Mar 9, 2017Visualizing Success
Graham Betchart has spent almost 20 years helping some of the best athletes in the country reach their full potential. With his approach to sport-based psychology, Betchart has guided players such as Jaylen Brown, Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons, and others, through high school, college, and into the NBA. Along with bolstering some of the game’s rising stars, Betchart recently helped Whitman College become the only remaining unbeaten team at any level of NCAA basketball this season, as reported by Kitsapsun.com.
Based in Walla Walla, Washington, the Whitman College Blues have 27-0 this season and are 4-0 against teams ranked in the top seven of the D3Hoops.com poll. Their performance has earned them the unanimous No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament, but despite the pressure, the players are enjoying each moment. Coach Eric Bridgeland attributes much of their success and relaxed attitude to the lessons he learned from Betchart.
One tactic that has worked well for the Blues is a personalized pre-game ritual. Each player uses his phone to watch a motivational video before going on the court. The video is a clip of that player saying a mantra or self-affirming statement, helping to reassert what he does best or what he needs to focus on. Junior guard and Northwest Conference Player of the Year, Tim Howell, watches himself say, “I am an even-keeled assassin,” while others say things such as “I attack the lane” or “I am fearless.” A player struggling at the foul line may watch of clip of himself making a free throw.
“If you could wish your team one thing, I would wish that they’re having a blast and that they don’t feel pressure,” Bridgeland says. “So that’s what we’re doing. In our team visualization before every game, we talk about being creative and enthusiastic in handling these awesome situations that we get into. I think they actually believe that, which they should.”
This is part of what Betchart calls his MVP program — meditate, visualize, and positive affirmation. When players watch these videos of themselves, they are reminded of their own abilities and are given the confidence to step onto the court and perform. No matter the sport or level of competition, coaches can implement the same routine to help their players focus and perform at their best. Though many student-athletes have access to a smart phone, writing a self-affirmative phrase on a note card can have a similar effect.
Another key to Whitman’s success on the court this season has been their approach towards winning. Instead of focusing on the outcome, the coaches have developed a non-outcome based that has helped players relax and perform under pressure. Sophomore Austin Butler, who leads the team in rebounds, assists, and steals, testifies that this mentality has turned some of the most stressful moments into the most enjoyable.
“We’re kind of detached from the outcome,” Butler says. “What’s more important is we execute on our end. When we get down to those serious moments, it’s fun because that’s what we’re here to do.”
Betchart says that mental strength is a skill that can be taught and trained. To be calm and focused under pressure, athletes will have to be continually committed to training their mind, which will not only enhance their performance but also help them in many areas outside of sports.
“So many people think there must be something wrong with you to have to seek out mental help,” Betchart told Vice Sports. “I wanted to phrase it as a skill, and just like your physical skills, that you would have to practice every day.”