Don’t Just Hope for Great

When your dreams on are on the line, you want to do more than just hope for greatness.  You want to make sure you have prepared yourself for this moment.  Will you be ready for “Your time?”

When your time arrives you need to have the confidence that you have prepared yourself for it. Many parents and athletes often ignore the most important of part of physical training by ignoring the most important part of their physiology – their brain.

I have all too often seen physical training rendered meaningless because an athlete’s brain goes into a default mode that triggers muscle tension, elevated heart rate, and quickened breathing.  Simply put – they choke.

Being ready for your time and preparing for Great Performances takes planning, practice, and an awareness of how your own mind and body work together.

The preparation for dealing with this starts with your mindset toward development and failure.  A mindset that many of the athletes we have trained find useful is what I call the developmentally competitive mindset. This mindset simultaneously focuses on your development and your ability to compete against your opponent and your own progress.

This mindset is adapted from the work of Carol Dweck and her book Mindset.

Dweck identifies fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.  A fixed mindset is one that is overly focused on judging yourself and your development solely on where you “should be” based on the abilities or qualities nature has given you. Fixed mindset thinking is alive and well in our sports and social media cultures.  A “Sports Center” mindset has developed in which we generally label athletes as naturals or busts.

Such a mindset creates two separate but distinct default futures.  The natural envisions a future in which they are entitled to success and believe they don’t have to devote too much effort to achieve their dreams.  The bust thinks “It’s over and nothing can be done to change it.”

The appeal of each mindset and the futures that go with them results from our need for certainty and predictability.  The “Sports Center” Mindset creates an illusion of predictability.

When the body and the mind faces uncertainty, the fight, flight, or freeze appears.  This response triggers gripping the stick tighter, playing not to lose, and dumb mental mistakes.  At best, it limits an athlete’s ability to perform at the level they are used to, and at worst, it leads to a complete shutdown or an aggressive and out of control performance.

What does a developmentally competitive mindset mean and how do I create it for myself? Below I have listed the most important characteristics.

  • Be comfortable with uncertainty. – Accept the fact that after the puck drops you can only control yourself and your play.  You cannot control the future.
  • Challenge yourself every day and compete with your last performance. Doing so will help you gain the confidence you need to believe that you can influence the outcome of the game.
  • Be Self -Forgiving- Don’t mistake forgiveness for lacking accountability. Learn from your mistake and then focus on the immediate moment.
  • Failure = Learning – Use failure as an opportunity to learn. In your development failures and

The first of these characteristics is the most important to master.  In order to finish your game, whether your team leads, trails or tied, you need to have skills that “reboot” your brain.

When this fight, flight, freeze reactions hits it creates an emotional distraction.  To manage that reaction you need to use a sensory distraction to reboot.

Here are a couple of examples. Try them and see what works for you.

  • Eye Movements or Fist Squeeze -Move your eyes back and forth without moving your head or alternately squeeze your fists. This activates all parts of your brain and allows them to work together.
  • Count – Count back from 100 by 7’s.
  • Drink water
  • Centering Breaths – Breathe in to the count of 5, hold for 2 and out for 7.

These techniques will help you to manage the physiology of your brain.  Practice them in multiple tense situations.  Each time you practice the effectiveness grows.  Learn which one works best for you and use it when you need to finish your game.