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!
If you’re here today, it’s because you’re ready to find out how to play your best more consistently.
Before we dive in, I want to remind you that there is no quick fix.
This blog isn’t about me telling you some magic formula or inspirational words that make you mentally tough and a better player. This blog is about the work you’re willing to put in to get better. I remind you of that because today’s post is comprised mostly of activities and questions that you have to complete on your own. The more deliberate you are about this process, the better able you’ll be to perform at the top of your game more often – but it’s likely going to take some time and effort on your part.
If you're still ready, take out your journal because today's post is almost all journal work!
TODAY'S JOURNAL WORK:
The first step to being “switched on” more consistently is knowing what “switched on” feels like for you. After all, how can we get to our destination if we don’t know what that place is?
Pause and do some imagery: Close your eyes and think about those times you’ve felt like you were “switched-on” or “in the zone” – those times when things seemed easy, everything just flowed, you played to the top of your potential. You weren’t thinking about yourself or your performance…you were just doing. As you watch yourself in those great performances, tune-in to:
Once you’re done with your imagery (or perhaps even as you go along) write down answers to each of the prompts above. Don’t judge yourself for what you write down – everyone is different. Some people feel super physically amped up, some people feel calm. Some people feel positive emotions and some people perform best when they’re angry. This is about you and what helps you perform at your best. Take your time on this activity. Repeat the imagery if necessary because this is the critical data that will help you better understand what “switched on” feels like for you.
Now that we’ve got some raw data about what “switched on” feels like for you, let’s fine-tune the data to gain greater understanding.
For each word you wrote down above (physical, emotional, and mind) rate how strongly you want to feel each of those things on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is low and 10 is high) in order to perform at your best. Once you rate each word, rank order them from high (these things are really important for me to feel to play at my best) to low (these things play a role in my optimal performance, but a less significant one).
What you should have in front of you is a profile of sorts. You should be looking at a description of what you feel like when you perform at your best. Hopefully, looking at this profile brings you a sense of certainty – like, “Yeah, that’s how I feel when I play my best and that’s how I want to feel more often!”
For some people, simply completing this profile is enough to help you get to this place more often. This is most likely because having this awareness in your mind will prompt you to subtly shift the way you prepare. Like I said before, if you know where you want to go you’ll have a better idea of how to get there.
While this intuitive shift in preparation is a good start, the next few blog posts will help you to become even more deliberate in shifting your preparation including recognizing when you’re not in the right place and how to adjust accordingly.
When I work with individuals and teams, I often start by asking them to vividly imagine and compare two past experiences: one of their worst performances ever and one of their best. Then I ask what the difference was between these two performances: was the difference more physical/technical/tactical or was it more mental/emotional?
Athletes overwhelmingly answer that the difference was mostly mental and emotional.
On their worst day, they had all the same skills as their best day, but they weren’t “ready.” They weren’t in the right mindset. They were distracted. They couldn’t muster the right level of energy – they were either too pumped up or not pumped enough. They felt sluggish. They were stuck thinking about personal stuff. Whatever it was – they weren’t ready…they weren’t “switched on.”
And the thing is, not being “switched on” might not result in your worst performance, but it might result in a simply average performance.
My next line of questioning goes something like this: Do you know what it feels like to be “switched on”? What I mean is…are you aware of how you want/need to feel at the start of a game to increase your chance of playing “in the zone”? How confident are you in your ability to be “switched on” at the beginning of a game? Are you in control? Do you have some kind of plan to get yourself to that point or do you leave it to chance?
If you're sitting there thinking you don't know what it feels like to be switched on and you don't know for sure how to get there...don't worry. Most athletes I work with – even the most elite – often do not know how they want/need to feel at the beginning of a game and they often leave that feeling to chance.
Stay tuned for the next post and leave a note on Facebook if you have any questions or comments you’d like me to address specifically in the ‘switched on’ post!
This post was first published on Upwind Ultimate's Health Blog and can still also be found there at: www.upwindultimate.com/health
I’m guessing at some point in your Ultimate or athletic career, you’ve heard advice like this:
“Keep your head in the game!”
“The only point that matters is this point!”
“Stop worrying about the past or thinking about the future, just stay in the now!”
Were you able to do it on command? Or were you left wondering how to do it?
If you’re in that latter group of people left wondering how to keep your mind in the present instead of wandering back to the past or into the future, I’ve got a quick exercise you can use to train your mind to come to the present moment on command.
The exercise itself is simple and often works in the moment you need it. However, for the most lasting effects and to develop the most control over your mind, I highly recommend practicing regularly. I’ve suggested a few example times to use this exercise below, and would love to hear from you all about when/where you find it most useful!
TODAY'S JOURNAL WORK:
The Grounding Exercise
Anytime you would like to be grounded in the present moment, wherever you are, think of…
3 things you can see
3 things you can hear
3 things you can physically feel
For example, at a tournament this might sound like:
See: my teammates, people’s stuff on the sidelines, and the green grass.
Hear: cheers and sideline talk near and far away, cars driving by the fields, and some team’s block rocker playing music.
Feel: the heat of the sun, the slight breeze, and the earth under my cleats.
Suggested moments to practice Grounding:
-Right when you arrive
-When you are cleating up
-When your coach/captain is about to explain a drill or strategy
-As you’re throwing to warm-up
-When you first arrive at your field
-Anytime you start to feel a little nervous or jittery
-Between points or games as a ‘reset’ button
-On the line before the pull
-While you’re driving
-When you’re working out
-At school/the office when you’re overwhelmed
-Anytime you find your mind somewhere else when you’d rather be in the present
**A super-cool bonus to this exercise is that you can use it with another person. If you notice a teammate zoning out, overwhelmed or unable to focus, ask if you can walk them through an exercise to help them come back to the present. You might be surprised at the results!**
Into the Unknown
This post came to mind when a friend text me and said he was “getting in his head” about playing at Master’s Nationals next weekend. When I asked him what was specifically going on in his head, he said he was worried about playing with new people he didn’t know and that he won’t be good enough.
I’m guessing there’s a lot of us out there in a similar position: worried about the unknown.
For all of you out there who are facing some ‘unknowns’ this upcoming weekend at Master’s Nationals – or for anyone who has ever, or will ever, head into a situation where things are unknown – this one’s for you.
Maybe it’s that we have never played with this team before and we don’t know if we’ll have fun or how we will fit in or whether we’re good enough. Maybe it’s that we haven’t played at this high of a level before, or if we have it has been a while. Maybe tiny humans or a new job or school demands have prevented us from training as rigorously and seriously as we are used to.
…and we don’t know how any of these things are going to play out over the weekend.
Here’s the thing:
Playing with new people might be awkward/scary/no fun OR it could be comfortable/awesome/super fun. You won't know ‘til you get there.
As for your skill, you might not be 'good enough' or you might be totally good enough/top of roster. You won't know ‘til you get there.
The same goes for any other unknown element on your mind: you won’t know ‘til you get there.
You don't know whether those things will slide your way you way or not, but what you can make slide your way is your mind. You can control whether your mind is helping you or hurting you, how you prepare and how you show up physically, mentally and emotionally on Friday.
TODAY’S JOURNAL WORK:
To propel your mind down a helpful path, write out a list of all of your strengths:
*Physical strengths (speed, height, quickness, throws, etc),
*Mental/emotional strengths (field sense, composure, fire, etc)
*Interpersonal strengths (friendly, peacemaker, good communicator, etc).
It might feel uncomfortable or challenging to list out your own strengths. This is likely because we are often taught not to ‘toot our own horn’ or to ‘be humble.’ So let me be clear: I’m not saying to create a list of your strengths and then post it to Facebook or print it on a t-shirt. I’m just asking you to take inventory for your own self-awareness. If you’re still having a hard time, I highly suggest talking to someone who knows you well and asking for their input.
This is the list of things you bring with you no matter where you go or who you play with. It can even be helpful for non-Ultimate situations.
Being deliberate about knowing your strengths and keeping them top of mind can help you be yourself and play to your potential - that's all you can control and all you can ask for.
Best of luck to everyone headed to Master’s Nationals (see you there!), Heavyweights, and any other tournament this weekend!
This post was first published Wednesday June 5th, 2017 at www.upwindultimate.com/scratch-goals in partnership with Up Wind Ultimate (Formerly the National Ultimate League). I encourage you to check out their website and keep up with all the great work they're doing!
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against goals. Effective goals can be an incredible performance enhancer – which I’ll cover in another post. But today I am going to shift our attention away from the goals themselves and talk first about how we go about achieving those goals.
When we think of ‘goals’ we tend to think of things we want to achieve or accomplish. That’s all fine and well. I want to talk about who we become in pursuit of those goals and how to make sure the person you become is the person you want to be. Because at the end of the day, at the end of our sport careers, at the end of our lives – our accomplishments and achievements will be measured not in a vacuum, but within the context of our character.
We can all name high performing athletes who we don’t consider role models. They are the athletes who have plenty of accomplishments, accolades, and trophies to their name, but they don’t demonstrate good character either while competing and/or in life. Interestingly enough, most of those people fade out of the spotlight faster or in a much more dramatic way than those who also demonstrate solid character. This might be because they’re more worried about looking good than being good. It might be because their behavior erodes their support network. I can’t tell you for sure. But what I can tell you is that the performers who have a solid moral compass, robust sense of purpose, and strong relationships outlast and outperform those who don’t.
Today in your homework, I’m going to ask you some deep questions that should get you thinking and may not be easy to answer. These questions are about who you want to be, your core values, what drives you, the people that matter to you and the legacy you hope to leave. Before I do that, I want to give you good reason open up, be vulnerable and devote time and effort to this assignment.
Taking time to define who you want to be and learning to use those values as your driving force and your guiding light in the pursuit of your goals will have several effects:
With that, forget about the things you want to accomplish and think about who you want to become as you strive to accomplish them. This will be your legacy – what you leave behind and the impact you have on others, the sport, and the world.
TODAY’S JOURNAL WORK:
A few preparatory notes:
-You don’t have to complete this in one sitting. It’s totally okay, maybe even encouraged, to read this homework all the way through and let it simmer for an hour or a day before coming back to write down your answers. These are simple questions that can spark deep reflection if taken in the right mindset.
-You can complete this exercise in a group/team setting if you wish. If you take this route, I encourage you to share your answers with one another after each question and have open-minded discussion. This can be an awesome team building/bonding activity.
-This is an excellent activity for coaches (especially youth coaches). Completing it for yourself can help you ensure you’re modeling what you want to be modeling to your athletes every day. Walking your athletes through this as an exercise can help you help you teach them to be self-motivated, hold themselves accountable and…well, just become good people of solid character.
Ready? Here we go.
1) What is the legacy you want to leave? Or, how do you want to be remembered? You can think about this question specific to Ultimate or broaden it to your whole life.
2) Rate yourself on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent) on how you’re doing so far living a life that will leave the legacy you wish. This is just a quick self-check. If your number is low, no worries…that’ll just be additional motivation to change. If your number is high, good on you! Identify what specifically you’re doing so you can keep doing it.
3) Who inspires you to be your best self? Who have you modeled yourself after in terms of character? If there is one specific person, write down their name and describe what about them inspires you to live a life of character – is it their words? Actions? Values? Temperament? If there are multiple people, describe the qualities you take as inspiration from each of them.
4) Identify your core values. What ideals do you strive to live up to? If you want, a simple web search for ‘core values’ will bring up lists upon lists to choose from.
5) What’s your why? Why do you do what you do? What drives you? For more explanation and inspiration, watch THIS VIDEO.
6) What does it look like when you’re living your best self? Be specific here. What does it look like when you act on your values? What do you need to be thinking, saying, and doing daily to ensure that the legacy you’re leaving is the legacy you want to be leaving? It might be helpful to identify a particular time when being your best self is most challenging and then writing how you want to respond in those situations instead.
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.*
If you’re the kind of person who stays after practice to do a few extra sprints, you’re probably also the kind of person who wants to do more with your mental game. These “Extra Sprint” posts are just for you - extra, quick-hit activities to help you develop your mental game even faster.
Your assignment from the first post was to identify your biggest mental stumbling block and your biggest mental strength from last season. In this EXTRA SPRINT post, we’re going to build on that first assignment and gain greater self-awareness. It may sound boring or overly simple...but if we don’t know where we’re starting from, how can we get to where we want to go and how can we track our progress?
If you have questions, it is likely someone else does as well. Post your questions in the comments and I will answer them for everyone. Or, if you'd prefer, you can always contact me directly at Petra@PerformanceColorado.com or start a conversation on Facebook or Twitter
One last note: What you put in is what you get out. Be sure to set aside some dedicated time to complete this activity...it goes better than if your attention is divided.
Special thanks to my friends and beta-testers (Claire Chastain, Molly McKeon, Candace Yeh, Alyssa Kelly, Pogo, and Lauren DiCredico) for completing this activity in advance and providing valuable feedback!
Hi! My name is Petra. I am an Ultimate player, wife, mom, 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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