This article originally published in USA Water Polo's Skipshot Magazine as well as on usawaterpolo.com
Working on the mental game requires additional work that a lot of athletes aren’t always willing to do outside the pool. Often when mental-skills training is presented, you hear about peak performance potential. But what is “potential”—and how do you know if you actually perform at your peak? Potential usually refers to a currently unrealized ability. You may not actually be able to measure your potential as an athlete or as a team. Your performance in games do provide some data points that track your progress toward your goals. However, they do not measure your true potential as an athlete. That said, there is one important similarity between all the greatest athletes of all time: Their continual focus on the process of their improvement is more important than satisfaction with their results. Executing the process—and preparing each game with that as a main focus rather than the outcome—helps you produce the results you want. The process is, in fact, more controllable than the outcome and less anxiety provoking since having a process is equivalent to having a plan. And if you’re willing and passionate about mastering your skills as well as the tactics in water polo, then you will learn how to GRIND. The GRIND isn’t comfortable nor is it easy. The GRIND sometimes makes you want to quit because it can seem like you aren’t progressing anywhere. It might feel like a series of missed shots and endless counter attacks. But when you’re able to find a way to GRIND, you become comfortable with the process of growth and learning in the moment. The following elements are key components to the GRIND: Grit: Research on success and expert-level performers shows that grit is the most important success factor. Angela Duckworth defines grit as the ability to persevere through any adversity toward one very long-term goal. Grit bridges the gap between talent and achievement by doubling up on effort. Resilience: Demonstrating emotional self-control when circumstances are out of your control helps you bounce back from unforeseen challenges. Composure leads to competing with poised confidence. Innovate: Finding a way to make a play even in situations that aren’t in the game plan requires you to create something that you haven’t seen before. The key idea is to create. Open your awareness to what you can do in the moment to make the play. Sometimes you need to make it happen in the clutch. Nose-down: Maintaining a high work-rate is essential. Stick with the team game plan and commit all of your effort and energy to every single play. The scoreboard does not dictate the momentum to be gained in the pool. Decisiveness: In dynamic, fast-moving sports such as water polo, there isn’t enough time to evaluate the pros and cons for each decision point. You need to trust your training to help you make a decision that helps you take an action. Develop a “see it, do it” mentality and learn from the results as part of your training. Taking the elements of GRIND into consideration and applying them to your mental game needs to be systematically practiced. In all performance training, your style is unique and owning your progress helps you understand how you work best. Remember that finding a way to GRIND will be a struggle, but through the struggle you will find growth. Develop a positive response to discomfort and soreness, and that will help you determine your potential.