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 on-court sessions:
Step 1.) Make a rule that requires at least 5 seconds break between each rally.
Step 2.) Then during the break between each rally players should perform a single deep breath where their attention is focused on the complete in-breath and out-breath and the point of their stomach.
The Benefits: In just a single 60min session players will train focusing attention in the present for several minutes using this 1-breath attention activity. From this place of present attention players are also in the best place to shift attention onto the helpful process that they wish to improve during the next rally as well.
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.
The Benefits: 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…
Here’s a simple activity that can help move players towards improved emotional ‘acceptance/fitness’, which is often lacking when players commonly tank or explode in anger.
We call it Notice-Look and it's best to begin practicing using physical sensations of physical training :
Step 1.) Players should assume the sumo squat position with the goal to hold the position as long as possible.
Step 2.) Once started players should focus attention on the physical discomfort in their legs and observe the sensations curiously like they are a scientist trying to learn as much as possible about the sensation.
Step 3.) Instead of automatically stopping without awareness, players should aim to develop their tolerance of the discomfort by staying in the position longer than they might usually, while maintaining this 'curious' observation of the sensations as they do it.
The Benefit: By allowing the feeling to be there, rather than trying to reduce it by stopping, players develop tolerance in having the feeling. We can then help players understand that they can also work to develop their tolerance of the physical sensations that come with difficult mental experiences like nerves, which will result in the increased ability to cope with match challenges that naturally evoke fear/nerves over time.
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