As athletes I feel like we are always being tested. I’m not just talking about physical tests but more than anything a test of our mental endurance and discipline. Even the top athletes who perform at the highest level of their sport have issues when it pertains to the mental side of the sport. Non-productive thoughts creep into our head all the time. As a performance industry, we talk about positivity as well as filling our head with encouraging and winning thoughts all the time. However, this is not easy to do. Sometimes doubt sinks in.
As someone who played in the minor leagues for over 7 years before getting to the big leagues, I know all about doubt. It isn’t even necessarily the doubt in my abilities that has hindered me most. Instead it is more about the consequence of results and not living up to certain expectations that someone has set for me or that I have set for myself.
Let’s be serious, we are always going to have expectations in hopes that we perform at a certain level. That is ok, because it means we are competing and always wanting to get better. However, this doesn’t mean that we have to put any extra pressure on ourselves.
What I want to get across to athletes is that the mental performance side of sports comes from a specific foundation. The foundation is that you control your own mind in this game. The better you get at controlling your mind, the better all-around player or competitor you will be. This requires practice and also entails being sincerely focused on recognizing moments when your mind is under attack.
For me it was pressure situations.
Often times I would just start hearing questions of doubt pop up in my head while standing in the on-deck circle.
“What if I don’t get the job done here?”
“You’ve already struck out twice, you can’t afford to strike out again.”
“When are you going to make an adjustment?”
These questions and statements are full of doubt and no positivity. These are examples of negative self-talk. It can be extremely detrimental when someone else talks negatively to us, but it becomes even worse when we do it to ourselves. The reason for this is because we can personally talk ourselves into believing anything if we want to bad enough.
How do we negate this? Positive talk is the answer of course, but it goes a little bit deeper than that. I had to change the way my mind worked. I was able to change my way of thinking by becoming conscious of the things I was saying to myself and when I was saying them. Then I started to put consideration into what those visualizations look like when I was speaking to myself in that negative manner. Every time that I doubted myself, I noticed I was putting an unpleasant outcome in my own head before I even entered a particular situation.
So, I had to flip the switch. Although it didn’t flip just by thinking positive thoughts in those certain situations. It started with drills, and then went on to practice, and eventually the game. I had to make the smallest, most tedious drills feel like tough game situations. During those drills I would start to envision myself celebrating the specific outcomes that I wanted to occur.
Then something else started to happen. I started to take more pride in the little things I was doing. I started finding myself to be more intentional about my work and more methodical about my decision-making process in the game. I started to develop a better routine about the way I prepared and approached the game.
I realized what I was doing was “Rehearsing Victory”. I was preparing to win in every single situation.
This is what the best athletes are doing, and this is how they separate themselves from the average. This concept of “Rehearsing Victory” isn’t something new by any means but once I was able to grasp how to incorporate this into my game, I began to take control of my own career. My parents emphasized that I should always have confidence but ultimately, I needed to learn how to develop this confidence during the course of my athletic career.
I can’t take credit for this term of “Rehearsing Victory” because I first heard my father-in-law mention it. However, now it makes so much sense to me. It can be an amazing tool that prepares athletes for the best outcome instead of the worst. This begins and ends with the little things. Treat the little things that most athletes overlook with extreme focus, as if were the game.