, the trick is in encouraging individuals to customize their warm-up to incorporate them when needed (which I'll discuss more below). Now let's talk about how to improve those mental warm-ups or create them from scratch.
#1: Know your end state: what physical/mental/emotional state are you trying to create with the warm-up. I wrote a series of posts on this topic called so that I could tease-apart the details and help people understand how to identify their ideal state. "Switch On" Part 1 and Part 2 deal with identifying your ideal state and you can find those posts here and here. The general idea is: you have to know where you're trying to go if you want to get there on purpose.
#2: Develop/discover how to get there: Some athletes really like having a set routine you do the same way every time. Some athletes have bits and pieces they incorporate as needed. Some athletes discover what they need day-by-day. Interestingly enough, the world of sport psychology is rather polarized on this issue: some say you need a set routine and some say you don't. My approach is that you have to know you...How you get to your ideal state is up to you. "Switch On" Part 3 is largely about discovering and developing what you need to be mentally ready. Hint: it takes some work so you'll find most of what you need in the "Journal Work" section.
#3: Have a variety of strategies to introduce or try: Different strategies produce different results. And, sometimes a strategy that worked before doesn't work in a particular moment and you need another option. Below is a short-list of strategies to try.
Finally, as always...Train your mind like you train your body: Warming-up physically for a competition isn't the first time you've warmed-up physically. You physically warm-up for training and practice as well. So my question is, are you mentally warming-up for each of those events as well? If not, start there. Try these strategies in practice first to see what works best for you.
Let me know what questions you have from this post. And, this list of strategies is nowhere near complete. Please feel free to comment on our FB page with the mental warm-up strategies that work best for you, especially if I didn't cover it here!
One comment/question that came up on our PC/Ultimate Mindset Facebook page - and got quite a few 'likes' - was: "I loved the "3 Things" exercise for in-the-moment work. I'd love more ideas for how to try and quickly recover when struggling."
I'm excited about this question because having a tool-kit full of strategies to use in-the-moment is an important part of mental toughness. I'm going to breakdown some of these strategies into individual "quick-tip" posts so that they're more easily digestible. And, I re-tagged a couple older posts as 'quick-tips' as well so you can search for those more easily. Just remember, do your best to give these strategies a test run during practice so you know how they work for you before you hit game time!
Quick-Tip: Helping or Harming?
This strategy is insanely simple and yet I have seen it produce amazing results and get people back on track FAST.
Here it is:
When you're "struggling" ask yourself this question: "Are my thoughts and emotions helping me or harming me right now?"
This one simple question reminds us that we are in control of our thoughts and emotions - we are in control of ourselves.
If what we are thinking and feeling is working for us in the moment, that's great - drive on! If our thoughts and emotions aren't working for us (which is most likely the case if we feel we are 'struggling'), it gives us the opportunity to think and feel something different.
A few notes:
I hope this quick-tip reminder that you're in control is helpful. As always, email/post any questions or feedback for me!
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!
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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