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Thrive on Effort

One of the things I love most about my job as an instructional aid in elementary schools is the chance I get to observe kids at play. kidsrunhallowenOne October morning during the kids morning recess I was helping supervise the kindergarteners. The kids were all wound up and decided they wanted to race each other. Running on the playground usually is forbidden, but one of the teachers decided it would be okay if she took them to the grass and facilitated a silly game of racing. About 30 kids lined up parallel with the teacher on a long, wide strip of grass. The guidelines of the race were to run all the way down to the edge of the grass and the blacktop and back. Aside from just racing, the kids had to imitate whatever festive Halloween character the teacher called out, like a ghost for instance. The teacher would yell out, “ready set ghost” and all the kids would take off howling “Boo” all the way to the end of the grass and back.

After a few rounds of being owls, bats, and monsters, I began to notice distinct motivation orientations emerging within the children. 7E4EFCC6-B1F1-F81A-57020201164D86B4Some kids started to only run halfway down the stretch of grass, turn around and come running back, beating 75% of their classmates. This is the perfect example of an ego-orientation; these kids were only concerned with winning. It didn’t matter if they had completed the race in full, all they wanted was to cross the finish line before their peers. These kids who only ran half way were motivated by social comparison; they possessed an ego-oriented goal motivation. The fun of racing came from beating other children. They didn’t care if they cheated or weren’t participating correctly. They simply defined success as crossing the finish line before other kids.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there were the task-oriented kids; no matter how slow they were, they would run all the way to edge of the grass every time and then turn around and come running back. The kids who ran to the end of the grass every time simply enjoyed the task of running and defined success as completing the task correctly. It never mattered what place they were in when they finished, as long as they ran the whole way and correctly acted out whatever character was instructed. These kids associate effort with success, they have a task-orientation.

With athletes, it is beneficial to reinforce a task-orientation. Athletes who equate success with effort are more willing to take on challenging tasks.images-66 They feel as if they have succeeded even if the outcome is unsuccessful, because they tried their best. They tend to focus on progress rather than outcome. Athletes who thrive on social comparison tend to only take on challenges where they feel they can win. Think about it, if winning is the goal, it doesn’t matter how you attain that goal. The “win at all costs” mentality makes cheating acceptable because the only goal they have is to win. Task-oriented athletes simply wish to complete the task at best of their abilities. They won’t cut corners to make it to the finish line, they simply do their best.

Talent isn’t an innate trait, it is something that is earned through hard work. In the end, developing athletes with a task-orientation will produce highly skilled players.

Quote of the day:

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” – Maya Angelou

Breathe, Look, Talk. B.L.T.

This past summer, I realized a lot of my players were performing in a very tense state on the field. Most of them looked like they were over exerting themselves, extremely anxious, and nervous. This is a strategy I created and presented to my players to aid them in remaining relaxed while competing.

There are three simple things an athlete can do to improve their focus and performance almost instantly. B.L.T. – Breathe, Look, Talk. In order to perform at our highest potential, we must be able to break the game down into simple moments that occur one after the other, rather than trying to take on the entire game at once. Doing these three things every pitch of every game will help to narrow your focus and keep your mind concentrated on positive key points.  This will assist you in performing without distractions, and achieve a successful performance.

Breathe.

In order for our muscles to work efficiently, one muscle must relax (lengthen) while its counterpart tightens (flexes). For instance: raise your hand to shoulder, while keeping your elbow close to your side.  Feel how your bicep flexes and your triceps lengthens. In competition, athletes tend to get anxious or over excited; in response all their muscles tighten up. This makes it hard for the lengthening muscle to do its job. Their bodies start to react like a rubber band that has been stretched too tightly; they snap. You may have felt this effect during a crucial at bat with two strikes. When that next pitch comes in, sometimes we panic, or “snap”, and just swing, even it it’s a bad pitch…strike three. In order to keep yourself in control, and your muscles working correctly, we must keep our bodies relaxed. We do this simply by deep breathing. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold it in for two seconds, and then exhale slowly for 6 seconds. As you repeat this you should be able to feel your heart rate slow, and your muscles physically relax.

Look.

The mind is more powerful than you could ever imagine; it has been argued that it has more of an affect on your performance as an athlete than your physical ability.  Our brain is the control center to our body; it controls what our bodies do. Our body follows what our mind thinks. If we keep worrying about making errors, or striking out, chances are, our bodies are going to make the images we have in our mind a reality. This however, can work in our favor. If we look (think) in the direction we want to go, rather than in the direction we want to avoid, our bodies will positively respond. Picture the outcome you want. In your mind create an image of yourself having success; see yourself hitting a line drive into the gap, catching a fly ball, or throwing a breaking ball that causes the batter to swing and miss. By rehearsing the outcomes we want in our minds, we create a track for our muscles to follow. It’s like practicing, only it takes place in our minds. Don’t look where you don’t want to go.

Talk.

After taking a few deep breathes, and looking into the direction we want to go, we must pick a simple focus to say to ourselves. It should be something simple, direct, and positive. Make sure there is no emotion attached to the way you talk to yourself. For instance at the plate, one could repeat, “up the middle, on the ground”, or in a bunt situation one could repeat, “top half, ball down”. One or two things that create the outcome you want. A pitcher could say “lock, and lift” before throwing a change up. A fielder could say, “Charge and follow through”. Make sure in this statement you don’t include the word “don’t”. Our brains only see the big the picture, and tend to not pick up on the word don’t. For example if you say, “don’t drop your hands”, your brain only hears, “drop your hands”. Instead try flipping to, “keep your hands high”. This also follows the rule of don’t look where you don’t want to go, we don’t want to drop our hands, so we don’t want to think about it either. We want to think about what we want to do, keeping our hands high. It’s a simple point for your brain to focus on, keeping you in the game, and undistracted by pressure.

Before every pitch, breathe. Look. Talk. B.L.T.

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