I had a conversation with a skater today. Since the end of last season, things had been going well. We have her goals and plan for the year in place, and she has already started landing new triples, and is well on her way to mastering new spins among other things.
But for the last three days, she has been struggling. Jumps feel off, spins are off a little bit, she is finding it difficult to focus and refocus back to the job at hand. Self doubts swirl around in her head no matter how much she uses her doubt rebuttals and other mental game strategies.
This skater has been working on her mental game for at least 4 years now, occasionally in the beginning, then much more diligently in the last two years. She has a routine and a plan. She is making steady improvement in skills as well as in her mental game. So what is happening here?
Mental game skills like skating skills on the ice are easier to execute if things are going well in your life, you are healthy, school is good, your friends all love you.
Focus and refocusing on what you need to do is easy. Following your plan is a piece of cake. Rebutting your self doubt works like a charm.
But then all of a sudden, the flu strikes, a wonky session, or a minor injury causes frustration because your body isn’t responding as quickly or as precisely as you want it to, and soon you feel like “every thing is falling apart.”
This skater has done nothing wrong, all of the work she has put in to her mental game is still there. She just needs to stop and take a few steps backwards so that she find her bearings again.
Just like skating skills are more difficult to execute well when you are tired, sick or injured, executing your mental game in this state will be more challenging too.
Ironically, the situations in which following your mental game plan is the toughest, are usually the times when you need it and will benefit from it the most.
When you are faced with big difficulties, you might feel like something is wrong with you, that your mental game is not working anymore, or that you are never going to be able to change the way you think. It can take much longer to refocus successfully, if you are able to at all. Self-doubts play like a loop in your head over and over again no matter how much you work to stop them.
It might feel like you have taken a big step backwards, and that you haven’t learned a thing or made any improvement. It’s easy to get down on yourself and wonder what is wrong with you.
This is when you need to trust that the time you have spent practicing your mental game strategies every day will help you to refocus and get back on track.
Rather than abandoning your mental game skills, you must make the effort to “play” your mental game.
Turn it around:
Diligently work on your mental game routines and strategies every day, every moment you are on the ice. Get used to using the strategies, and following your routines (pre-practice, on ice and post practice).
When things are going smoothly, you will experience success and get lots of practice using the various strategies. They will become more automatic (a habit) so that eventually when things get tough, you will slip right into them.
-When things are tough this IS the work you must do.
–Trust that when you use your mental game skills, you will get through this challenge.
–Break your mental game skills down to a level that you can manage so you feel in control.
-On really tough days, this might be as basic as breathing.
Take yourself off the ice and do a “hard reset.” Start your session over.
- Start with centering yourself through purposefully taking 7-10 deep, even breaths all the way down to your “seed center” (2 fingers below your belly button, also known as your chi or hara).
- Force your mouth muscles to smile (it will relax your body).
Back on the ice:
- Begin to focus (and refocus when you get distracted) on the smallest most basic thing that will help you in the current skill you are working on (example: centering your scratch spin).
- When you can do that, move on to the next thing that will help you build on that scratch spin.
- Bit by bit you will gain momentum and eventually you will get to the point where things will become easier again.
Like your Skating skills, you must practice your mental game skills every day, every moment you are on the ice. You need to be able to trust your Mental Game when things are the most difficult, and you feel like giving up.
Practice patience. Just like your double axel or triple axel, it takes time and a whole lot of hard work every day to build your mental game muscle.
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek expert help from a mental game professional. Professional and elite athletes all know the value of a good mental game coach. The mental game strategies and skills you learn to use in skating are the very same skills you need to succeed in school and eventually in life.
If you are tired of patching together your mental game plan, and want to learn more about how to really make a change to support your skating, ICE Mental Game offers expert guidance, accountability and support to build your Championship Mindset. Sign up for a 20 minute mini session to Break the ICE and learn how you can reach your goals this season!
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