Why How (and When) We Train Matters

If you follow my tips, you know I had an ankle injury the week before Christmas.

With my last check-up, the doctor said I was good to go. That means…time to run again!

So, I ran. It felt great. In fact, it felt so good that I went a little longer than planned.

Then …it didn’t feel so great! Oops! I’ve been down this road before.

Leading up to this day…running day…I didn’t help myself!

How do you ask?

I was so diligent in doing my visualization and other physical exercises while I was limited in my movement. But once I got a little more comfortable and started to push the envelope a little bit, my commitment faltered.

I know exactly what to do. I teach this stuff every day and I’m a relatively disciplined person.

And, yet I am a slacker!

This is the perfect illustration of the saying “knowledge isn’t power, applied knowledge is power!”

If I can’t stick to my mental plan (or physical for that matter), how will my athletes commit to one?

This made me think long and hard about how I can help the athletes I train build solid, repeated practices, no matter how they feel, no matter if we are “winning” or “losing.”

Regardless of where you are in your season, here are a couple of things your athletes may face as physical and mental pressure mounts or situations change.

#1 — Athletes who have been practicing mental training tools will stop using them when they win…or even more quickly when they lose!

#2 — Those who have not been practicing thinking they did not need them will realize they could use some help as their confidence wanes and frustrations build.

Why? Because the thought of training the mind (one more thing to do) isn’t for most athletes. And, because it is so hard to see the benefits of visualization, breathing and other mental tools when we aren’t performing at our best.

It is also very easy to overlook the benefits of these tools when we are sailing along, and all is well with the world.

If we are to reap the benefits of mental training tools, we need to approach our training the same way we approach our physical training.

We would not expect to throw a new pitch in a game a week after we learn the mechanics, grip and timing of the pitch.

But we expect our mindset to change as soon as well read or learn about a new mental tool. We expect it to change our performance almost immediately.

Maybe it is because once we learn about this new tool, we “know” what to do. And so many of these mental tools seem like such simple stuff.

However, we all know how hard it is to change someone else’s mind or habits. Why do we think it will be so easy to change our own?

In Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, author Amishi Jha equates this to a friend asking you to help her move. Your friend puts you in charge of moving the dresser. You try to lift it but aren’t strong enough. You need more strength so you drop down and do pushups. Obviously, this will not increase your strength in time to lift the monstrosity. In fact, when you get back to the task at hand, you are more depleted.

Dr. Jha suggests that this is what we do with our mental tools as well.

I know she is right because this was my M.O. at times with my teams.

Something goes wrong. Let’s visualize! Need to slow things down? Use your breathing (which we never practiced).

Nothing happens overnight. And, when face challenges we don’t rise to the occasion, we fall back on our habits!

The problem comes when we are amid the battle and realize we need to focus…slow the game down…find productive thoughts…gain control!

Instead of relying on our tools to help us perform with confidence, control and consistency, we fall back on the habits that have been ingrained throughout our lives (and the lives of our ancestors — think fight or flight, negativity bias, etc.).

But how do we get commitment and buy-in? And even if we have buy-in, now do we practice consistently?

As far as buy-in goes, one of the first things I do with my teams/athletes is ask them about Olympians and other champions who use mental training tools. Since success leaves clues, I hope this cues them in to the fact at winners train their bodies AND their minds!

We do an exercise that shows them how we limit ourselves (how our amazing brain can hurt our performance). Then we talk about how our amazing brain can help our performance…by doing things we already do with a few tweaks!

But even if our athletes buy it hook, line and sinker, the truth is, we need help to do the training!

Our willpower or motivation based on learning how all of this helps others will only get us so far…which is usually about as far as our emotions changing about our situation one way or the other.

Had I followed B.J. Fogg’s advice from his book Tiny Habits and tied my visualization to something else I do every day, my chances of continuing my practice would have jumped exponentially.

My “action prompt” could have been “each time I fill up my water glass, I will visualize myself running with a strong and powerful ankle.” I would have completed this image at least 6 times in a workday. That is a WIN!

These are the nuts and bolts of sticking with a habit, but what about sticking to things when we don’t feel like it…or when things are going so well, we don’t feel like we need it?

This is where it gets hard. And this is where we may need help from outside sources.

I mentioned in a previous tip that students in one of our military academies were more efficient and effective at a task when they were told to “pay attention” every 15 minutes.

Something as simple as a reminder is helpful to keep us on track.

We have access to reminders with us constantly. Our phones, our watches, our teammates, post-it notes, physical reminders — you, the coach…the list goes on and on.

If you have an injured player, ask her/him to set an alarm for 3 times throughout the day to spend just a few minutes picturing a portion of their rehab or a play from their mental highlight reel.

Do you have an athlete who needs to build awareness or focus? Ask them to do the same, but record their most recent non-productive thought and replace it with a productive one (writing them both down and crossing out the first one!).

The hard part about helping our athletes stick to their mental performance skill work is that we don’t really know what is going on in their heads. That is why I have the athletes that I work with write out their practices.

In our 5 Minute Mindset™ program (available to teams and individual athletes), they write success journals, evidence lists, visualizations, how a breathing exercise made them feel (whether they liked it or not) and more.

My thought is that even if they are not committed to mental training, they are “forced” to think about it each week in their assignments. This work turns into images that flood the brain with the good, with what they want to do and it provides a review of the skills they are building.

You say, this sounds great, but these tools are not practiced while under pressure. True. But we do not prepare for war during the war. We prepare for war in times of peace. We create the habits we will need when we are pressured before the pressure comes.

How will we ever control our breathing in the heat of the moment if we can’t control it in a relaxed state? How will we see what we want to do instead of what we are trying to avoid when we are about to shoot the game-winning free throw if we can’t see our successes when we are sitting in a comfortable chair?

As with anything in life, having a plan helps move us toward our goals and practicing increases our chances of success!

Learning to train our minds is no different. We can help our athletes, but it isn’t all on us! Once they realize that these tools help separate winners, learning to create good mental training habits will not only enhance their performance now but their lives as well!

This tip was so long, I drank all of my water. Time to fill it up and watch myself run on my strong and capable ankle!

Have a great week!

Julie

P.S. Want to get your team on a mental training schedule, shoot me an email and let’s talk about my 5 Minute Mindset™ options or schedule a team session today!

Julie Jones

Certified Mental Performance & Mindset Coach

SSB Performance

www.ssbperformance.com

juliej@ssbperformance.com • 234–206–0946

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