Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mental Toughness - Some Attitudinal Pointers That May Help

Much of what sportsmen or professionals do, revolves around three aspects - the skill aspect, the physical fitness aspect required to perform that skill well and the mental toughness aspect to sustain high performance in ups and downs.

Much of so called 'talent' ends with skill - a slightly higher level of skill takes you some distance initially.  A moderate level of physical fitness can push you some more. But what really separates the boys from the men, the champions from the also-rans is the mental toughness part of it. As the going gets tough, the tough have to get going. Or go home.

Mental toughness can be practised
Few are blessed with the clarity and courage to have mental toughness ingrained in them naturally. These blessed ones make the best use of their skill and push themselves physically because of this ability. But for the others who probably are not naturally equipped or trained on mental toughness there is no need to feel disadvantaged. Mental toughness can be practiced and  ingrained so that it becomes a habit, an attitude. One needs to be conscious of how to train the mind - so that it is aware in times of stress. Here are a few attitudinal pointers that may help.

The Preparation of the Mind
1) Knowing your strengths: Start with knowing your strengths at the very beginning. You can analyse these strengths from your own best experiences in the past (do a careful analysis of your top ten performances and it shows up). More importantly, take feedback from your peers, coaches and mentors and even opposition about your strengths. Many times you miss out your own strengths and hence this feedback helps immensely. Note down and analyse for yourself or with a coach how you can use all your strengths well and work on improving them. Pick the ones that will take you the farthest and focus on them.

2) Know your weaknesses: Anlyse your weaknesses from your performances. A chat with colleagues who can contribute positively, coaches and mentors can also help in being aware of weaknesses to plug. Just focus on two main weaknesses that contribute negatively to your performances and work on them. 

3) 1 or 2 Areas that bother you most: This could be one or two areas that you may be bothering yourself about. A good bowlers may still be worrying about his fielding, or his lack of physical strength. It may be in unrelated areas but it is necessary that the person is honest about those bothersome areas and puts in enough work to get that thought out of his mind, This could be the one big factor that can drag down the player's performance. Be honest here and work with the coach.

4) Run through the positives: Capture visuals, paper clippings, photos, videos of your top performances that inspire and keep visiting and revisiting them. Stick them up on the wall, on the board so you see what you are capable of and are constantly reminded of the positives.

5) Plan your strategy: Plan your strategy before the tour and before the match by writing it down. Some even think about it until it all falls in place. I advocate writing it down because it gives more clarity. Plan what you would do from the first moment - the first ball onwards if you are planning for the match - and plan for an alternative plan as well in case things don't work out that way. Here a bit of information about all the factors that contribute to your performance helps - the wicket, the pitch, the opposition and so on. So do your homework and have a chat with your captain and coach.

6) Visualise: Once your overall plan is in place, sit in a quiet place and visualise how it is going to unfold. Visualise the environment, the rhythm, the feeling of performing to your peak capacity easily. Visualise the outcome happening the way you want it, right down to the smallest detail. See it all clearly until you are satisfied fully and feel confident and comfortable.

7) The Equipment: Be bang on with your equipment so there is no last minute glitch. Get everything in order and prepare for being there and doing what you planned. You should feel good with your equipment so plan that well and get it fully in order. Set yourself up for success even in what you wear and use.

8) Set a mental target: Before each tour, each game, each session in a match - set a mental target for yourself. You could tell someone about it or you could keep it yourself (telling someone is better as it challenges you) - but whatever happens - do set your own targets. You will be amazed at how wonderfully this simple technique works.Note down the results in a journal.

9) Use all support systems to bolster belief: If certain things strengthen your belief, use them. Superstitions, people, prayer, God, music, talking to positive people - use any of the above and keep your mind high on belief. For some, certain refrains of good music helps focus better.

10) Train your mind to stay positive - use symbols, motifs: Don't let any negative thoughts enter your mind, especially if its a crunch game for you. The key to this is to have something to keep remembering when thoughts turn negative. You can for example keep a strong positive visualisation in your mind to think of when your thoughts are turning negative (pictures, videos, quotes, role models). You can use positive affirmations constantly to keep your mind from slipping into negative. (For example, I am batting extremely well now or I am bowling so well that the ball is doing exactly what I want). The third is to keep using a piece of music or looking at your bit of superstition that will help you switch the thought to positive.

11) Use all negative feedback as a goal, not criticism: Use everything, even the negative as a goal. When you use the negative as a goal, everytime you get criticised, that aspect of your game gets honed when you take it up as a goal! Whatever happens, don't let negative feedback dishearten you. Come back harder.
If you take everything as a positive and work at it, nothing can stop you.

During the Performance
11) Strong and positive body language: Whatever happens keep your body language strong and positive. Walk and talk with confidence. Shoulders back, chin up, spring in step - smile if it warrants a smile. It sends a big signal to the opposition and to your own colleagues. You must learn to fake it well even if you are feeling low and not confident. It is all about keeping that illusion that you are in control until the opposition breaks or shows a chink. Never let this body language down.

12) When things don't go well find a positive in every act: Whatever happens find a positive in every act. Especially when things don't go well look for what you did right.

13) Be flexible: When on the field, be flexible and see how the wind is blowing, how the tide is flowing and adapt accordingly. There is a greater danger in being rigid because then you are stuck with one plan. Prepare, and then, be flexible to adapt to best course.

14) If Plan A doesn't work, switch to Plan B: If Plan A does not work, switch to Plan B. Ask for feedback from others so you get more information on how you are doing and how it could be bettered.

15) If you get one breakthrough, capitalise: One breakthrough should be quickly converted into a couple more, so work on increasing effort immediately after one breakthrough or one good session. A batsman who gets 30 should look for 50, a 50 for a 100, a 100 for a 1550, a 150 for a 200 and so on. Similarly one wicket should become 3, 3 should be come 5 and 5 should become 7 wickets. Don't be easily satisfied. Push for more.

16) If you make a mistake, bounce back hard:  In the game it is likely that you may make a mistake. Don't dwell on it. Figure out what went wrong and make a mental note to correct it and bounce back hard into the game instantly. You can make amends as long as you are positive. But if you let that one odd mistake affect you, you will go down in a downward spiral and you will let it affect your performance hugely when it really need not. Everyone makes mistakes but the ones who bounce back quickly are the champs. Make up your mind to bounce back quickly.

17) Never show your disappointment: It is most important to never show your disappointment, your fear, your pain even if you are in the direst situation. You must never let the opposition or even your own colleagues know what is going on in your mind. As long as you keep a straight and brave face everyone thinks you are still in with a chance, another opportunity or perhaps even an ace up your sleeve. Never ever show that you are beaten or that you are disappointed or dejected or depressed. Keep smiling, chin up and shoulders straight and things might just change.

18) Use success formulas repeatedly: If a particular move worked, use it again. And again. Look for patterns and stick to those if they are working for you.

19) Don't get over excited when things favour you: Keep your head when things favour you and stick to plan so you maximise effect. Many times the advantage is squandered away by over doing things in an over excited manner. For example fast bowlers when they see a green and helpful wicket tend to overdo things and do not take as many wickets as they could have if they stuck to basics.

20) When things don't work, go back to basics: When all else fails, quickly go back to basics and minimise damage. Once you get some rhythm going, you can come back strongly but until then stick to the basics and keep doing them well.

21) When playing better players, focus on giving your best:  When you play against better players and better teams, focus on giving your best. Don’t overdo things because you may give them an easy opening to settle down. Do things well in your control – a balanced aggression where nothing is given easy and where you are slowly increasing your dominance or holding your own. There will be times when they may get an upperhand - but you must believe in your capability and raise your game and performance. Firstly make it as difficult for them as you can and do not give anything away easily and then keep going and trying your best throughout until you get a breakthrough. Always get back into the game and keep at it.

Post performance
22) Check with coach: Check with coach if performance was on par. Look for improvements. Look for areas to work on.

23) Look for what went off plan: Check your thoughts, your preparation and check for what went right and what went wrong and make mental notes.

24) If you had a bad game, learn and move on quickly: Don't wallow in self-pity even if you had a bad game. One game can change it all. You cannot get better if you constantly keep kicking yourself or putting yourself down. Analyse. Work on the areas that need improvement and bounce back stronger.

25) It is all about belief: Belief in one's capability to do well in all circumstances, however tough they may be, is the biggest strength of any sportsperson. Do everything to strengthen that belief. Belief is just a thought and it is best that you keep thinking thoughts that help you believe in yourself, your game and your ability. Put everything behind that thought.

26) Make a new target to achieve something bigger next: Now that this game is done, set yourself a anew target to achieve something even bigger next game and start preparing for it. Grow with each game, each session.

1 comment:

P. Kaneshkk Naidu said...

Your 26 points attitudinal pointers are "Commandments of Mental Toughness".
All this while knowingly or unknowingly I was implementing in a haphazard manner.
Now,having gone through your systematic guidelines I can consciously practice the "26 Commandments" so that it gets ingrained in the system.
"If Rajasthan can; we will"
P. Kaneshkk Naidu