Mental Training: Blog #4
Published by CROWN staff on June 7, 2009
In this blog, I want to address a very under rated aspect of performance and success; an aspect critical to finishing your season on a strong note.
Mental training is one of the most under rated aspects of becoming the best player you can be. And this holds true for any endeavor, but especially sports. There is a huge umbrella of skills and traits that fall under mental training; the ability to focus and concentrate at the task at hand (like shooting a free throw), not getting flustered in pressure situations (your team is down 7 points with 1:32 on the clock), visualizing success when preparing for a game (picturing yourself playing well or making a great play), and being mentally tough enough to withstand extreme adversity (you lose your team’s best player to injury or you lose several games in a row).
The most accomplished athletes ever, the Michael Jordan’s, Tiger Wood’s, and Lance Armstrong’s of the world know this to be true; in order to reach the highest level of competency and success, your mental skills become as important (if not more so) as your physical skills. A lot of players have the physical skills, but only the preeminent ones have the mental skills as well. Your brain controls everything you do, every thought and every movement, so obviously how you think and what you think will drastically affect how you perform. So training your brain is just as significant as training your body.
There are four things that determine if a basketball player will be successful; physical ability, physical training, desire, and mental training. No need to preach about the magnitude of the first three, everyone knows how integral these are and therefore most quality players spend hours upon hours for years working on them. But how many players spend any time on the mental side?
Don’t think the mental part is a big deal? Then how come everyone thought running a 4 minute mile was impossible. For decades experts and top athletes all agreed; it couldn’t be done. Then in 1954 Roger Bannister ran a 3:59.4. He beat it by only .6 of a second. In the two years to follow, over 50 other runners broke the 4 minute mark! It was all mental!
A big portion of success is in basketball is learning how to focus on the task at hand and not let negative thoughts intrude. For most players, when shooting by themselves, hitting a free throw is a fairly simple task, especially if it is practiced for thousands and thousands of repetitions. My personal best, in practice, is hitting 112 straight. If hitting a free throw is such an easy task, then why is it so much harder to hit one when the game is tied, there are only 2 seconds on the clock, and the crowd is screaming? It is harder because the player becomes self conscious, coach conscious, fan conscious and outcome conscious as opposed to being task conscious. They allow negative thoughts to impede the simple task of hitting the free throw. Your mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Most players make the mistake of trying to suppress what they don’t want to happen (“don’t miss, don’t miss, don’t miss…”) instead of focusing on what they do want to happen (“no problem, nothing but net…”). It is also important to not get caught up in things you can’t control, like a referee’s bad call. You can’t control he just called a blocking foul when everyone knows it was clearly a charge. You can’t waste the time or the energy or the negative thoughts on it; you have to move on. You have to focus and concentrate on what you can control.
Visualization is powerful. Being able to visualize being successful and doing great things is so potent. I use a few simple imagery drills before big games with the Montrose team. After we are warmed-up, stretched out and physically ready to play… I gather them for 2 minutes before Coach comes in to give his pre-game speech and prayer. For the first minute I have each of them close their eyes and visualize a time when they played incredible basketball; a time when every pass they made was crisp, every shot they took was money, and they handled the ball like it was on a string. I tell them to relive that moment in their mind; it might have been when they were 12 years old at camp or it might have been during a summer league game last year. I want them to use all of their senses to relive a time when they were “in the zone.” Most of them don’t even realize they are sitting there smiling. For the next minute I have them visualize themselves doing something great in the game that night. I have them imagine they are having an out of body experience and are up in the stands watching themselves play. I have them picture themselves doing something phenomenal; maybe hit a clutch 3 at the end of the half or maybe they come up with a crucial steal to seal the game or throw down a ridiculous alley-oop. I have them picture what the crowd sounds like when they make that particular play and how their teammates respond. I have them think about how they will feel in the locker room after a huge win. I have them picture themselves so clearly they can feel it. This little exercise gets them in a positive and confident state of mind and ready to play.
Michael Phelps recognizes that visualization is one of the keys to his success. He says he visualizes every race the night before and pictures exactly how he wants it to go. He visualizes the start, each stroke, the walls, the turns, the finish, and the strategy of the race. He pictures it in vivid detail; all the way down to how the water looks as he glides through it. He does this to basically “program the race in his head.” More times than not, the race ends up happening exactly as he pictured it. He also takes the time to visualize what he will do if things don’t go as planned; like if his goggles fill with water or his swim cap comes off. He visualizes himself having the perseverance to still swim a perfect race. Phelps truly exemplifies “we become what we think about most.” He has pictured himself being an Olympic champion since he was a child.
Mental toughness and competitive toughness are acquired skills; not inherited traits. Every basketball player out there can become more mentally tough. You have to learn to embrace obstacles, difficulties, mistakes, and adversity. You can’t expect anything to be easy. Failure is not only a part of life, but a major part of sports. If you never fail, you aren’t pushing hard enough or challenging yourself. “The depths of your struggle will determine the height of your success.”
It takes mental toughness to give 100% all of the time. There is an old saying, “if you only work hard on the days you feel like it, nothing will ever get done.” Part of Michael Phelps success is attributed to the fact he performs the best he can no matter how he is feeling. He puts 100% effort in to every workout whether he feels like it or not. Tired? No excuse. Got a cold? No excuse? From age 11 to 16 Michael Phelps trained every single day, with the exception of only 3 days (missed one day for a snow storm and two days when he got his wisdom teeth pulled). He trained on Christmas, on New Year’s, on his birthday and on the 4th of July. And he was a kid! You think he felt like training every one of those days? Of course not! But he did it because he is mentally tough. And look how it paid off.
If you want to be the best player you can be and your team to be the best team they can be; make sure you don’t take mental training for granted.
If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!
Train hard. Train smart.