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Balance is Key

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As I was driving to work one morning, watching the sun gracefully rise, I came upon a thought: our whole lives have a common thread centered around rising and falling. The sun rises in the morning and “falls” in the evening, we arise in the snoceanmorning, and we fall asleep at night. The tides rise and fall with the gravitational pull of the moon. Our bodies are fuelled by homeostasis; a process of balancing out the rise and fall in temperature and aspects of nutrition. Our lives are a series of ups and downs, everyday. In order to be successful we must learn to rise and fall with a steady mind.

John Wooden preached emotional stability to his players. He didn’t want them to get caught up in success or failure. He didn’t believe in highly emotional “pump-up” speeches during pre-game because he wanted his players to stay level headed. He also didn’t allow his players to become emotionally distraught after a mistake. He believed in balance. images-65

This steadiness in the face of success and failure encompasses the meaning of mental toughness. “It is recognizing that you are going to make mistakes, sometimes costly mistakes, but you tough it out and do the best you can anyway”, as Jim Thompson describes in his book Positive Coaching.

In games like baseball and softball mental toughness is crucial. They are games of failure; success in these sports is defined as failing more than you succeed. A highly respected batting average is .400, failing six times out of ten. Most major leaguers who are considered big time hitters only have averages in the .300 range, failing seven out of ten times. The game is slow, which allows you to dwell on the failures. As a defensive player you could experience multiple innings, or even games, after an error before getting the chance to make a successful play again. How would it look if we took these failures to heart? What if we simply gave up every time we swung and missed? What if, as children, we gave up every time we “failed” when learning to walk? We would never improve.

Athletes need to build up their mental toughness to get to the next level. They need to experience success and failure with grace so they can hone their skills and discover their full potentials.

mike-madduxA golden opportunity to challenge a players’ mental toughness is on the mound in a situation where the pitcher is struggling. As a coach you can approach the mound and challenge the pitcher to improve their mental toughness. “This team thinks they have you backed into a corner because you are starting to struggle. Do you think you can work on your mental focus and keep hitting your spots instead of letting them get to you?” Switching the focus to improving mental toughness is a beneficial strategy in helping athletes to develop mental capabilities. It may also improve performance, and allow the athlete to succeed in a tough situation. Sometimes changing an athletes’ perspective or focus allows them to perform more naturally because their mind is distracted from scrutinizing every technical aspect of their performance.

Help your athletes fail and succeed with grace. Help them to ride the waves of sport performance instead of getting washed out with tide by giving them opportunities in challenging situations to improve their mindset.

Quote of the Day:

“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one” – John Wooden 

Imagery! It’s Powerful Stuff!

“Imagery is a form of stimulation, it is similar to a real sensory experience, but the entire experience occurs in the mind.” (Coaching for the Inner Edge) Using Imagery you can re-create previous positive experiences or picture new events to prepare yourself mentally for performance. It can be used to build confidence and concentration.

Imagery has been said to help athletes enhance their performance of motor skills. In your mind, visualizing the task you want to accomplish, like the hitting the ball, can actually help you produce the results you want. This entire entry is all about how you can use imagery before a performance to increase your chances of success.

Using imagery

Imagery is a form of simulation that happens in your mind. You can re-create or create an experience in your mind that is similar to a real life sensory experience. Keeping these simulations positive is the key to success when using imagery. Imagery should encompass as many senses as possible, using more than one sense helps to create more vivid images in the mind. Use your visual sense (sight), your auditory sense (hearing), tactile sense (touch), olfactory sense (smell), and your kinesthetic sense. Your kinesthetic sense is the sense that detects bodily movement, weight shift or movement of the muscles and tendons.  Here is an example of how you can prepare yourself before an at bat by using imagery; this can be done in warm ups while doing dry swings, or in the on deck circle, or in even in the car before the game begins.  

Hitting

Visual– See the pitcher and the team on the field behind her. Now shift your focus to only her, see her wind up, every little movement.  Then start focusing on watching the ball as the pitcher releases it  from her hip. Watch as the ball comes toward the plate. Focus on the ball, see the color, the seams, and the rotation. See the ball as it contacts the bat and sails into left center for a base hit.

Kinesthetic sense– Feel the bend in your knees and the position of your stance. Know where your bat is in relation to your shoulder and how tightly your fingers are wrapped around it. Know and feel when to transfer your weight at the proper time to maximize power. Feel the position of your body when you hit the ball, your power position, and your follow through.

Auditory sense– Hear the sounds of the dugouts and the stands cheering.  Let those sounds slowly fade out and hear the slap of the glove on the pitchers thigh, and hear her grunt as she releases. Once you swing, hear the sound of the bat on the ball, and the cheers from your team mates and coaches.

Tactile sense– Feel the sun beating down on your shoulders, feel the sweat glistening off your body. Feel the grip of the bat in your hands.

Olfactory sense– Smell the fresh air, the cut grass, or the freshly watered dirt. 

Emotion: do you feel nervous walking up to the plate? Anxious? Excited? Confident? frustrated?

Remember to always attach emotion and thoughts to your imagery; are you happy, angry, in pain? Are you confident, nervous, concentrated, or distracted? Putting these emotions into your imagery can help you control them; within your images you can practicing changing your anxiety to excitement, or fear to confidence.

You can also use imagery to control anger after a bad call, or after a teammate makes an error. See yourself reacting in a positive way to keep your team up and focused around you. You can say cue words to yourself, like to stick the ball, to remind yourself to stay focused on the upcoming game, not on your error or the umpires bad call. In your off time, between games you can visualize an error you made in a prior game, then go through the visualization process of staying up and positive, do it with detail like the example above. In the next game after an error, instead of going through this whole process again, you can just say your cue word, like stay up, which will help you remember your visualization and react accordingly.

Don’t think it works?

I have evidence!

A study done at the United States Olympic training center indicated that 100% of sport psychology consultants, and 94% of the coaches of the Olympic athletes used imagery during their training sessions, with 20% using it at every practice session. (Coaching for the Inner Edge) If you want more, I got it!

Where can imagery be used?

It can be used in practice and in games, or before and after each.  Most athletes use imagery in pre-competition, but it can be useful to practice imagery at practice, so you can effectively transfer it over to a game situation. 

When can imagery be used?

Imagery can be used at anytime you want to work on your game. But it is said to be most effective after practice and after games because images of your performance are fresh in your mind.  Imagery can be especially helpful with injury, even though an injured player may not be able to physically practice, they can still mentally practice. Studies have shown a faster recovery rate for injured athletes who have used imagery.

Before and after practice– you can take ten minutes before practice to visualize routines and skills you are expected to perform. After practice, you can review what you worked on in practice and really feel the movements.

Before and after games– imagery can happen right before the game, before warm-ups, or in the car. After the game review things you did successfully, focus on the positive parts of your performance.

During breaks in action – it can be used between pitches or innings. Imagery can be used to build focus and self-confidence.

When injured– imagery can be used to relax and let go of the anxiety that comes with being hurt. Positive images of healing and full recovery have shown results in enhanced recovery.

Why do athletes use imagery?

They use imagery to enhance both cognitive and motivational behavior. Motivation- visual goals, goal oriented (outcome-oriented beating your opponents) and task oriented (improving your personal best). Visualize yourself winning and being congratulated, or being happy with the performance you gave on the field.  Cognitive- getting the “feel of the movement”. Research has shown that doing this type of mental imagery has enhanced performance above and beyond the level achieved merely through physical practice.

How does imagery work?

I know what you’re thinking; how does visualizing myself hitting the ball or fielding a ball actually change the way I play? Our minds can generate information from memory that is essentially the same as an actual experience; consequently, imaging events can have an effect on our nervous system similar to that of an actual experience. 

Imagery can be used to build confidence, control emotional responses, acquiring and practicing sport skills and strategies, and coping with pain or injury.

Improve concentration– it helps you focus on what you want to do, how you want to do it, and keeps your mind from wondering. You can imagine yourself in a situation where you would usually lose your concentration, after making an error or swinging at a bad pitch, and then visualize yourself staying composed and focused on the next pitch or play.

Enhance motivation– A study in an aerobic class showed that when using imagery to visualize themselves getting healthier and improving physical appearance they had more endurance while exercising.

Build confidence– Use positive imagery. See yourself throwing a perfect curveball that the batter swings and misses at, or grabbing a hard shot out of the air. But be careful, imagery can also work against you; if you imagine negative things it can lower your self confidence.

Control emotional responses– imagery can be used to psyche yourself up for a game or relax yourself before a game if you tend to play tense.

Solve problems-if you are in a slump or not performing like you want to be, you can visualize what you are doing now and compare it to what you did when you were playing at your best. Then you can decide what needs to change.

Practice or aquire a sport skill– you can practice that perfect swing or pitch in your mind which will help with execution, or enhance the learning process.

Sometimes athletes have trouble controlling their images, they can see themselves repeating their mistakes; i.e. striking out. The key is practice!

Remember, the same skills used in sports can also be used in everyday life. Use imagery before taking a big test or a giving a speech. Picture yourself doing well, and achieving your goals.

I’m not saying that everyone should use imagery, it may not work for everyone, but my job is to give you all the information I have, in hopes of helping you to be the best players you can be. Your job is to take it all in and try it. Use it accordingly, and if you don’t try it, it’s only your loss, and will only keep you from being the best you can be!

Quote of the day:

“Before every shot I go to the movies inside my head. Here is what I see. First, I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then I see the ball going there; its path and trajectory and even its behavior on landing.  The next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the pervious image into reality. These home movies are key to my concentration and to my positive approach to every shot.” – Jack Nicklaus (Golfer)

 

How far is too far?

How far are you willing to go to be the best? What will you sacrifice to get ahead of the competition? Is there a limit to how much an athlete should endure to achieve success?

In my classes we’ve been looking at exercise disorders, addiction, and depression. It’s scientifically proven that exercise can resolve, and improve the effects of depression. Health professionals are starting to prescribe daily physical activity to patients who are suffering from depression. Having said that, they’ve also seen these same patients become addicted to exercise. How do we know where to draw the line of how much is too much? If you hear a marathon runner say they ran 15 miles over the weekend, most of us wouldn’t think twice about what we’ve heard. But, what if an everyday person said they ran 15 miles over the weekend? Researchers are starting to discover that exercise addiction is common within athletes, however, their addiction simply looks like training, not an unhealthy disorder. They are able to hide out in the sports world, and mask their addiction.In the arena of wrestling, dance, and gymnastics, it’s common for athletes to endure eating disorders in order to meet the requirements of competition. We’ve also seen countless professional athletes abuse steroids to be the best.

I was watching ESPN the other night, and it was highlighting stories of college athletes who had overcome incredible hardships in their journey to the top of the athletic pyramid. One of the stories focused on an extremely talented UCLA football player. This boy walked through high school at the top of his game, and was going to UCLA on an athletic scholarship. Throughout his career he had suffered many concussions. In the second year of his career at UCLA , he suffered yet again, another concussion. However; this time, the injury started to affect his every day life. He was experiencing extreme sensitivity to light, and sound, horrible headaches, and dizzy spells. Although he was an NFL hopeful, he decided to walk away from his dream, and quit playing football. He was quoted saying, “I love football and it was my only dream to be an NFL football player, but football wasn’t helping me, it was hindering my ability to live my life. It came to a point where football was hurting me, not enhancing my life.”

I can’t even imagine  how much strength it took that player to walk away from a sports dream that was clearly attainable. Our society puts so much emphasis on winning, it must have been so hard to look the other way, and put his health first. This young man is a great example to all athletes out there. There is a point where enough is enough.

What we do as athletes shouldn’t endanger our health. Make sure, as a coach, what you’re preaching to your athletes benefits the players athletic ability and overall health. As a player, make sure you aren’t sacrificing you’re health to excel in sports. It’s a fine line we walk as competitive athletes, keep your perspective straight, this is the only body we get.

Quote of the day:

“What’s above the shoulders is more important than whats below” – Ty Cobb 

Read the full story of UCLA’s linebacker here:

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/larimore-368473-camp-ucla.html

Bad Timing or Great Timing?

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When I was an assistant coach for SRJC I was often at high school games looking at players to recruit for our future seasons. On one occasion I was sent out specifically to scout a pitcher who was throwing an important game against a very good team. Unfortunately, her team lost the game, but it wasn’t a blow out, and it didn’t make her look bad in any light. It was a great game, close in score, and came down to the very last inning. After the game I walked out onto the field to ask her coach if I could speak with her. When I asked, her coach replied with, “Well it’s bad timing, but you can talk to her if you want”. 

I was a little taken back by his response to me. I empathize with the fact that this pitcher just lost a rough game, but the opportunity to play at the next level is a positive thing no matter what time it comes along, right? I know I wasn’t presenting her with a full ride opportunity to some D1 school, but it was an opportunity to play at the next level regardless.Despite the coaches warning, the pitcher was courteous and excited at the chance to play college ball.

Looking back, this to me as a coach, seemed like perfect timing. Most players are respectful and full of the right answers when approached by a college coach after a successful outing. This was the perfect opportunity to see how she responds to failure, which is an inevitable aspect of sport, especially softball. I was able to perceive that she handled herself well when things got tough. She was a player that kept her head up, and her teammates up when the going got rough. Seeing this in a player while recruiting, is just as important as seeing their physical skills.

Keeping your head up as a player will not only enhance your performance, and mindset, but it can also convince a college coach that you’re the right player for their team. Keep that in mind, and stay positive!

Quote of the day:

“Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it” -Charles R. Swindoll

 

Self Confidence

Just a little information I learned in class that I passed onto my players over the summer.

Self confidence is the belief that you can successfully perform a desired behavior. When you don’t have confidence, you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self fulfilling prophecy is the phenomenon that happens when you expect something to happen, and it actually helps cause it to happen. If you have negative self-fulfilling prophecies, like expecting to swing and miss, you are creating psychological barriers that lead to a vicious cycle: the expectation of failure leads to actual failure, which lowers self-image and increases expectations of future failure.

Benefits of self confidence

Arouses positive emotions– when you are confident you are more likely to stay calm and relaxed under pressure, it allows you to be aggressive and assertive.

Facilitates concentrations– when confident your mind is free to focus on the task at hand, not distracted by self doubt, and worry that you aren’t playing your best.

Affects goals– confident people set challenging goals and pursue them actively.

Increases effort– when ability is equal, the winners of competitions are usually the athletes who believe in themselves and their abilities.

Games strategies– athletes who “play to win”, compared to athletes who play “not to lose”, take control of the competition to their advantage.

Psychological momentum– confident people view situations where momentum is against them as challenging and it motives them to work harder.

Affects performance– the confidence you have about your talents, affect how you showcase your talent on the field.

Although self confidence is important, there is a happy medium between over confident and under confident. We all know that players who are too confident tend to fail, and players who are under confident tend to doubt themselves, and also fail. The hard part is finding that perfect middle ground, “optimal confidence”. Optimal confidence means being so convinced that you can achieve goals that you will strive hard to accomplish them. It does not mean that you will always perform well, but it is essential to reaching your potential. A strong belief in yourself will help you deal with errors and mistakes effectively, and keep you striving toward success. Everyone’s optimal confidence levels are different.

Your expectations of others affect not only your own behaviors, but also the feelings and behaviors of others around you.  Look at it this way, for example; Kira is on a volleyball team, she spikes the ball despite a bad setup, the ball goes straight into the net. Her coach says, “Good try Kira, just try to get more elevation on your jump so you can contact the ball about the level of the net”. Janet on the other hand, spikes the ball on a bad setup and the ball goes straight into the net. The coach this time responds with, “don’t try and spike the spike the ball when you’re not in a good position. Janet you’ll never make a point like that.” See how this could affect a player? This goes the same for your team mates; you guys know that you can feel when someone doesn’t like you, or who thinks you aren’t very talented. Weather you think so or not, this affects how you play. So take notice and watch how you react to your teammates, and how you act towards them in general.

Never fear! Self-confidence can be built!

You can build confidence by:

Accomplishing a good performance- successful behavior increases confidence and leads to further successful behavior. (Beating an opponent or fully extending a knee in recovery) So, what if you haven’t been performing well? That’s why practice is so important, you can work on your skills and build confidence!  Create situations for yourself where you know you can succeed to build confidence.

Acting confidently– fake your confidence! Even if you aren’t feeling confident, pretend you are! Be an actress! Keep your head up after an error even if you want to throw your fist through a wall, just smile. It can actually affect the way you feel and play!!! It can also affect how your opponents play against you; it is harder to beat a confident team.

Thinking confidently- thoughts and self-talk should be instructional and motivational, not judgmental. While pitching, instead of saying don’t miss your spots, say keep this pitch off the plate. Instead of saying don’t swing and miss, say hit the middle of the ball. There should  be no “don’t” in your self-talk.

Using imagery– imagine yourself playing well! Use imagery create successful scenarios in your mind. Imagine yourself fielding a ground ball cleanly or hitting a line drive that falls into the gap.

Using goal mapping- a goal map is a personalized plan for an athlete that contains various types of goals and goal strategies as well as a systematic evaluation procedure to assess progress toward goals. Keep your goals performance and task oriented rather than outcome oriented; focus on hitting the middle of the ball rather than getting a hit every time you’re up to the plate.

Optimizing physical conditioning and training– staying in shape can help you feel more confident. That doesn’t mean killing yourself with tough workouts when you’re not playing, it means going for a little jog one once in a while, or lifting a few weights just so you can feel good about yourself.

Preparing– have a plan for the game. If you have a plan and are prepared you’re more likely to have success. Make sure, along with a plan, you have a backup plan if something doesn’t go as planned.

Fostering social climate– Be supportive of your team mates! Help to build their self-confidence too!

Quote of the day 

“Self-confidence is like a placebo, you can give people a sugar pill for extreme pain, tell them it’s morphine and it can produce as much relief as an actual pain killer. Give someone confidence in their skills, and they will perform better” -Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology

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