By: Taylor Gabler and Ciarán Connery
Ball State, Sport and Exercise Psychology
As we surpass the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic and many in-person sport training opportunities are returning, it is important to highlight the impact of the mental side of sport and performance to provide an environment where people can thrive. The opportunity to return to the sporting environment is one that is typically met with immense gratitude and excitement. In our work with athletes of all levels, we have seen this gratitude being overshadowed by feelings such as frustration due to concerns that their sport skills have decreased and finding the sporting landscape to be very different than it once was. As you or your organization returns to play, implementing mental skills from the field of sport psychology can help foster positive experiences and create an environment where people can unlock the positive influence of sport. Here are a few tips to keep in mind and share with your athletes as they return to sport:
- Reconnect with “why” you play
As sport returns, we encourage you to spend some time reflecting on the reasons that you do what you do. These reasons may have shifted over time and as we begin to navigate the return of sport, it can help us feel reenergized, find new meaning in our efforts, and direct our focus and attention to the most relevant aspects of our performance.
- Set a new baseline
However you measure performance, it will likely be considerably different today than it was a year ago. We encourage you to do a quick assessment of your current performance and use this assessment as a new starting point to compare your future performance to. Using old performance standards will likely leave you feeling behind and foster negative thoughts about your performance. By clearly identifying your current performance levels, you can use this as a foundation to build on and foster feelings of success when you reach your next goal.
- Clear your expectations
The sport experience will likely look different than we are used to for quite a while. When returning to sport, it can be helpful to approach the environment with a sense of curiosity rather than judgement. For example, replace judgmental thoughts like, “This isn’t the same as last year,” with a more open-minded (accepting) approach like, “I wonder what new experiences today will bring?” This idea comes from the practice of mindfulness and can increase enjoyment, increase performance, and decrease stress. Next time you are heading into the gym, pay attention to your surroundings as if you have never experienced them before and remain open to new experiences.
- Control the controllable
Even as we return to sport, there are still many things that are completely out of our control. Although it feels like there are more factors now, there have always been things that are out of our control that have a direct impact on us. As you return to play, make a list of the things that are within your direct control. Things on this list might be things such as your attitude, intensity, the meals you eat in preparation for practice, or your ability to be a good leader and teammate. Taking back some control over our mental attitude can lead us feeling empowered and ready to embrace the challenges ahead.
Taylor Gabler and Ciarán Connery
Student Mental Performance Coaches
Ball State Sport and Exercise Psychology Graduate Students
Podcast: A Winning Mindset: Lessons from the Paralympics
The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow
The Young Champion’s Mind: How to Think, Train, and Thrive like an Elite Athlete by Jim Afremow