The Mental Game? It’s Simple!

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As a high school athlete, I was a pretty good soccer player. My confidence went through it’s ups and downs during those 4 years, but it was generally pretty good.  I worked hard, was in shape, had great coaches, loved my team, and loved playing.  Before my junior year, my health class teacher, who was also the football coach, watched me play soccer and promptly asked me to be the kicker on his football team.  I had never played organized football. But, being a huge fan of the game, I wanted to give it a try, and after somehow convincing my mom to let me do it, I tried out and made it.

It took a bit to transition from the skills of kicking a soccer ball to the skills of kicking a football.  I remember distinctly hitting the center in the butt twice in a row, and getting the “hey man, wtf?!” look from him. As a striker, I was used to staying over the ball, keeping it low to get it in a soccer goal.  Now I had to re-train myself to get the proper (American) football technique.

 In one practice, the coach declared that practice would be over once I hit 3 kicks in a row.  Everyone was pulling for me, but also they were watching me. It was the first time I had all eyes on me, and what I did impacted the whole team. I wasn’t super confident in my abilities.  I missed one, then another, then a third until my teammates went from understanding, to annoyed, then to frustrated (like, hey this is Florida and it’s hot out here and we wanna go home, come on kicker!).

This is 1989. Bonus points if you can figure out which one is me

I remember overthinking things like:  “Am I good enough? I don’t know what I’m doing? Can I do this? I don’t think I can. What am I doing wrong?  I’m going to fail and they will think I’m terrible and I’ll have to quit and feel like a loser the rest of my high school career.”  I was making things way too complicated.  Should I kick harder? Not as hard?  Since I’m missing wide, should I aim for the other side and hope it goes in?  I was panicking a little, a feeling I never had in soccer.

My coach, sensing that he had put me in a situation that I couldn’t handle, puts his head down and slowly walks out toward me.  I’m thinking  “oh man I’m really in for it now.”  He puts his arm around me and says, in his slow southern drawl, where only I can hear: “Brian, now I don’t know the first thing about kicking. But (points at the uprights), you see those two white poles?  Kick the ball through there.”  And slowly walks off.  

At first I was confused, then kinda laughed at myself, and promptly made 3 kicks in a row. Practice over, my teammates happy, for me, complete relief.  If I remember correctly, Coach Adams smiled and patted himself on the back for his spot-on coaching technique:

Simple.

Coach Adams may not have known about kicking, but he did know what needed to happen.  He made the game simple for me.  He pointed my focus to the one thing that I needed to focus on.   Not technique, not emotion, not pressure.  Just made it simple.

Coach Adams may not have known about kicking, but he did know what needed to happen.  He made the game simple for me.  He pointed my focus to the one thing that I needed to focus on.   Not technique, not emotion, not pressure.  Just made it simple.

The Mental Game is Simple.  Think less about the past and the future. Focus on the present moment.  Focus less on the things going on around you, and focus on yourself.  Focus on one thing at a time.  Re-focus when you get distracted. Simple.

The Mental Game is Simple.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  It takes practice

What situations do you tend to over-think?

What are the biggest distractions you face in your sport?

And how can you make them more simple?

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