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  • Michael Richards

Mental Approach To Sport

Updated: Mar 11, 2018

Michael Richards

ISSA Certified Strength Coach

Owner Elite Athletic Performance LLC

Published Author

16 years of experience training athletes

In this blog post I want to talk about one of the most under utilized methods for gaining a competitive edge and that is an athletes “Mental Approach”. Please remember I am taking a new approach to my blogging. I am trying to cut down on the words and get straight to the point soooooo...here are the points.

Try these methods and see what you think.

Techniques for use before games, practices and workouts.

1. Visualization

Visualization can work in many forms of activity in our lives. If you envision yourself failing you will, it doesn’t matter if it’s a job interview or sports. If you visualize yourself being unhappy you will be unhappy, if you visualize yourself not getting a good nights sleep, you won’t. The list goes on and on. Seeing yourself succeed plays a major part in actually being able to do it. Most people, envision themselves failing unintentionally, because it’s what they fear, then 9 times out of 10 they create that exact reality of failure by going out and executing exactly what they’ve been visualizing. If that sounds like you, it’s time to break that pattern.

It is important for athletes to see themselves succeeding in their mind’s eye. It is important for pitchers to see themselves moving well, their mechanics being on time, seeing themselves pounding the strike zone, and executing their off-speed pitches with precision. It is important for hitters to see themselves seeing the ball well, making good decisions at the plate, approaching the plate with a plan and executing it. The amount of success an athlete will have with this technique will depend on the amount of time and focus they devote to it. Do they casually envision themselves succeeding while on the way to the ballpark? This will work, but make no mistake, it won’t work as well as meditating on success. The more of your brain you devote to focusing on success the faster these techniques will work for you. Getting in a quiet room and envisioning your self succeeding will always help more than visualizing yourself succeeding while driving to the ballpark because your brain has to do other things when driving. It’s just like everything else in life, the more time and attention you devote to it the better at it you will be.

2. How does an athlete “carry” themselves?

This kind piggybacks off of the first example but, as an athlete, how do you “carry“ yourself? Do you walk in the dugout or on the sideline like an athlete that is a big contributor to his or her team every day? Or do you walk around with your shoulders slumped over because you feel like you let your teammates down all the time? What’s going through your mind as you put your uniform on or as you get dressed for practice? Do you walk with a little bit swagger? If so, good but remember confident people don’t have to talk about their success loudly. Quiet confidence > Loud arrogance.

I have been acquaintances with a coach for a while now that managed the Arkansas Travelers when Mike Trout was coming through The Anaheim Angels organization. I remember him saying the most amazing thing about Mike Trout was he could get K’d up in the eighth-inning, bases-loaded, team down by three and walk in, calmly put his helmet and batting gloves down, grab his glove and go to the field. No slamming helmets, no throwing bats because his confidence allows him to be comfortable. He knows he will “get them next time“. An athlete with that type of mentality has an incredible advantage over his/her competition.

3. Positive affirmations. The power of “I am“.

Try this for the next month whenever you think about it and especially whenever any type of doubt or thought about Failure creeps in your mind. Stop it immediately and begin repeating to yourself “I am a great *insert athletic endeavor here*”

Example: “I am a great hitter”,

“I am a great pitcher”

While you are repeating this, think about what it would feel like to be considered one of the greatest Hitters/Pitchers/Quarterback/etc. in your town, city, state etc. Figure out what would be going through your mind if that were the case, and start creating it for real. Feel that way, act that way, make it become reality.

The biggest part of this that you must understand, is that you have to envision yourself actually being a great hitter or a great picture. You cannot say this and continue to envision yourself not being great, it just doesn’t work that way.

For the record, these all carryover into every aspect of our life “I am a successful business owner”, “I am in control of my appetite” (for someone needing to lose weight).

Give these a try, it is my experience they will have the most immediate carryover to make changes in your life.

In game stress relief techniques.

1. Squeeze and throw

This is one of my all-time favorites that I learned many years ago when I was still playing. I had a very bad habit of getting way too caught up in the fear of failure but this trick was a complete game changer for me. It works best with baseball because it involves picking up dirt but you can do it with anything. It’s just a visualization trick, simply modify it to whatever you have at your disposal. A towel, empty water bottle or even a rubber band kept around your wrist for this very technique will work.

Whenever something would go wrong, A strike out, an error, something that would frustrate or anger me, I learned to pick up a handful of dirt. I would envision that handful of dirt being or representing the negative thing that just happened. I would squeeze it harder than anything I’ve ever squeezed before, use all that pent-up rage that I had in response to the negative thing that just happened. I would take my anger out on that handful of dirt. Once I squeezed it and felt good about the fact that I had squeezed the life out of it, I would throw it away. That represents it being gone, it’s over, you cannot do anything about it. Even if you tried you couldn’t go pick up that exact handful of dirt, it’s impossible, just like it’s impossible to go back and do something about what has happened in the past. You must now move forward.

2. Calming focal-point

This is a trick I’m sad to say I never got to try in actual competition, which is a shame because I certainly could’ve used it. Before the game when everything is calm, sit in the dugout or on the sidelines or wherever your team will be competing that day. Listen to how calm it is, how quiet it is, and how at peace your mind is. Find something that you know will be there during the game. It could be a letter on the scoreboard, a piece of tape on The wall inside the gymnasium you are playing. It could be a corner of a window on the press box in the football stadium. It absolutely does not matter, the only thing that matters is that it will look the exact same no matter what is going on during the game(so don’t choose a digital number on the scoreboard). When things start moving really fast, your breathing is becoming rapid and you can’t think straight during the game, find this focal point. If you will be a batter, the best place to find your focal point will be a place you can easily see while in the batter’s box. Find your focal point and feel how calm you were BEFORE the game, return to that place mentally. I actually use this at the gym when I know we are going to have a large chaotic group. I have severe ADD, the more things that come at me at once, the more my brain tries to go in all of those directions at once and I can’t focus on anything. I have used this trick many times to calm my thoughts and get things done when there are 15 athletes saying “Mike” at the same time.

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