Imagine your child practicing how to bounce back after they didn’t get what they wanted. They reset expectations, learn better ways to talk back to that annoying voice in their head that tells them to quit or that they are not good enough and they learn how to problem solve on the fly. Does that appeal to you?
I am going to apply this to youth sports and I want you to think about how it applies to your relationship or to your academics or other life pursuits. Actively apply it to other areas and see how it could help you live a better life.
In counseling, we talk about how that which we avoid, gets bigger. Avoid things that caused you anxiety and your trained yourself that they should be avoided because they are so scary. If you get used to minor pain and discomfort, you know that that is just how life is, you can handle it better. Talk back to that brain that wants you to feel comfortable all the time. If you pursue comfort, you’re going to have a ton of discomfort in your life. Lean into the distress and learn how to tolerate it.
Build on your strengths and don’t neglect your weaknesses, especially in mental aspects. We don’t teach that very well. Take a long hard look at your performance and what it is that weakens you. What does your brain try to convince you is true? When this happens, your response can be incredibly important.
Why are you doing what you are doing? That can apply to the sport or the exercise or the reading etc. There is something about it that you value. If you know what you value, remind yourself why you value it, then when your feelings try to hijack your commitment to it, you can remind yourself of your values.
It is going to happen at some point. Performance anxiety happens in music, sports, school, asking someone out… What is your plan to handle your nerves, before you have to use it? Have the plan in place, master the skill and then when you need it, that skill is yours.
Have you learned how to relax yourself and get into a confident, serene place in a moment’s notice?
You’re taking a high pressure situation, you predict the high pressure, you prepare for the high pressure before it occurs and when it happens, you know what to expect as well as how to handle it.
Some people picture it in their minds first, feel the emotions while picturing it and then picture a good outcome. Repeat ten times.
Other people imagine a future outcome wherein they were highly successful and they sear it into their brain so they will always have confidence to borrow. They repeat that process of imagining it multiple times until that is their default.
Part of the beauty of practice in sports is that you learn. You learn that there is a difference between a scratch, a burning lung and an injury. If you have a minor scratch, you carry on. You get used to playing through minor inconveniences. More importantly, you stop when your body tells you to stop, to avoid injury. Knowing the difference between “Stop!” and “Pause, check it out and continue” is valuable. As you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you will find that your outcomes are better and the limits you thought you had were in your mind.
When you are distracted by something, return to your breath. You always have your breath with you. Be there, in the present, right now… Focus on the task at hand. Consider this, if you are distracted by a minor inconvenient scratch, you cannot focus as much mental energy on the task. We have limited mental energy, use it efficiently and wisely. That is one reason we practice. In practice, your focus is on the task. Literally, during practice, keep bringing your focus back to the task at hand and you will train your brain for the real thing. If you over focus on how you feel, during the event, you are diverting necessary energy from the task.
Check in with how you feel from time to time and immediately go back to the task. Acknowledge that you have some discomfort and that it is not telling you to stop. Consider talking to your body, “You are not damaging or hurting yourself, you are simply uncomfortable and that will pass.” Do this multiple times during practice and you will find that your performance during the game or race or event changes.