Jul 28, 2017Tending the Mental Garden
An important goal of any mental skills training program is to help athletes become more self-confident and believe in themselves. To do that, they need to be able to have and hold on to positive thoughts about themselves — as a person and as an athlete. Yet, there are athletes who have a difficult time doing this because they are carrying around negative thoughts and beliefs that they don’t want to acknowledge or can’t let go of.
Many athletes forget to identify and address the negative thoughts or beliefs they are holding on to. And what these athletes don’t realize is that they will have a very difficult time constructing positive thoughts about themselves if they are still walking around with negative thoughts. If an athlete believes that he is a failure and thinks he will keep making mistakes in practices and games, then no matter how often his coaches or teammates try to encourage him or to build up his self-confidence, the positive comments or feedback won’t stick.
Here is a simple exercise you can use to show your athletes how to address and release negative thoughts or beliefs, and at the same time, identify the positive thoughts or beliefs they want to keep. This exercise is called “Pull and Plant.”
First, ask your athletes to picture a garden that has been overrun with weeds. Then ask them what would happen if they planted some flowers but didn’t take out the weeds. You want them to start thinking and talking about how the weeds obstruct the view of the flowers and how roots sap energy and leave no space for the flowers to grow.
Explain to your athletes that their mind is like a garden. If they want to plant positive thoughts and beliefs in their mind, then they have to pull out the negative thoughts and beliefs — especially if they want the positive thoughts and beliefs to take hold and grow. If they don’t pull out the weeds (negative thoughts and beliefs), then the flowers (positive thoughts and beliefs) won’t survive.
Invite each athlete to identify any negative thoughts or beliefs they currently hold. Then, ask them to find the “root” of that thought or belief. At what moment in time, or during what situation or experience, did the negative thought or belief take root?
Maybe a pitcher has come to think or believe that he is a terrible player because in one game he couldn’t strike out any batters and gave up three home runs. Or maybe a wide receiver dropped several balls in a playoff game and now thinks that he can’t perform in key games. These athletes have to change their perception of that difficult or challenging experience.
Let’s say a baseball player is going up to bat in the ninth inning and his team is behind by one run. As he walks up to the plate, his batting coach reminds him that he will be fine. The coach tells him to just focus on the ball, make contact, and follow through on his swing. But the player is telling himself that he is going to strike out because he struck out in the first inning. What this baseball player has to do is to take what he thinks is a negative experience (striking out) and put it into a positive frame of reference (I’m a smarter batter because I now know this pitcher’s best pitches).
The overarching idea is to teach athletes how to take what they perceive as a negative situation and put it into a positive frame of reference. When they do this, they are essentially pulling the weed out of the garden so they can plant flowers that will live and grow. They are pulling out the negative thoughts or beliefs so the positive thoughts and beliefs can become a stable part of the athlete’s mindset.