Mental conditioning is broken down into five skill categories: learning to think right, engaging in positive self-talk, reaching optimal arousal, concentrating, and displaying confidence.
Athletes must use these skills from the whistle to the snap. Just like any other skills, these can be learned and improved with practice. The more you practice these skills, the better focused you will be. A better-focused athlete is a higher-performing athlete.
1. Learning to think right starts with the simple understanding that wrong (negative) thoughts hurt sport performance and right (positive) thoughts help it. If you have negative thoughts, all you have to do is replace them with positive thoughts. Thinking right is a choice you can make. Keep in mind that no one can make you think anything; you are responsible for your thoughts.
2. Positive self-talk is the kind of conversation you should be having with yourself, which is the most important one of all. You have to control your own self-talk; if it is wrong, you have to change it. Positive affirmations are a useful tool to control your self talk. Because self-talk affects your emotions and your actions, how you think affects how you play.
3. The right level of arousal requires having composure, which means being in control of yourself. Optimal arousal is reflected in a state of physiological and psychological well-being. An arousal level that is too high or too low will have a negative impact on your performance. Because optimal arousal varies by individual, you must determine your own level. Reaching your own unique arousal level is a skill that you must practice.
4. Concentration is about finding the right information and staying focused on it. Because most of the information available to you is irrelevant, you have to seek out the information that matters. You get information from what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Concentration is thinking right, and distraction is thinking wrong. It is a choice as well as a skill. Establishing a routine can help.
5. Confidence is about believing that you are going to deliver your best performance and not focusing on the outcome. It is the opposite of doubt, anxiety, fear and worry. It is a choice you make by becoming competent. Like concentration, confidence is both a skill and a choice, and it can be developed over time.
In the game of football, the average play lasts six seconds. The most important part of the game happens between the whistles, which indicates the end of the play, and the snap, which is the start of the next play, usually a period of 20 to 40 seconds.
During the whistle-to-snap period, successful players use the skills of right thinking, positive self-talk, optimal arousal, concentration and confidence to improve their performance during the next play. You must learn to park the last play and get ready for the next play during this time.
Regardless of the results of the play, if you choose to hold on to it, it could have a negative effect on the next play. The ability to deactivate and reactivate is a skill, as is the ability to focus and refocus. The better you use your time from the whistle to the snap, the better you will be from the snap to the whistle.
This is an excerpt from Complete Conditioning For Football, by Pat Ivey, MSCC, and Josh Stoner, MSCC. Their influence made its mark during the University of Missouri’s run of bowl games and Big 12 North championships. The book is available through Human Kinetics.