Take it slow

Picture a coach and a player on the soccer field. The coach is teaching the player a new, difficult skill. At first, the skill seems confusing for the player and the player struggles to mirror the coach’s moves. The coach breaks it down and shows the player the skill in slow motion. Once the skill is slowed down, something clicks in the player’s mind and the player executes the skill.

Does this seem familiar to you? Often the way players learn new skills is by practicing the aspects of the skill in slow motion to get accustomed to the individual moves the skill requires. Then, once the skill is learned, players tend to pick up the pace with the skill and always practice it at full speed. Although setting your training environment to be like a competitive game environment (which includes training at game pace) is a good way to train your body and mind to be more comfortable with competitive situations, there is value in taking it slow and slowing down practice in order to examine skills more closely.

Taking time in your training to practice in slow motion will help you pay close attention to each individual skill you use in your sport. Paying attention to these skills is a great way to focus on how well you perform the moves. While most of the skills you use regularly feel automatic, practicing them in slow motion will help you discover whether or not those automatic moves are as good as they can be. In slow motion, you can ask yourself, “Is my technique just right?”, “Am I getting the most power I can?”, or “Is this as accurate as it can be?” Reflecting on these questions while you practice in slow motion might lead to you making minor adjustments that could improve your overall performance.

So, the next time you practice or learn a new skill, try not to rush into playing at full speed. Although practicing skills makes you more comfortable with them over time, there is always room for reflection and improvement, which can come from taking it slow.

The political debate of competition

With the upcoming election, the issue of politics has flooded the headlines. Whether or not you follow politics, as someone who’s interested in sports you can relate to the competitive nature of a political race. Have you ever thought about the similarities between a political race and a sport competition? For a political race, you have a player (politician), a coach or multiple coaches (advisors), and fans/crowd (party followers). Each of these makes up the team, with the opponent being the other party. This team, similar to sports, sets a goal they want to accomplish, strategizes how to accomplish it, and commits to reaching this goal.

Within both settings, the competition being faced is intense. You have an opponent working hard and strategically to beat you. You are doing everything in your power to achieve your goals and come out on top. There are challenges that both teams are faced with at one point or another, but the competitor within pushes you to persevere and continue working. This competitive drive is what makes the challenge worth fighting for. If you aren’t competitive, why are you doing it?

When it comes to being competitive, there are certain things you want to remember. Each experience, whether good or bad, is a learning opportunity. You can reflect on the experience to find out what didn’t work and what you should change for next time, as well as what worked and what you should keep on doing. Use past experiences as challenges within. How can you improve from what you did last time? How can you become even better? Enjoy the high-pressure situations. Be competitive not only with others, but also with yourself. You know that you have to work your hardest and be committed to your goal. Keep that goal in mind each day as you move forward. If you lose sight of what you want to accomplish, your success will be affected. It’s important to keep a positive attitude and maintain your effort in all situations. Look at challenges as motivation to improve and push yourself. Lastly, you need to remember to be competitive within the rules of fair play. There’s a difference between doing everything you can to win within the rules of the game, and playing unfair just to win. You want to compete with dignity and respect, both for yourself as well as those you are competing against.

Visualizing yourself to success

Visualization is a skill that can be tricky to learn, but helpful once you do. Picture this: You’re walking out onto the field before a big game. You can feel the ground give as you take each step. You can smell the freshly cut grass. You can hear parents, coaches, and other players talking all around you. You can see your teammates starting to arrive, as well as the players from the other team. You can taste the water you brought with you as you take a sip. Now you start to warm up with a teammate. You feel your leg moving back and your cleat making contact with the ball. You see your teammate moving to stop the ball. You smell the grass in the air as the ball rolls around on it. You can hear your team talking and warming up together.

This is an example of visualization. This could be the first part of a routine you develop about visualizing your next big game. You could continue with it and visualize any nerves or excitement you might feel and your ideal way of dealing with it.

Visualizing your performance can help you feel more prepared and composed come competition time. It helps put your thoughts and actions on automatic pilot: you don’t think, you just do.

Visualization is something that you can do before a training session or a game to go over how you want the day to go. The night before your next training session or game, set some time aside laying in bed to visualize the next day. How will the training session go? What will you see, feel, hear, taste, and touch? You want to visualize it as if you’re doing it, not as if you’re watching yourself do it. Be the star of your own movie.

Persevering to achieve your goals

The Nobel Prize winner, Winston Churchill, once said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” This statement can apply to many things in life, such as sports, school, or future endeavors. Churchill’s message is that when life gets difficult, you cannot give up. If you give up and do not put in the effort when things get hard, you will never be challenged to improve. Even though you may not be good at everything you try to accomplish in life, you possess the power to challenge yourself to work hard and develop your skills. In the face of obstacles, it may seem difficult to stay motivated to persevere and not give up. However, when you’re facing challenges, just remember to keep going, because if you don’t, it will make achieving your goals and reaching your fullest potential nearly impossible.

A great way to help keep yourself motivated is writing down both short-term and long-term goals that you want to achieve and putting them into action everyday; this will remind you to keep progressing and not give up. Setting short-term goals each week and working toward accomplishing them makes the process of achieving your long-term goals easier. Your short-term goals should be the building blocks for your long-term goals. Think of something you want to accomplish in the future; that should be your long-term goal. Now, think of everything it will take to get you to that future goal; those should be your short-term goals. Write these down, remind yourself of them each day, and push yourself to achieve them. By implementing these tactics, you might find that you are able to enhance your skills far beyond what you may have thought you were capable of.

Even though challenging yourself can be a mentally exhausting task, you must remember to keep pushing ahead, because it will only give you the edge in the future. So, next time you feel the urge to give up, just remember Churchill’s inspirational words: “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

Making the most of your time

When it comes to practice time, more isn’t always better. We often confuse quality and quantity and think that we have to practice more in order to practice well. This isn’t to say that you can’t have quantity and quality, but you have to have balance between the two. You have to be sure that you’re not sacrificing quality for the sake of just getting the practice done, or investing time into low quality practice.

Next time you decide to practice something, say for example shooting against a brick wall, focus less on how much time you want to set aside to do it, and more on making sure your technique is right. If you say you’re going to shoot the ball 50 times with each foot, you may not pay attention to technique and may practice just to get it done. However, if you say you want to do 15 quality passes with each foot, making sure that your foot is hitting the ball right, you’re getting the speed you want, and it’s going where you want it to go, you’re more likely to pay attention to your technique. This focus on technique, or quality, is more important than focusing on quantity.

There’s a saying that practice makes perfect. However, that’s not always true. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it does make permanent. And as an athlete, it’s important to make sure that what you’re making permanent is what you want to be permanent: good, quality skills.

The will to work

Over time, as players begin to grow and develop their skills, those who work the hardest seem to come out on top; they are the players who put in the extra effort to boost their strength and endurance and the extra preparation to enhance their mental skills. These players are generally the ones who make the varsity squad, club teams, and even get recruited for college teams. But, what happens once these players earn a coveted position on a squad? How can they set themselves apart from their new teammates who probably have similar physical and mental abilities?

As players climb higher and higher toward the most elite levels of competition in a sport, hard work, constant effort and improvement, and natural ability seem to be expected; players rarely reach elite levels without these requisite skills. It is a player’s will and mastery of smart training, or lack thereof, which distinguishes successful and unsuccessful players. To establish yourself as one of the best players on more competitive teams, you need the will to work and the intelligence to listen to your body. You need to enjoy your sport and feel a sense of intrinsic motivation that drives you to push harder when your body and mind are fatigued; but, importantly, you must master a sense of awareness that allows you to know your body’s limits and listen to your body when it reaches those limits. A strong will to work means very little on its own if you fail to train smart, listen to your body, and allow your body to properly recover and regenerate after tough periods of training.

In order to stand out on competitive teams, remember this: you must always give all of the effort your body and mind can give, but never more. You will not help yourself or your teammates if you constantly push your body to work above and beyond its limits and injure yourself. So, develop a sense of smart training, learn your body’s physical and mental limits, and make sure you set goals that are challenging, yet realistic. This way, you lay the foundation for reaching your full potential as a player.

Finding your drive

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”Steve Prefontaine

We have all been there as athletes: it’s cold and raining outside. You’re tired and sore from yesterday’s practice. There’s a voice in your head telling you, “stay in bed, skip practice today.” Despite all these obstacles, you still find the motivation to get up and practice. What is it that makes you do this? What is it that makes you compete? What is your drive? If you have never asked yourself these questions, you may be surprised what you find. Often times, your biggest motivator is yourself.

The quote above, by the famous distance runner Steve Prefontaine, former Olympian and American Record Holder, is a prime example of someone who finds his drive within himself. This inner drive of “self-satisfaction and achievement” is often called intrinsic motivation. This differs from extrinsic motivation, which is based on external achievement, such as winning a medal or trophy. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, pertains to the inherent joy experienced simply from driving yourself to work hard and achieve a goal. While it is normal and often beneficial to have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, it is the intrinsic motivation that produces the feelings of achievement and enjoyment in the long run and helps sustain the drive to participate in any given activity.

It is a good idea to ask yourself these questions every so often. Do you find that your motivation to compete stems from a desire to earn external rewards, or is it some inner drive, an intrinsic love of playing the game? Go ahead, ask yourself: What is my drive?