This article is a bit different than my normal training related articles. I want to talk about some mental aspects of performing. I've long been interested in how mental and personality characteristics relate to sporting prowess and a ton of other things, and this article is a quick spin-off of that.
Every year I have several athletes that seem to have the same basic problem: They train harder than everyone else, know more about their sport than everyone else, take their sport more seriously than everyone else, are as physically talented as anyone else, but they simply don't play as well as they're capable of, particularly when it counts. It doesn't really matter the sport but in hard training athletes I repeatedly see certain people having the same problems. After a conversation with a talented basketball player I've been working with recently I decided to share with you'll exactly what I shared with him that really seemed to make a difference for him.
How Serious Are You About Your Sport?
It is my basic tenet that a good percentage of athletes are not succeeding as they could due to an inherent tendency towards taking their sport TOO seriously. In short, to them, they sport isn't just fun it's something beyond that. It REALLY matters to them.
On a physiological level they're likely to have an inherent tendency towards utilization of the frontal lobe in the brain.
What is the Frontal Lobe?
The frontal lobe can be thought of as our 'executive' or 'management' centre. Use of the frontal lobe is critical for organising and planning our actions, motivation, and controlling and moderating our behaviour: for example, preventing us from saying something rude if someone has annoyed us. In large part the frontal lobe is what makes humans human - we're apt to think before we act, think of consequences before we act.
In humans, the frontal lobe reaches full maturity only during the 20s, marking the cognitive maturity associated with adulthood. For men their frontal lobe won't be fully developed until 25, and for women the frontal lobe will be developed at 21.
This in large part helps explain the immature idiotic things a lot of young males do. The frontal lobes help put the brakes on a desire for thrills and taking risk. Teenage males are particularly vulnerable to risky behavior, such as drinking and driving too fast. They are four times as likely as older drivers to be involved in a crash and three times as likely to die in one.
You're In a Select Group....
By reading this article there's a good chance you aready weeded yourself into a small, select group. You took the time to get online, type in some keywords, and study/investigate how to improve your game. You're probably above average in intelligence. You're probably goal oriented and have a bright future. You are likely to succeed in todays society because modern society tends to reward those who think, plan, and study ahead.
In short, there's a good chance you have a natural tendency to strongly engage your frontal lobe. But....that's not always an advantage
In Sports - The Hindbrain Rules
However, in the world of sport this can be one of your worst enemies. Team sports in particular tend to reward instinctive RIGHT NOW behavior, characterized by more of a reliance on the hindbrain. Many of you are not having the success in sports you want to simply because you're unable to play instinctively and "let go" like the idiots who have a natural tendency to drive too fast, don't care about anything outside the existing moment, and live in their hindbrain (read: a large percentage of professional athletes)
Exactly what is happening in the brain and what parts are most involved may be challenged by science and academia, but the general observation holds true. If one is thinking excessively it destroys their flow, and this is observable in athletes across all sports. The great sprint coach Charlie Francis wrote about this saying it is essential that sprinters learn how to do drills WITHOUT thinking and keep things IN their instinctive hindbrain and out of the forebrain, otherwise their movements would be too mechanical.
Football coaches talk about it all the time, "He's playing faster now because he's not thinking" There is research indiciating the hindbran processes informationt at MUCH GREATER speeds than the frontal brain and cursory observations holds true.
I'm going to give you some everyday examples of how excessive frontal lobe engagement can interfere with sports performance.
Perspective Changes Everything
Place 6 inch wide board on the ground, 10 feet across and walk over it one foot in front of the other
Easy isn't it?
Place the same board and elevate it 100 feet up in the air between 2 buildings. Now, imagine walking over it. It's a little more difficult. You turn something simple into a life or death situation, making you think about the consequences. That REALLY increases the importance of each and every step, making things a LOT more difficult. You're a lot more likely to mess up.
Many people place that same level of importance on their games. You simply overanalyze and think too much because you're worried too much about the consequences.
Frontal lobe dominance is great for planning ahead but in an athletic situation it destroys processing speed, creates tunnel vision, and destroys fine motor skills.
Fixing the Problem...
So, how do you fix this issue? Positive thinking, mental training, no shortage of products exist to develop your mental game. In my experience though most of these products offer very little of value. They simply get you placing even more importance on something you already value too much.
I'll give you my opinion but first of all some situations where you naturally see the solution:
The most dangerous man is a man with no fear or no worries about consequences
In team sports, a dangerous team is a team that is almost out of contention and has little to lose, thus can play loose
And an example specific to this article: I bet many of YOU probably play a lot better in practices than you do games.
Accept Whatever It is You're Resisting.....
In my experience the best solution lies in eastern philosophy, which promotes the basic tenet of releasing resistance being the key. When you're resisting, you're worried about SOMETHING which you don't want to happen.
Instead of focusing on being positive and having positive thoughts I want you to focus on the opposite. Do the exact opposite. Whatever it is you're resisting, allow yourself to feel it fully. Then try to become mentally comfortable with it.
You might be a basketball player in tryouts afraid of getting cut from the team. So allow yourself to mentally feel and accept the idea you're going to get cut and become comfortable with the idea.
You might be a baseball player afraid of striking out and embarrassing yourself. So visualize and feel the thought of you striking out on 3 pitches until you're comfortable with the thought.
You might be a receiver who excessively worries about dropping the ball. So become comfortable with that idea.
The examples numerous, but the basic tenet is you allow yourself to feel fully whatever it is you're resisting.
When you do this what you'll find is you take the pressure off yourself. You'll immediately begin to feel a sense of calm and realize most of your worries are for naught. You'll take away a lot of the excessive importance you've been placing on your game & you'll be able to play looser, more comfortable, and relaxed.
Give this advice a shot if you find yourself having problems as described in this article. If you'd like to learn more consider enrolling in one of my consultation packages.