1.) Practice Improving Attention Skills…
The 1stbarrier to mental toughness is when our concentration lapses.
Players can lose concentration during matches when they get distracted by external causes (e.g., sounds), or also when their naturally wandering minds start thinking about things not to do with the match.
It’s quite amazing that although being able to aim and maintain attention on a helpful performance target is such a foundational requirement to successful performance…
And although we are regularly told to “Pay attention” during our developmental years, we rarely actually formally practice it.
This is a little like expecting someone to get fit without doing fitness training!
Here is a super simple way that players can develop attention skills during the daily activity of teeth cleaning:
Step 1.) The idea is to see how long we can aim and maintain our attention on a sensory aspect of the activity…
So the sound of the toothbrush, or the feel of the brush on our teeth, or the taste of the toothpaste.
Step 2.) As soon as we recognize our attention has wandered, simply return it to the present moment sensory targets, and repeat as necessary.
And that’s how simple it is: Attention Strength Training!
2.) Practice Awareness of Internal Experiences…
When we’re not committing to actions that increase the chance of success, it’s most commonly caused by becoming ‘caught up’ in difficult internal experiences like nerves and frustration.
Effective competitors are quick to recognize this, which requires self-awareness.
By noticing our internal mental experiences we gain choice in how we respond to them. It helps us ‘see’ them in a way that lessens their power over our actions.
We want players to become highly skilled in recognizing difficult thoughts and emotional feelings over time (when necessary).
And it can be helpful to progress towards that ability by using the practice of daily stretching activities.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1.) When players complete a stretch they should maintain focus on the physical sensation of the stretch in their body for as long as possible.
Step 2.) Players should try to notice as quickly as possible when their focus has wandered, and return attention to the physical sensation of the stretch and repeat as necessary.
By focusing attention internally at physical sensations, players start to develop the ability to recognize internal states more generally, whether physical or mental, which is vital for regulating competitive behavior.
3.) Practice Acceptance of Difficult Internal Experiences…
Effective competitors are ‘fit’ in coping with difficult internal experiences like nerves and frustration.
This allows them to continue to focus their efforts towards what they want to do, rather than automatically trying to reduce or avoid the difficult thoughts and feelings, at the cost of competitive effectiveness.
In total, the best competitors are those who are best skilled at responding well to the frequently occurring difficult thoughts and feelings as they show up…
NOT the person who is best at controlling thoughts and emotions, or creating ‘Ideal Performance States’ like the Zone/Flow states.
Here’s a simple activity that can help players improve emotional ‘acceptance/fitness’, which is often lacking when players commonly tank or explode in anger.
I call it Notice-Look:
Step 1.) When we notice that we’re nervous it’s helpful to first try to find where the physical element of nerves is most notable in our body.
Players often recognize it as butterflies in their stomach, a fast beating heart, or a tightening in the arm.
Step 2.) Once noticed, the aim is to focus attention on the physical sensation like in the previous stretching activity without trying to reduce or change the feeling in any way (and do this for several seconds).
By allowing the feeling to be there, rather than trying to reduce it, players develop fitness in having the feeling, which results in the increased ability to cope with match challenges that naturally evoke fear/nerves over time.
This works in the same way that physical training develops tolerance of physical discomforts and pain.
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