The importance of ‘training the mind’ is now widely acknowledged. Sports psychologists are employed by majority of world class athletes and teams, while mindfulness techniques have been incorporated into modern training programs.
In his 2013 book ‘Serve to Win‘, Novak Djokovic details how he practices mindfulness meditation for 15 minutes every day, stating it has released him of negative emotions such as self-doubt, anger and worry, and has made all the difference to his mental approach on the court.
Three of the most popular resources when learning how to master the mental game are summarised below. Use these techniques and methods to gain control over your player’s self-doubts and nerves, so you can rely on them to deliver when it matters.
The Inner Game of Tennis
Renowned NBA coach Steve Kerr reads the ‘The Inner game of tennis’ in every off-season. This revolutionary book was written by Timothy Gallwey in 1972 and its legacy can still be seen today. Only day’s before leading the New England Patriots to a stunning victory in Super Bowl 50, Tom Brady shared his favourite passage from the book.
Gallwey wrote the book after observing how his players would berate themselves after poor shots, and the negative impact this had on future performance. Gallwey would ask his players ‘who are you talking to?’ And after getting the response “I’m talking to myself” – Gallwey considered ‘Who is the I, and Who is the Myself?
This discovery formed the premise of his book; the inner game is played between your mind (Self One) and your body (Self Two). The problem is that your conscious mind often only gets in the way of what your body is perfectly capable of doing by itself. The lessons in the book teach you to quieten your thoughts and trust your body to execute the required actions and skills.
A punt returner in the NFL developed a fear of fumbling after dropping the ball twice in a game. To counter this, when the ball was kicked in the air he would tell himself “Don’t fumble, don’t fumble” and the problem got worse. His coach, a student of the inner game, told him “Once the punter kicks the ball, start counting to eight, and get to eight right when you catch it,”. This simple change of mindset allowed the player to take his mind off failure, and let his body do what it instinctively knew.
The ability to preoccupy your conscious mind is achieved by focusing your attention on to basic, repetitive thoughts. Training techniques promoted in the book include focusing your awareness on ‘where your racquet is’ as the ball approaches, or acting as someone who is at the top of their game – regardless of where the ball goes. Another popular drill is to call out ‘bounce’ when the ball hits the ground, and then ‘hit’ with the impact on your racquet.
While considered radical at the time, the book has sold over a million copies and played a major role in forming today’s accepted disciple of sports psychology. It’s methods will completely change your understanding and thinking on learning, training, and performance.
Being Brilliant Every Single Day
Dr Alan Watkins two-part TED talk explains a more effective way to control anxiety than just ‘take a deep breath’. Through his research in principles of neuroscience, Watkins explains that gaining control of your physiology is fundamental to performing under pressure. In a humorous illustration, Watkins demonstrates that when the body is placed under stress it shuts down the frontal lobe, causing a DIY lobotomy. Part 1 of the talk introduces this phenomenon through his Integrated Performance Model, a framework for understanding what you must control within your body to perform optimally.
In Part Two, Watkins explains how anxiety can be overcome by following the acronym for BREATHE – Breathe Rhythmically, Evenly, And Through the Heart.
Watch his entire talk below.
Mindfulness is a state of active and open attention to the present, and app developers have been quick to capitalise on its growing popularity. Smiling Mind includes a specific sports program, designed in partnership with Cricket Australia. The app provides strategies to promote heightened concentration and awareness through avoiding negative thinking that leads to underperformance and exhaustion. The short 5-15 minute sessions within the app are separated into four sections: Daily Sessions, During Training, Pre Match & Post Match training. Through regular practice, players can improve their mental clarity, allowing them to execute skills and perform with greater consistency.
“Taking time to be mindful is one of the best techniques I have used to help cope with the pressures of playing elite sport. To any budding or elite athlete, I can’t recommend Smiling Mind more highly. My success has come from staying physically fit and mentally strong”. Bianca Chatfield – Australian Netballer and Captain of the Melbourne Vixens
Key Points for Coaches
Use the resources above to educate players on how to be ‘present’ in the moment, trusting their bodies with their years of training. All players experience self-doubt and vulnerabilities, yet through developing the ability to manage these emotions, you be confident they will deliver when the pressure moment comes.
BE THE VOICE THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE