While many books out there provide a great deal of information and lessons by some of the world’s best practitioners, researchers, teachers, coaches, and performers, Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack and David Casstevens provides performers with a resource guide to jump into action and get to work on their mental game. Mack and Casstevens wanted to create a mental game resource with exercises, lessons, and questions for athletes and performers to work through, much like they work through their conditioning routine in the weight room. Over the next six blogs of this series we will explore what the inner game is while thinking about actually living out your performance dreams, creating a mind-set for success, and then finally getting into your performance zone. Our next blog focuses on developing tools to handle pressure.
Choking is another inevitability in sport. As our perception of a psychological threat increases, we have to lean on our developed coping mechanisms to manage both our physiology and our thoughts through this experience. The problem is, most athletes don’t spend time developing coping mechanisms to handle that stress. Mack shares an idea, “one psychologist says anxiety is excitement without the breath.” Our biggest and most easily accessible tool to combat choking is to identify that we need to take slow, deep, and intentional breaths. “Oxygen helps relax muscles and clear the mind. When you hold your breath, you are creating pressure and a nervous feeling. Athletes who choke start to become nervous about being nervous.” The breath is a concrete, actionable tool that allows us to slow things down and regain control.
Another tool for handling pressure is to get yourself to the present moment. According to Mack, “in the present, there is no pressure. Pressure is created by anxieties about the future and remembered failures from the past.” To get to the present moment, take a deep breath, check in on where your mind and your thoughts are, and then remind yourself to be right here, right now. Mack uses an example from former MLB pitcher Jamie Moyer. When Moyer found himself in a hole with the pressure on, he would step off the mound into the grass where he could take a break and breath. He would rub the ball, turn it over in his hands, and shake the tension out of his neck. When he was ready, Moyer stepped back on the mound, back in control.
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