The Mental Game, Performing "In The Moment"
While I’m certainly not a sports psychologist – I suggest that being a parent, coach or teacher requires each of us to practice a little bit of psychology. Don’t discount the importance of the “mental game,” or you may overlook a key ingredient to future success!
Have you ever chastised a player or student for not concentrating on what they’re doing? Most parents and coaches have spoken the phrase “You have to catch the ball before you can run with it!” or maybe “You won’t retain the material as well, if you listen to the radio while you read.” It’s frustrating business trying to teach a student-athlete to focus.
Let me speak in defense of the kids for just a minute…not that I’m trying to start an argument or anything! Think about how many times you’ve heard the words “multi-tasking” in recent years. In general, multi-tasking describes the attempt or ability to undertake or monitor several activities at once.
Again, from the student-athlete’s perspective (hang with me parents). If you’ve grown up 1- talking on the phone, while 2- doing homework, with 3- the television on…what’s the big deal? Multi-tasking is part of my life, it’s how I do things! The question is – how well do you do things, particularly “individual tasks?”
I’ll be the first adult to admit I’m amazed at how kids today are able to balance so many activities. I question, however, the degree to which they are able to become good – really good, or even great – at any one of them. There are so many distractions, as well as the desire for “instant gratification,” it’s hard to teach working (for an extended period) to achieve a single goal. Over time, student-athletes lose the ability to focus solely on one task…so they may truly perform “in the moment.”
Some athletes and critical thinkers refer to it as being “in the zone” or in a “flow state.” Performing “in the moment” is simply the ability to block out everything around you and focus completely on the task at hand. That task might be throwing the next pitch, taking a test or even playing a difficult musical passage on the flute. Whatever the task, you will perform it better if it is the only thing you’re trying to do. To many of today’s student-athletes, this is a foreign concept…it’s just not the way they operate.
The interesting challenge is – how does a student-athlete train to perform “in the moment” when they’re so used to attempting to “multi-task?” Dr. Gregg Steinberg, PhD suggests (in his book Flying Lessons, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) various ways a student athlete may learn to perform in the moment. One method involves the use of a “trigger” word or phrase.
Prior to performing the task, a student-athlete may employ a trigger to help clear their mind and allow them to focus solely on the task at hand. For instance – after receiving the command “on your mark,” a sprinter moves into the blocks. The last thing he or she thinks is “here we go!” (a personal trigger phrase) As they set and wait for “get set…go” from the starter, all they do is focus on the finish line. Once the gun sounds, it’s all about trying to get there first!
There are obviously many different choices to employing a trigger. Any individual (not just student-athletes) might employ a trigger for any difficult task. All I’m suggesting is – if today’s kids believe they have the talent to “multi-task,” they may certainly benefit from learning to employ a trigger!
Being able to perform “in the moment” is an important part of taking your game to the next level. If you want to be the best, you not only have to have talent, but you must be dedicated enough to exploit that talent. Employing a technique (like a trigger), to give yourself an advantage, is one step in the right direction. Stretch your mental game and see what you can come up with to compliment your physical game – and improve your overall performance!