You spend hours preparing your practice plan, and you cannot wait to get started. When you arrive on the field, your players seem distracted, tired and they cannot manage to achieve the goal for that session. How could you help them to mentally prepare for practice?
Here are four tips for your athletes to enable them to reach the desired state of mind for their upcoming training:
- Use the right language
- Set an intention
- Start practicing body scanning
- Learn to adjust your activation level
Use the right language
To help your players to show up at practice with the right mindset, the first step is to teach them that their vocabulary and inner dialogue affect the way they approach their training.
Say these sentences aloud and pay attention to how they make you feel:
- I have to go to practice tonight.
- I want to go to practice tonight.
- I have the opportunity to practice tonight.
- I have the chance to perform and express my talent at practice tonight.
Which sentence inspires you the most to wake up and do something? An interesting activity to do with your athletes might be to ask them to write a list of words that inspire the state of mind they want when they come to practice.
Our mindset is closely related to our inner dialogue. Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist with the Seattle Seahawks, says that self-confidence comes from what we say to ourselves, not from preparation or past success. It is therefore very important to be able to identify the words and expressions that naturally come to mind and change this dialogue when necessary.
Set an intention
Before each practice, it is essential to have an aim or goal in mind to get the most out of the training session. This applies to:
- The team as a unit;
- Each athlete as individuals;
- And the coach.
As a coach, before starting any practice, I have already decided how I will approach my team and with what tone. From the beginning, I want to set not only objectives but also the pace of the practice. To achieve that, I put myself in the right mindset on my way to the training venue.
At the beginning of my practice, I set the objectives for the day with my team, and I tell my players why they are crucial to our future success. I make sure that everyone understands the importance of everything that will be addressed throughout the practice. Too often, we mistakenly assume that players are as aware as we are of the importance of what is done during practice and that we do not need to repeat it over and over again.
Constant repetition carries conviction. – Robert Collier
During warm-up, you could invite your players to mentally decide on an aim or goal for themselves. The brain needs direct its attention towards a target. It can only be focused if it has a goal to achieve.
Start practicing body scanning
To achieve the right state of mind during practice, an athlete must be aware of his starting point. He must know how he feels, physically and emotionally, so that he can adjust his level of focus or energy according to his needs. Does he feel tired? Enthusiastic? Frustrated? Distracted by personal problems?
An exercise commonly used by coaches is the body scan exercise. The athlete takes one minute to calm down and pay attention to his state of mind. He can then write the result on a piece of paper for the coach or simply make a mental note for himself.
Learn to adjust your activation level
Once an athlete is aware of his/her state of mind, they must decide whether to raise their level of activation or to relax. Each person is different and needs a certain level of activation to give their best performance.
To reach their optimal zone of performance, some athletes need to be very stimulated, while others need to relax and concentrate. An athlete who is over-stimulated is tense and tends to make decisions too quickly. They can also make coordination errors, and their intensity level is too high for the task at hand. An athlete who is under-stimulated feels tired, their intensity level is too low, and their reaction time is slow.
There are many ways for adjusting activation levels; everyone must discover what suits them.
Responsibility and accountability
Making the most of the often limited practice time allocated to us is a constant challenge. To achieve this, everyone must pitch in: the team, the players, and the coach. The inner dialogue and the goals we decide on play an important role in our preparation. We must also take the time to acknowledge our physical feelings and emotions, and then adjust our activation level according to our needs in order to perform at our best.
That is the journey of self-discovery. Each member of the team must be involved. Everyone must become responsible and accountable for their thoughts, emotions and the behaviors that come with them.