Sport Psychology for the Season on Hold

Yesterday both of my sons’ track shoes came in the mail. A neon green pair of Nike throwing shoes and a neon yellow, green, and blue pair of Hoka distance spikes.

New shoes. New season. Let’s do this.

Should have been super exciting. They’ve been waiting on them to arrive. Regardless of age or sport, new shoes day is an awesome day.

But the day these shoes arrive isn’t happy.

Both of my sons have big goals for the track & field season.

A season that is now on hold.

When the new shoes arrived, so did the announcement. No school and no practice. And no season until…TBA

My middle schooler said, “I just need one meet.”

My high school sophomore hasn’t said much at all. Simply took his new, shiny soled, just-waiting-for-the-2-mile shoes up to his room.

That’s really tough.

It’s tough for athletes, coaches, parents, sport psychs, and even those who are a sport psych/parent combo.

Even with the uncertainty, we can focus on controlling the controllables. Right now a lot of that is mindset.

3 Sport Psychology Tips for a Season on Hold

There are so many things we could dive into, but with so much going on right now, I’d start with these and build from there.

Sport Psych Tip #1 Focus

Focus: You can only focus on so many things while practicing, during competition, or when living through a pandemic. Make sure your focus is where it matters. Train yourself to recognize what you can or cannot control and be able to shift your focus when necessary.

Here’s a quick activity to help you determine where to put your mental energy. Draw a large circle. Within that circle draw a smaller one. Label the inner circle as Things I Can Control. Label the outer circle as Things I Cannot Control. Reflect on life right now and think about what goes in each circle.

Example: You can’t control the cancellations, but you can control your level of physical activity and your self-talk.

You’ll likely find you’re focusing on some things that are out of your control. That’s completely normal, especially with the current life stressors, but it’s also unhelpful to keep your focus there. It’s unhelpful for not only your sport mindset, but for your life-in-general mindset.

Once you’ve identified the categories, you can refer back to it often. When you find yourself worrying about the uncontrollable, note it. “That’s not under my control” and reset to direct your energy to the controllable.

Sport Psych Tip #2 Training Log

Create a Training Log: You’ve got to keep moving if you want to be ready when the season resumes. But how do you stay motivated day in and day out? Tracking your progress will help you see where you’ve been and keep you focused on where you’re headed. Training logs can look different for every athlete. They don’t have to be perfect or pretty. Ideally, it’s going to include the date, objectives, and reflection.

Objectives: 1-3 things you want to focus on.

  • Can be set day of or post-training on the day before
  • May be based on insights from film review, coach feedback, or past journal entries
  • Incorporate mindset (e.g. attitude & effort) along with physical components

Reflection: Review your performance physically & mentally. Ask yourself questions like

  • What did I accomplish today?
  • Did I focus on my objectives?
  • What went well?
  • Where could I improve?
  • What did my self-talk sound like?

Sport Psych Tip #3 Imagery

Imagery: Imagery is a multi-purpose skill. It helps with confidence, motivation, and several other mental skills. When we can’t physically compete, the next best thing is to mentally compete. We often use this skill with injured athletes as a way to get mental reps. The same neurons fire in your brain whether you’re doing or visualizing.

Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and mentally take yourself through your performance. See yourself arriving at the venue. Take yourself through your warm up, the start of the contest, through the highlights, and end with a stellar performance.

Make sure to keep it positive, present tense, and detailed “I arrive at the stadium. I put on my perfectly broken in, bright, bright neon green shoes. I’m confident and ready as I approach the start line.”

When your season is on hold, you step up your sport psychology game.

You know how sports movies have the training scenes? A montage of an athlete working hard, facing, obstacles. Blood, sweat, and tears. All set to music. Leading up to their moment to shine.

That’s where you are. In the training sequence. Your own montage moment. And your mindset will help make it happen.

For support along the way, reach out to teammates and other athletes who are in the same position. At Sterling Sport Mindset, we’re here for you too. We offer free mini sessions to get started. Online sessions available from any location.

Go get ’em!

Dr. Linda Sterling, CMPC

P.S. Are you a former client? Now would be a great time to check-in. We’d love to hear how you’re doing & help you navigate this unprecedented situation. Email or schedule an online check-in appointment.

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