Originally published in Skipshot Magazine for USA Water Polo
Depending on where you live, pools are beginning to open and there are some opportunities for practice with your team. Although practice may not be as free as it is normally, the excitement and enthusiasm to return to playing and training is surely starting to grow for many of us. There may also be those athletes who share a mixture of excitement and nervous energy. With everything we experience in the normal functioning human condition, we must recognize that these internal mixes of emotions present opportunities to direct the way respond in a useful way. In order to work on redirecting and reframing what we experience internally and externally, it is helpful to engage in some mental training!
In the sport psychology literature, it has been widely examined and explored how our anxious energy can support our ability to perform depending on our perception and ability to manage it. Often our emotions sweep us off our feet when reacting to circumstances that trigger them or that we did not expect. Think about a referee’s call!
When you train for your mind by practicing how you would like to respond rather than react you find ways to direct that “e-motion” in a better way. “E” stands for energy and “Motion” is the direction the energy is moving. All circumstances carry a response of human emotions whether they are a derivative of happy, anger, sadness, surprise, shock, or fear.
Our ability to self-monitor is a matter of experiential training with structure and guidance. There is a quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn which I really love in this case:
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf!”
One very useful tool to “learn how to surf” that I have found athletes benefit from in finding some structure is the acronym A.A.P.A. It stands for:
Acknowledge – Improving every response both internal and external starts self-awareness and understanding of what is actually happening at this moment. If you can distance yourself from the circumstance then you can understand it with more clarity.
Accept – Normalizing what you are experiencing and what is influencing you does not just happen but it is practiced. You might find that you progress through stages to arrive at accepting and when you do you find yourself free to choose your response.
Plan – You might think of setting goals but planning for action can be the smallest and most simple step in the right direction. On a team your plan almost always includes what’s most important not to help your team through your role.
Act – Once you decide to action you are now in control of your process. Results of your actions may vary. They are an opportunity to continue working toward improving the details.
The reality is that our game and ability to perform at the level we expect may not be where we want it. We need to acknowledge that if we observe it to be true. With the right mental frame-work you can work with yourself rather than against yourself. You will find so much more value in this approach!
Brian Alexander is a certified mental performance consultant through AASP and the mental skills coach for ODP and the men’s senior national team. If you would like to work on your mental training and learn more download and start using his WellU Mental Training app on your mobile device.
Learn more about the WellU app and podcast: www.wellumentaltraining.com