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The Mental Game

Health, Safety, and Well-being Health, Safety, and Well-being Initiatives
January 3, 2019 Joelie Bennett

As an athlete the mental game seems to be just as, if not more important than the physical aspect of the sport. In competition you have a set opponent, but it is true when they say, “you are your own worst enemy.” Your mind can make or break you as athlete. Without the mental aspect of the game, you will not be able to manage emotions or visualize success.

The concept of the “metal game” also applies to all life situations outside of sports, in everything we do. One real life experience that many people can relate to is test taking. Whether it be at work, school, or even at home, test taking can be stressful. Even when you feel prepared, in this moment everything you thought you knew slipped your mind right as you start the test. Your heart is beating faster, and your hands are getting sweaty. How do you calm yourself and complete the test at your highest potential?

Let’s step back into the shoes of an athlete and look from the perspective of a golfer suffering from performance anxiety. When you are warming up on the driving range all your shots were perfect. You feel no nerves and feel confident because you have practiced and prepared for this. As you are waiting to tee off, you start to put pressure on yourself. You think you will let down your coach, team, and yourself if you make any mistakes. Your mind wanders more and suddenly you feel you will let the whole world down and your life can’t go on if this shot isn’t perfect. Finally, it is your turn to hit and your heart is racing. What do you do? You can embrace your nerves and calm yourself or you can let the nerves get the best of you and hit a bad shot. Many athletes feel they don’t have a choice in this moment. They feel they cannot control their nerves, but it can be done.

First, remove the pressure.

Understand that regardless of your performance your team, coach, family, and friends will still love you. The world will not end if you do not execute a perfect performance. Lower your expectations and understand you will make mistakes. It is simply a matter of how you let the mistake affect your next move.

Next, embrace your nerves.

Recognize that you are nervous and allow yourself to feel this way. Instead of letting your nerves control your performance negatively, take it as a sign that your body is preparing to help you perform at your highest potential. Instead of trying to fight your performance anxiety, simply relax and use it to your advantage.

Then, relax and focus.  

It is almost time to perform and you need to relax. A good way to calm the mind and distract from negative or nervous thoughts is to focus on your surroundings. For example, think of five things you see, four things you hear, three things you smell, two things you feel, and one thing you taste. This grounding exercise will allow you to become comfortable in the moment, with the environment, and within yourself. This is a good way to reduce performance anxiety.

Finally, perform.

Now you have your mind under control and you know YOU CAN DO THIS! You have nothing to fear. Your heart is still beating fast, but you are aware of that and are focused on the goal. You’re prepared for success.

These steps can be taken in any situation. We can not escape our mind, but we can be mindful of how it affects our lives. Every day, we must decide how we will face the anxiety and nerves. Be aware of how you are feeling and embrace it! The mental game of life and of sports can be won, it just depends on how you play.