Every sport is different and requires specific physical, tactical, technical and mental skills in order to be successful. Every week athletes spend hours practicing their physical skills, working on their speed and strength, trying to improve their level of play in any way they can. However, one of the biggest issues that I see come up time and time again with my athletes during their training, is this mental block or mental hindrance when they become focused on the things they cannot control. One of the Mental Toughness principles I like to focus on when working with athletes is to control your “controllables”
I always like to start by asking my athletes what sort of things are out of their control. They quickly come up with examples such as, the ref, the fans, the weather, the other team, your own teammates, your coach.
I then ask, “How many of you have complained or yelled at the ref for making a bad call?” Almost always, every hand goes up. My next question is then “How many times has the ref reversed or changed the call because you told him he was wrong?” I usually get some laughs while everyone nods at the fact that it rarely, IF EVER happens.
The next point is, that as athletes, we only have a limited supply of energy (think of it like a life supply on a video game) and if we are trying to win a game why are we wasting any of that energy on things that we have no control over. Focusing on the things we don’t have control on takes our attention away from where it needs to be (the game, our touch, tactical thought processes) and increases our frustration, which in turn decreases performance. The exact opposite of what we want to happen. A better use of our energy and effort is spent on things that we have control over.
So then I ask, what sort of things do you have control over?
Athletes can almost always come up with effort and attitude and while those are two of the top ones on my list, there are many more factors that are within the athlete’s control including body language, coachability, emotion regulation, preparation, physical fitness, focus and attention control, nutrition and communication. When athletes put their energy toward these things, things that they have control over, they immediately begin to put the power back into their hands. Their energy and effort is now going to something they can change have the ability to manipulate in order to increase their performance with immediate results.