The Mindful Athlete

Mindfulness has recently become a buzzword, but it is still oftentimes misunderstood. 

When most people think of mindfulness they think of meditation or sitting in silence to “clear their mind”. While meditation is a form of mindfulness, there are many other ways you can practice mindfulness that provide benefits to your game. 

So what is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is really being in the here and now without judgement. It’s allowing yourself to be fully present in the moment. It is going through the present moment with purpose and intention, by focusing on your thought processes and how you are perceiving the world around you. 

Mindfulness can be a simple practice that you implement within your day such as: 

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Stretching your body
  • Taking a few deep breaths
  • Paying attention to your senses (savoring the taste of food when eating, paying attention as you brush your teeth) 
  • Looking around and noticing your surroundings 
  • Turning off your phone for an hour

You may be thinking, “Okay and how does being mindful apply to me as an athlete?”.

Mindfulness helps you to get out of your head and in the game. It allows you to focus on what is important in each moment, rather than a past mistake or things outside of your control. Mindfulness helps to ease performance anxiety, by slowing down your thoughts and letting go of detrimental thinking. It also helps you process difficult emotions and become less reactive when emotions like anger and frustration arise within a game. It can also help you be more positive and optimistic about your circumstances.

After a game have you ever thought to yourself, “I was in the zone today.”? Most likely you were out of your head and playing present. You were allowing yourself to be fully immersed in the game from moment to moment. That is a result of being mindful and being in the present moment. If you have not experienced this or do not experience it enough, try implementing some of these mindfulness practices into your routine. 

Here are some of my favorite mindfulness techniques for athletes to implement into their routines in order to help them play more present.

  1. Deep breathing. Take a few deep breaths, focus on filling your belly with air as you breath in through your nose, then slowly breathe out through your mouth. As you breathe in, say “In”, and as you breathe out, say “Out”. This can be done anytime; at practice, during a game, at home. Deep breathing allows you to slow down and focus your attention on the action of breathing in that exact moment. 
  2. Stretch. Take time to stretch your body, and notice where you feel tight. Then, observe that tension being released throughout the process. Focus on one area of your body at a time and feel your body getting loose as you go through this process. 
  3. Gratitude. Write down 5 things you are grateful for each day. Gratitude allows you to remain in a positive mindset by appreciating what you have on your way towards what you want. 
  4. Journal. Write down your accomplishments, what you are doing well, what you could improve on, a lesson you learned. Or use journaling to get your thoughts out of your head and on paper. Journaling helps you to get you in the present by letting go of thoughts and negativity that can cloud your mind. 
  5. Turn off your devices. Give yourself some time away from social media, the tv or texting. Allow yourself to use that time away from technology to be more present. Go watch the sunset, have a conversation with someone and listen intently, find other forms of entertainment (read, play a board game, do a puzzle). 

If you would like to talk about mindfulness and how it can help you get your mind to work for you rather than against you, schedule a free mini session today.

Why You Should Work With a Mental Performance Coach

Think of a time when you had competed at your best. Now think of a time when you competed at your worst. 

What do you truthfully think the difference was between those two performances? 

Most likely it was your mindset! It’s not that you weren’t in great shape or that you didn’t practice enough. Somehow, when the pressure was on you couldn’t rise to the occasion. You tried to tell yourself to focus but what does focus even really mean? How do you focus when your nerves are taking over and physically affecting your body? How do you quickly tap in and harness your confidence to perform just as well as you normally do in practice? 

With the help of mental training you can strengthen your mind so that you are able to perform under these high pressure situations just as well as you do in practice.

Let’s just acknowledge the stigma within sport psychology and working with a performance coach right off the bat. This idea that sport psychology is just “therapy for athletes” is completely false. While sessions themselves can be therapeutic, that’s not the point of mental training. Training your mind is just like training your body and physical skills. Mental Performance Coaches work just like your regular coach by coaching you through mental reps of different psychological techniques, drills, situations, and scenarios. We provide tools for you to utilize at different points of your games or competitions. We help your mental performance on and off the field so that come game time all you gotta do is trust in your training and compete.

Having a strong mental game is the difference between being good and being great! Mental training teaches you to think clearly and use your mind effectively in game time situations and difficult workouts. Just as you learned not to swing at bad pitches, mental training helps you learn not to chase your bad thoughts. We help you turn your negative inner critic into a positive helpful coach! We’ll work on skills that help you recognize competition as a challenge to rise up to rather than a threat to back down from. 

Think of your brain like a computer. It needs software to properly function. If you don’t have the right software then you just have a big, non-updated, non-properly working computer. So what’s the software then? Your mindset. The more you improve your mindset through practicing mental skills the better your software is and the more efficient your computer is! We know how powerful the brain is so why aren’t we training it just as much as we do our bodies? It’s time for athletes to take on a new approach and mindset in sports. We are finally shifting away from the old school thinking of sports as just being tough, gritty athletes that push through injuries and overwork until they reach mental and physical burnout. This new wave of athletes is understanding that the combination of being in prime physical shape and an unbreakable healthy mentality is what takes you to the elite level!

Remember that your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your competition. Train to be the most lethal athlete you can be.

If you are interested in mental training or learning more about what our specific training looks like please email me or sign up for a free mini session!

The Story of Your Season: How to Soak It All In

Championships, season changes, and soaking it all in. It’s that time of year for fall sport athletes. Time for re-dedication and sometimes re-direction to whatever comes next. Before you re-dedicate or re-direct, don’t skip the reflection.

What was the story of your season? Have you taken time to think about it?

Before the season started you probably spent a lot of time dreaming about how it would go. Your hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the season.

When it’s over, we sometimes get in that “okay, next one” mindset and jump to the next season without stopping to take it all in.

Soak It All In

You’ve probably been told by many former athletes to “soak it all in.” “You’ll look back on these days and wish you had really enjoyed it.” You may have dismissed this wise advice and mumbled something about “look who’s trying to re-live their glory days.” Maybe. That might be part of it. But maybe they’re onto something.

As a member of the former athlete club myself, here’s my advice: Before you say “okay next,” it really is a good idea to stop and “soak it all in.”

Now that the former athlete in me has given you sage advice, the sport psychologist in me will explain how to do this. Just like I wouldn’t tell you to FOCUS! without following it up with details, I won’t do that here either.

At Sterling Sport Mindset, we don’t just talk sport lingo, we break it down and make it doable. How does one “soak it all in?” Here you go.

The Story of Your Season

Set a timer for 30-60 minutes.

Find a quiet place to sit where you won’t be interrupted. This can also be done on a solo walk/run if that’s more your thing.

Close your eyes (if you’ve chosen the sitting option) and take yourself back…

The day before practice began:

  • What were your goals, hopes, fears, worries?
  • How was Day 1?
  • What was your mindset as you thought about the season ahead?
  • Where you excited, nervous, ambitious, focused, driven?

Early season:

  • What beginning of season message from your coach stuck with you?
  • What were those early competitions like?

Mid-season:

  • What funny moments did you have with your team?
  • How about the tough times?
  • Which memories will you never forget?
  • How did your goals shift?
  • How did the rivalry go? Was it your year or theirs?

End of season:

  • Did you achieve your goals? Crush them? Fall short?
  • How did that last competition feel? What emotions came up?
  • Think about the final whistle, the last play, the finish line.
  • What hit you in that moment?
  • What will you take away? Build on? Grow from?

Soak it all in.

When the timer goes off, jot down any insight you want to remember.

Take a mental snapshot or a highlight video of the season.

Breathe for a moment.

Then celebrate. Celebrate regardless of how the season turned out. You earned that season and the season deserves to be celebrated.

Tell your story. Soak it all in. Celebrate!

Reward yourself for your effort. Doesn’t have to be big, but it needs to be intentional. Here are a few idea that our clients have done recently.

  • Get your favorite Starbucks drink & savor it. Congratulate yourself with the first sip.
  • Spend an afternoon doing all of your favorite everyday-type things.
  • Buy a small item that represents this season and all of the effort you put in.
  • Print (yes, actually print–or order it online) and frame a photo that captures your fondest season memory.

However you choose to celebrate the story of your season, make sure to soak it all in.

Just Breathe

An important step in many mental performance exercises is something very simple. So simple that we do it all the time without even noticing, and at times it can fly under the radar. Because of this it is in my opinion that:

 the BREATH is FAR TOO UNDERRATED. 

Breathing is hands down one of the most important things anyone can do. I mean it is one of the things that is need to stay alive after all. So, tell me it’s not important, because you will lose in that argument. Not only do you need it to live, but it is a focus point during workouts, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. It is also a big factor in mental performance techniques and one that we here at Sterling Sport Mindset go over in our Pregame to Podium team talks. For example, when you have a routine, you do your three steps and then what do you pair it with?? 

A BREATH.

When you are working on only focusing on the things you can control, what’s one thing you can control?

YOUR BREATHING.

What is one thing that is used to help reduce anxiety, stress, and calm your nerves?

You probably know the answer by now but I’ll say for the ones in the back…

BREATHING.

Now don’t start feeling bad for not giving the breath all the credit it deserves, because it wasn’t until I joined SSM that the importance of breathing was even brought to my attention. It wasn’t until I attended my first team talk as an intern that I had even heard about belly breathing. Then, when I start practicing mindfulness I learned how to properly breath from my diaphragm instead of my chest. Ever since, breathing has helped me tremendously and is my biggest go-to in high pressure situations.

Since breathing is something we do without even having to think about, it’s easy to see why it’s something we can forget to do at times when it is needed most. Adding breathing exercises into your daily routine can be a beneficial habit to have. Another trick is to have a key word that you and a friend could say to each other as a reminder to take a step back from a situation and breathe. A friend and I like to use the word snowball. Sounds kind of funny, but to me it makes sense. To avoid the snowball effect of things escalating to quickly, the word snowball helps remind us to pause for a second and just take a deep breath. 

So, use key word snowball or any word of your choosing to remind yourself and others when it’s time to take a nice deep breath. Work those breathing exercises into your daily life, and maybe even think twice before hitting the dismiss button when your watch tells you it’s time to breathe (Apple Watch owners will understand this reference). 

Ready to learn how to incorporate the breath in your mental game? Schedule a free mini-session with one of our consultants today!

~Victoria

How Winning Starts with Slowing Down

When you train to be calm, you train to be confident.  

As an athlete you train 3 things:

  1. Your skill
  2. Your body
  3. Your mind

A great Yogi ism by Berra is that “90% of the game is half mental.”

We know how important the mental aspect of sport is and we know that the more mentally tough athlete will win when it matters most. The most elite athletes have figured out this new wave of competing and know that once they’ve reached their physical potential the game is strictly mental. Generating your power and unlocking the most potential you have comes from opening your mind, slowing down, and seeing clearly. 

“If you take twenty athletes of equal ability and give ten of them mental training, they will OUTPERFORM the ten who received no mental training every time.” – Gary Mack

So, what does it mean to slow down? Slowing down means becoming more mindful and seeing things for what they truly are. Being completely in the present moment.

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness can be understood through 2 main components:

  1. Awareness: Thoughts -> Emotions -> Physical Body -> Outcome.

Becoming self aware increases peak performance by becoming aware of the thoughts we are thinking first, which results  in our actions and results in the outcome. This is crucial as an athlete with balancing emotions, pressure, physical sensations, etc. When an athlete can become more self aware they can notice the thoughts that are coming in and interpret the signals accurately. That athlete can slow down and make critical decisions in a fast paced environment. 

  1. Wisdom – The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. 

By becoming more intune with the now and the present play at hand, an athlete can make better judgements. The ability to instantly forget about the past play and not think about the next play coming up is an absolutely present and engaged athlete who sees their role clearly. They can focus on themselves and not react based on their emotions. 

Actions follow our thoughts. So, don’t look where you don’t want to go. 

It is important for athletes to be focused on seeing the present play at hand and their essential role rather than being focused on what they DO NOT want to happen. This is the key to playing present. 

  • Harmful Thinking: “Just don’t lose.”
    • Overthinking
    • Focused on avoiding failure
    • Prepping the body to tense up
  • Beneficial Thinking: “Tall through the middle phase and finish with form.”
    • Calm and Confident
    • Focused on approaching success with action plan
    • Telling the body exactly what to do

We have to train mindfulness just like we train the body through repetitions of particular ways of thinking. The “slow athlete” is the athlete that trains their mind to overcome their brain.

What is the difference between competing with our mind instead of our brain?  

Example: You’re in competition and your opponent has been on a winning streak the past few weeks. You get on the track and suddenly you feel “pressure.” Your muscles tense up, your heart is racing, you doubt yourself and don’t feel prepared anymore. 

This is your brain taking over! You are perceiving this situation through fear and instincts. Fight or flight mode kicks in and suddenly you don’t have control over yourself. You start to feel anxious in competition + paired with a negative thought + the physical sensations take over = leaving you to underperform.

The athlete that slows down is the athlete that is in control of their thoughts and emotions. They see their sport from a different perspective and don’t fear the signals their bodies are sending them but accept them to recognize they are ready. They operate on a level of higher thinking with an open mind and don’t operate at the level of fear. They are able to slow the race or game down in their mind to make critical decisions and stay physically relaxed. They execute their performance. They don’t overthink or try too hard or change up their routines. They trust in their training and breathe into the present moment. 

GRITTINESS . DETERMINATION . CONFIDENCE.

These can all be developed by first being vulnerable and open with your self awareness. To become the EXCEPTIONAL athlete you have to compete by being connected with your mind – through awareness. 

The moment you become a mindful athlete is the moment you’ll realize that your negative thoughts and emotions are just fixed patterns and habits preventing you from reaching your highest potential. You’ve created a false perception of YOU. You fooled yourself! But slowing down helps you see clearly and rebuild your true athletic identity, of who you are, and will elevate your performance!

If you’re interested in learning how to slow down in order to speed up and take your performance to the next level, please reach out for a free mini session or send me an email!