This post is dedicated to every coach, teacher, teammate and opponent that pushed me outside my comfort zone and helped me realize that my only limit was inside my head.
The Mental Element
the 6 mental Attributes
A sports psychologist once asked me how much of the game I thought was mental? Without blinking I said 100%. The mind impacts everything I see, say, do - and more so, how I experience the things I see, say and do.
It's all a mind game - sports, life, chess, super mario brothers, candy crush. We are all living and responding from our own virtual reality. Two individuals put in the exact same situation can and most likely will experience it totally differently. That's what makes team sports so interesting, and sometimes frustrating - every player, coach, and parent approaches the game from a different perspective. Merging the divergent mindsets, and translating them into unified action is what creates that magic we often call chemistry.
That magic begins with knowing your own mind, learning its mastery, and from there, letting the realm of possibility expand. It is easy to ignore the impact your mental patterns have on your sport experience because those patterns hide in plain sight, so normal and pervasive, we often don't even notice they exist.
“Give ‘em enough rope to hang themselves,” that’s what Lee Bodimeade, my first coach on the national team used to say. In sports lingo that meant create such a strong perception of pressure that the opponent overthinks, hesitates, break flows, and coughs up the ball. Winning meant figuring out how to turn the opponent against themselves - mind against body, teammate against teammate, coach against player. When the opponent started to talk back to the refs or complain, that’s when we knew we had them right where we wanted them - not focused on the work of the game, in their heads, in the thick of their own personal virtual competitive hell. I know the torture of such a hell because I've been there more times than I care to recount.
While we worked to break the opponent, the opponent worked to break us. We attacked each others blindspots - that thing everyone else can see in you that you ignore. The constant battle of wills required disciplined training, fortitude and clarity of purpose - the choice not get caught in the windfalls, ebbs, and flows of the competitive storm. Be un-messable, the eye at the center of the storm is a phrase Lisa Taylor my yoga teacher often says. Craig Parnham, former national team coach, would say ‘heart in the fire, head in the fridge,’ and ‘bend but don’t break’ were the wise words of Lee Bodimeade. However you term it, the key to maintaining mental composure is to stay simple, present, and to task in each moment, confidently calling every bluff you face whether from the opponent, the game, or yourself.
Calling your own bluff means getting to know yourself in a pretty deep way - knowing your triggers, your thought patterns, perceptions, blind spots, and default reactions. It means knowing what my teammate, Melissa Gonzales called 'the dark side,' the side most of us pretend doesn't exist.
Knowing yourself means understanding how you take in information, how you process it, and how you use it to make decisions. Awareness, the ability to take on information in the moment without judgement, expectation, or reaction, is the key to self-understanding.
Sport, like life, is a infinite number of bundled decisions aimed toward the fulfillment of some purpose or intention - score a goal, win a game, buy a home, run a thriving business, be of service, be happy, make something possible for the next generation, etc. Each decision impacts the bigger picture, and your mind is the filter that frames every aspect of the decision-making process. It is the tool that interprets all the sensory information your body receives and processes it as efficiently as possible to make a decision that promotes the mission.
Step 1: What are you aware of?
What sensory information do you take in? What do you hear, feel, smell, taste, and see? Your environment, skills, experience, and expectations prime you to take in certain types of information while ignoring others. When I was playing, depending on my frame of mind, I would scan the field and sense the opponents pressure, or I'd sense the space and opportunity behind the pressure.
Step 2: What options are available?
How you process information determines what options are available to you. In my case, if I was focused on the defenders pressure, my options were limited. If I was focused on the space behind the pressure, more options became available.
Step 3: Decide on a course of action.
Once you know your options, decide a course of action
Step 4: Execute.
Use your physical skill set to execute the decision
the 6 Mental Attributes
Awareness - ability take on information in the moment without judgement, expectation, or reaction; relies on the use of the senses, mindfulness
Adaptability - openmindness and acceptance, ability to adjust effectively and fluidly to changing circumstances
Creativity - the ability to go beyond normal patterns and rules in order to create new forms, solutions, relationships, and models
Situational Analysis - the ability to identify, process, and comprehend critical information happening in a specific moment in order to provide effective and immediate solutions
Strategic Alignment - the ability to link structure, role specialization, and in moment decision-making for mission fulfillment
So how do you develop a better understanding of your mental patterning?
It takes time, and training. But to start, go way outside your comfort zone and see what comes up.
Pressure train your mind. Work your body beyond its perceived limits. Enter a totally new environment. Challenge yourself. Do something you don't want to do. Maybe that means turning off the T.V., de-screening, and sitting still for a bit. Get to know what reality you actually live in. Encourage the onslaught of uncomfortable and new sensation, and see how your mind reacts. Does it want to quit, run, fight, blame, complain? What virtual reality does it create? Heaven? Hell?
Let your default mental pattern emerge. Accept it, then harness the decision-making capacity of your mind by committing to develop your mental capacity. Start with awareness. Then identify a specific area you'd like to explore in greater depth - maybe its your adaptability, creativity, focus, situational response, or strategic alignment. Explore one area, that's all, and see how it shows up in your life? Get really, really curious about your mind. Go to the dark side, see what's there.
Because the degree to which you know yourself is the degree to which you can go beyond yourself. Only when your mind is open, clear, and responsive are you free to serve and be part of something bigger.
And the secret to knowing yourself is. . .
all in your head.
Discover Within, Expand Beyond,