Tag: brain training

Six Traits of Mentally Tough Athletes — Including the U.S. Soccer Team

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

All eyes will be on Vancouver this Sunday as the U.S. Women’s soccer team takes on Japan in their second consecutive World Cup Championship game. In order to reach the finals for two straight tournaments, we know the athletes have not only incredible physical strength, but also extraordinary mental strength. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe spoke with NPR before the World Cup began about what distinguishes the U.S. team: “I think traditionally, we’ve always been very fit and fast and physical, and we have that sort of physical element that we can just outlast teams,” she said. “And we have that grit and that mentality that we’re never going to quit.” That grit is an integral part of what has led to the team’s success—and is also an integral part of being mentally tough.

In their book, The Mental Game Plan: Getting Psyched for Sport, Drs. Stephen J. Bull, John G. Albinson, and Christopher J. Shambrook outline six characteristics of mentally tough athletes:

Strong desire to succeed

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure

Control the controllables

High commitment with a balanced attitude

High level of self-belief

Positive body language

From Rapinoe’s quote alone, it is easy to see that the U.S. team embodies these characteristics. The team’s determination and refusal to quit aligns with characteristics 1-5 (and if you look at pictures of the team in action, you’ll see No. 6 as well).

So how can you embrace these six skills and be mentally tough like the U.S. women? What do they really mean?

Strong desire to succeed – Why are you playing your sport? We imagine it’s because you love it and have fun while playing! Your No. 1 priority should be to enjoy what you’re doing. Then, that love for the game will transfer over to your desire to keep getting better. “Succeeding” does not necessarily mean winning the championship or being the best player on the team; rather, it’s about setting your mind to a few, tangible goals and working hard to attain them. These are progress-oriented goals—like taking a few deep breaths before you make your next pitch or becoming 5% stronger over the next two weeks. The real success is when you achieve these progress-goals throughout the year!

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure – Athletes of any sport, especially at high levels of competition, endure a lot of stress. Making excuses and complaining won’t help you get any better. Mentally tough athletes challenge stress head on by staying positive throughout their competition.

Control the controllables – In order to be mentally tough, you need to recognize that there are some things you can’t do anything about. The refs, the weather, the past—recognizing that there are aspects of the game out of your control will help you become more aware of what you can control. You can control your effort in practice, your attitude when you miss a rebound, and what you’re doing at the current moment, to name a few. When you focus on what you can control, you put more conscious effort into making those aspects of your game better instead of worrying about what’s out of your hands.

High commitment with a balanced attitude – Having a balanced attitude means that you need to be dedicated to your sport while also being dedicated to other aspects of your life like school, family, and friends. Enjoy your sport while you’re playing, but if something bad happens during a game or practice, don’t let that negatively affect your mood when you leave the field. Mentally tough athletes recognize that they need to focus on sports while training, but they need to be engaged with other parts of their life as well.

High level of self-belief – We all know that we won’t make every basket or catch every pass from the quarterback, but that’s ok! If you stay focused on the present moment—on the basket you’re about to shoot or the pass the quarterback is throwing right now and you say to yourself over and over that you can do this and you will make the basket/pass, then more often than not you will make the shot. If you believe in yourself, you will be able to turn those thoughts into actions.

Positive body language – When you swing at a pitch outside of the zone, do you slam your bat down in frustration or do you take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’ll get it next time? Standing upright with confidence will in fact make you more confident. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s those who realize that they can be better next time that are mentally tough and successful.

Mental training takes time just as physical training—you can’t get better overnight. Next time when you’re skating around the rink, take a few deep breaths, remember what you can and cannot control, and believe in yourself. Those quick mental skills will put you steps above your opponent—as evident by the U.S. women’s soccer team only one step away from a World Cup Championship!

 

He Shoots, He Scores! Setting Goals, Not Just Scoring Them

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Athletes today fight a very uphill battle when it comes to expectations from themselves and others. While most athletes begin playing sports because of pure enjoyment, expectations often grow alongside young athletes. For athletes at any age to improve physically and mentally in their sport, goal setting is a practiced skill that can too often be underused.

In order to develop helpful goals for athletes it is important to understand that there is two primary drives for people in just about any situation. The first being internal drive, and the second being external drive. Internal drive is that feeling of wanting to accomplish something for yourself or perfecting a skill you have worked on for some time. It is the feeling of accomplishment an athlete gets when they know they worked hard and did their best. External drive comes from outside motivators. This is when at athlete feels successful because they outperform their opponent or score the most goals. External drive is not necessarily a bad thing; it just should not be the only motivator for an athlete. The best way to develop helpful goals is to account for an athletes personal motivators and set goals that account for both their internal and external drives.

When goal setting it is equally as important to set mental goals as it is to set physical goals. If a basketball player can shoot 20 for 20 free throws at the gym, but believes he will miss as soon as he is in a game setting, what happens? More often that not, that great free-throw shooter will miss. At Premier Sport Psychology we are strong believers that the mind is like a muscle, and it only works at full capacity when it is trained properly. There are many different sport psychology techniques that can increase your mental training such as mental imagery, visualization, focus exercises, and mindfulness training. By educating yourself more on these topics you are taking the first step into reaching your goals.

Now, speaking of goals, how do we set them? When setting goals it is important to set SMART goals. Meaning that goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relative, and time-bound. It is also important that when setting goals, you track your physical and mental training. Athletes can set up a weekly and monthly schedule to hold themselves accountable and celebrate milestones along the way to their major outcome goal. For example, a runner may want to shorten their mile time by one minute before their season begins. It is important to figure out the proper training, both physically and mentally, that will need to take place in the allotted time to reach that goal. It is not enough to simply want to be better, faster, or stronger; you must actually follow through on the process.

In review, here is a basic overview:

1) Identify personal motivators. Figure out what your internal and externals drives are and how you can target them to reach your goals. Success and achievement are different for everyone; make sure you understand what success means to you.

2) Learn and implement proper mental techniques to help you work towards your goals. If you would like more information on this, consider looking into the Premier Mental Training System on our website or contacting one of our sport psychologists.

3) Develop SMART goals and stick to them!

4) Set up a weekly and monthly calendar to keep you on track. Seeing your goals on paper will be helpful for you to process where you began, where you are going and the steps it will take to get there.

5) Seek input. Remember that being an athlete is often a very dynamic role. There are often coaches, parents and/or peers that are alongside you at some point during your athletic career. It is important to share your goals and get constructive feedback and support from others to help get you to where you want to be!

6) Accept non-linear progress. Setting goals and working towards them is not a linear process. You will have ups and downs, and it is not realistic to reach perfection all (or any) of the time! Be patient and proud of yourself with any progress you make, even if it is slow and gradual.

Bethany Brausen

Learn to Listen to Yourself

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

NPR radio recently broadcast a segment called “Why Saying is Believing – The Science of Self-Talk”.  If you think it sounds like a waste of your time, you might need to change your self-talk. Laura Starecheski investigates the messages we send ourselves and the implications these messages have on our daily lives. While it may seem like a simple feat, the ability to use positive self-talk on a consistent basis is easier said than done. However, this skill–when mastered–can have major benefits on our well-being and can lead us to feeling “sexier, more successful, have better relationships, and even help start a money making business and chase dreams [we] didn’t even know [we] had.” Starecheski investigates these claims by finding leading researchers in their fields and picking their brains on…well, how we pick on our brains. David Sarwer from the University of Pennsylvania specializes in research on eating disorders and immediately places a mirror in front of patients when he begins working with them. He encourages them to stray away from using harsh, critical vocabulary when describing themselves, and instead incorporate more neutral references that help them reframe their negative thoughts. While listening to the program, I began thinking, “Yes, I see the value in this… However, they are still just thoughts…and how harmful can thoughts truly be?” 

Shortly after, my question was answered.

A study conducted in the Netherlands analyzed anorexic subjects, and noticed that while women walked though doorways they turned their shoulders and squeezed sideways even though they had plenty of room.  This was an indicator that their internal representation of themselves was that they were much bigger than they were in reality.  Studies like this (i.e., those that show the tremendous effects self-talk can have on our physical world) are not uncommon. So how do we overcome these small thoughts that can become big problems? Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan suggests that the use of third person self-talk may be a trick to help “rewire” our brains.  Cross uses Lebron James as an example of using third person self-talk.  n an exit interview in 2010, Lebron James talked about leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat:

“One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. And I wanted to do what was best for Lebron James, and what I could do to make Lebron James happy.”

In this instance, he was able to distance himself from his emotions and look at a situation from a more neutral, logical standpoint. Cross furthered this idea with research of his own, confirming what he had already hypothesized. When people used third person self-talk and referred to themselves by name rather than “me” or “I”, subjects were significantly more rational, less emotional and were able to provide themselves with encouragement and advice.

Our self-talk shapes not only our internal world but our external world as well.  More often than you may think, the internal representations we create of ourselves are vastly different than reality. The skill of developing healthy, positive self-talk is not only beneficial, but also vital for our well-being and success. If you think otherwise, ironically you may just be the perfect candidate for strengthening your self-talk.

 

 

 

 

Success with Sport Psychology: A Comparison of The 2014 Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Entering the 2014 Major League Baseball post-season, two of baseball’s longest streaks were going strong: the Baltimore Orioles had not made it to the playoffs in 28 years, and the Chicago Cubs had not won a World Series championship since 1908. For one of these teams, the start of the post-season marked a change in history. The 2014 Baltimore Orioles won the American League East Division and entered the American League playoffs as the #2 seed. The 2014 Chicago Cubs finished with a 73-89, earning them last place in the National League Central Division and ensuring their streak would continue.

So what ties the two together? In 2014, the Baltimore Orioles utilized a sport psychologist as a part of their professional staff. In 2014, the Chicago Cubs fired their sport psychologist. There are a lot of factors that go into whether or not a baseball team is going to be successful. It depends on things like the schedule they play, the players they have, the weather they face during the season…and countless other aspects. There is no one recipe for having a successful baseball program. However, if you asked the Orioles themselves, they’d tell you first hand that a sport psychologist is an important ingredient.

“We never had anybody we could really go to or talk to before,” said Zach Britton, part of the Orioles pitching rotation. “You know, we always talk among each other, but if we are all having a tough stretch, you are all thinking negatively, you don’t really have someone outside the situation you can go to and talk to because he has a different perception.”

It’s not just the players–the coaches are all in too. After considering off-season changes that could happen, the coaching staff decided that having a sport psychologist on staff that could address the concept of “mental toughness” was a piece that the Baltimore players could benefit from.

Said Rick Peterson, pitching director for the team, “It’s huge…It was really educational for the players to talk about [motivation, anxiety, goal-setting].”

They had no idea just how right they would be. The Baltimore Orioles took the 2014 season by storm, winning a competitive division with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and then entering the post-season itself with a decisive sweep in the ALDS. Look for the Orioles to continue to make a strong post-season push, confident and mentally strong all the while.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are right where they seem to have been stuck the last number of years. With management changes (and with them, personnel changes), the clubhouse that has seen so much adversity in their long history seems to be looking at even more. The Cubs shouldn’t be entirely discredited just yet, though. President Theo Epstein has made it clear that he intends to bring another sport psychologist back onto the staff as soon as possible. Hopefully, all has not been lost. Maybe they’ll even end up being the team that makes the big push.

In any event, we can be certain of two things: 1) what the 2014 Baltimore Orioles are doing is special, thanks at least in part to their sport psychologist, and 2) the Chicago Cubs are in the process of rebuilding, and with talks of bringing a sport psychologist on again, the future seems to be bright.

The Tigers are Tamed; The Royals are Kings

By: Premier Sport Psychology

A coach of mine once told me that momentum is made up. He said all that really happens is we convince ourselves mentally that we are in a state of retreat, when in reality we are still every bit “in the game” as our opponents are. I 100% agree with him, but the Kansas City Royals may need some more convincing.

After not being in the playoffs for 29 years, the Royals have gone 4-0 in their first four playoff games. In doing so, they have secured themselves a spot in the American League Championship Series and are now just eight wins away from bringing home a World Series Championship. All things seem to be “go” for this 2014 Royals team, and if these last games are any indication, they have no intention of slowing down.

They overcame the Oakland Athletics in an extra innings battle, and then came back only a few days later to sweep the Detroit Tigers (one of the postseason favorites). In doing so, the Royals overcame three of the most dominant pitchers in baseball: Max Sherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price–and outhit some of the best bats the sport has to offer: Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Torii Hunter. How did they do it?

The answer is simple: with a smile on their face.

“They’re all enjoying it…we get to this type of atmosphere and we’re flourishing,” Royals Manager Ned Yost said after the ALDS sweep. He wasn’t alone in the sentiment–Royals starting catcher Salvador Perez added, “We feel so happy to win the last two games.”

So how can it seem so simple yet do so much? Because in reality, it can be that simple. The influence of a positive mindset is so vastly overlooked in competitive sport, but as we can see through the success the Kansas City Royals are having, it can really make a difference. Especially considering they were up against the odds, on short rest, and playing against one of the best teams in baseball. The impact can’t be overlooked.

Give it a try sometime. Next time you need to do something, no matter how daunting it seems, tell yourself that you can be successful. Put a smile on your face while you do it. Do it again and again until it becomes genuine, and you won’t be disappointed. Change your mindset, and the results will follow.

Konnor Fleming

Mental Preparation For Your Game

By: Premier Sport Psychology

While there are techniques and suggestions for mental preparation, the biggest thing to remember is that the best mental preparation for any game will come from both trusting your physical training and being aware of what it is you do mentally when you perform at your best. Mental preparation for a game will vary by the individual. For example, one athlete may prepare best by listening to music on their own and conversing with others minimally before a game. On the other hand, another athlete may need to talk and interact with others to prepare. Neither approach is right nor wrong. The trick is to key-in on what works on an individual level and channel your preparation through that. That being said, here are a few preparations strategies to try and see if they work for you:

Mindfulness:  Mindfulness has been shown to significantly increase athletes’ performance. Before a game, your brain can be going in a million different directions–what mindfulness does is center your attention on the immediate moment without judging the moment as “good” or “bad.” When we do this, we allow ourselves to channel our energy into our performance and take it moment to moment and be less critical of ourselves while competing. We are less distracted and more focused.

Imagery & Self-Talk:  Before a game, try closing your eyes and watch yourself on a highlight reel. See yourself being successful in all facets of your sport, competing exactly how you want to. Any time a negative thought seeps in, notice it and let it pass. Replay those positive thoughts over in your head to help build your confidence. Focus on what you do well. Your self-talk tells you whether you can or cannot do something, and the effect it has on your actual performance is profound.

Stay Focused on the Process & the Controllables: Lots of athletes get caught up in thinking about the outcome of the game before they go out to compete (e.g., score, win/loss, making the line-up, how they play, etc.) rather than focusing on the PROCESS of performing well. The PROCESS is all the how-to parts of playing a great game (e.g., staying relaxed, confident play, good communication on the field, aggressive start, holding form, quick feet, etc.)! We know that athletes who focus on the process and let the outcome take care of itself, actually perform better. Try not to get sucked into worrying about the uncontrollable aspects of the game (e.g., the weather, ref calls, opponents’ skill level, coach’s decisions, etc.). Rather, before and during a game, zone-in on what you can control such as your attitude, effort, preparation and mindset!

Mindfulness and Flow in Elite Athletes

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Background:

This study sought out to examine the relationship between mindfulness and states of flow in elite athletes. To learn more about flow, click here. In doing so, the researchers were able to test the validity of a mindfulness measure, replicate and extend past research, and look closer at relationships of mindfulness and flow in:

  • Individual vs. Team Sport
  • Pacing vs. Nonpacing Sports
  • Males vs. Females

By the Numbers:

92 athletes from the South Australian Sports Institute and the Australian Institute of Sport participated in the study. There was a representation of males and females from 12 different sports. Athletes used two measures, the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire and the Dispositional Flow Scale-2 for assessment purposes.

Take Away Messages:

Results of this study provided evidence that the relationship between mindfulness and flow may be slightly higher in individual-pacing sports compared to team-based nonpacing sports. Mindfulness could possibly be related to different facets of flow in males compared to females. This information makes an argument that mindfulness and states of flow may be more obtainable on an individual basis. No different than any skill for athletes, it is important to know what works for you and how to get into “the zone.”

References:

Carthcart, S., McGregor, M., & Groundwater, E. (2014).  Mindfulness and Flow in Elite Athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, (8), 199-141.

The World Cup: Psychology Behind Penalty Kicks

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

The game of soccer is one of the most physically demanding in all of sport. With physical demands of the whole body and players traveling, on average, seven miles in a game, there is no doubt that soccer athletes have to be some of the most physically fit in the world. But what comes, then, when regulation and extra time have passed and players must engage in game-deciding penalty kicks? What physical skill is required there? The ball is centered, only 12 yards away from the goal, with the keeper completely at the taker’s mercy in regards to where the shot will go, when it will be taken, etc. So why at the World Cup – soccer’s greatest stage – is the conversion rate for penalty kicks only .71?

The answer is one of the most beautiful ironies in all of sport: the simplest of physical tasks becomes the most difficult because of how mentally challenging it is.

The one-on-one nature is naturally going to elicit some nerves. Coupled with the pressure of the moment, the implications of the result, and the apparent ease of the situation, those nerves can make a player far from their best. Some factors are beyond the player’s control: who shoots first and who shoots second, and consequently who shoots for gain and who shoots to recover, is determined entirely by a coin flip. For some, the pressure is next to none; goalkeepers are seen as heroes if they save a penalty kick, and receive next to no blame for allowing a goal. However, for the players taking the penalty kicks, it can be said for certain that mental strength is the key.

Confidence, strength of will, and physical ability–these are all the pieces to the penalty kick puzzle. All are ever-present with the USA National Team. Just consider the team’s slogan through the tournament thus far: I Believe. Klinsmann, the team’s coach, just told his players to change their flights until after the World Cup final. Think Team USA has confidence? While we hope the game for the Americans doesn’t end up coming to penalty kicks – hopefully we have the win secured long before they become necessary – don’t be surprised to see the team shine if it comes to that. The mental strength is there, and the whole country can’t be wrong when they say, “I believe that we will win!”

 

References:

Hatokie, A. (2014, July 1). The psychology of penalty shootouts. – Football. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://www.aljazeera.com/sport/brazil2014/2014/07/psychology-penalty- shootouts-20147182438644251.html

 

How to Deal with Negative Thinking

By: Premier Sport Psychology

You know that voice inside your head? The one that reminds you of something negative at the most inopportune moment? We’ve all got it. Those voices are our minds at work. Over the course of our existence, our minds have developed to keep us safe by solving problems. However, while they strive to keep us safe, they don’t always do so honestly. That’s right: our minds sometimes tell us things that aren’t true or helpful in order to solve problems.

If you’ve ever been reminded of the last shot you missed while standing at the free-throw line, or the last pass you bombed the moment you were throwing the ball, you’ll surely be aware of the effects it can have on your performance. While it might not make sense that these thoughts would “help” us, our minds are trying to remind us of these old actions in hopes that we might not repeat them. (This goes back to those old survival instincts where repeating the same action twice might result in death.) While we can’t stop our minds from their constant input, we can train ourselves to place that input on the back burner when we really need to. Here are 3 tips from psychotherapist Bobbi Emel:

  1. Thank your mind. When that little voice starts telling you that your shirt is so last year, just acknowledge it. Tell your mind that you appreciate that it is looking out for your best interests, but that you’re fine. Soon, you will be able to separate yourself from your thoughts, and see that those thoughts aren’t you.
  2. Become aware that some of the thoughts your mind produces may not be true.  Your hair does look fine. You will make that next shot. Your next time will be better. You’re mind is simply worried that once you reach good enough that you won’t strive to do better. Again, all you need to do us understand that your mind is trying to solve problems. After you do that, just tell yourself that it’s not true and move on.
  3. Label thoughts as stories. Our minds create patterns of thoughts that are like stories. Recognizing that not all of those stories are true is key. Once you do that, you can take a step back from your own thought process and allow yourself to be more objective. Not all stories are true.

At first glance, it may seem a bit difficult to turn down the volume on your own thoughts. The important thing to remember is that like any sport or skill, it takes time to learn, practice and apply. With enough work, you will be able to apply these with ease and focus on what’s really important: the moment you’re in right then and there.

For the full article, click here.