Hope Jones has a Master’s Degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Counseling. She played Division 1 college soccer where she was captain her junior and senior year. She has worked with youth athletes and college athletes on various mental training topics.
A Note to World Cup Haters
This World Cup has been interesting. And I’m not just talking about the games themselves, which have been in a league of their own. It has been interesting because of the amount of backlash the sport of soccer gets from those who are not fans of it. It is interesting to me that soccer, more than any other sport, tends to bring out haters. As if those who do not like soccer feel like it is imperative to shout their disdain for the sport from the rooftops. There are plenty of sports that I do not quite understand or I do not consider myself a huge fan of, but I have never in my life felt compelled to spend any energy on trashing those sports. After all, we are all competitors. We all should appreciate competition, no matter what form it takes.
Let me repeat that – we are all competitors. We have all had felt the nerves before a big game or before a big race. We have all trained for a goal knowing that moment when all the training comes together for race day/game day. We understand coaching, sweat, sacrifice, pride, doubt, fear – failing. We understand. We relate. Because that’s what people do. We relate to each other. We hear your stories at packet pick up about what certain races mean to you. We feel your excitement when you cross the finish line, accomplishing what you set out to accomplish. We feel your disappointment when you have to drop out of a race. We relate to competition, no matter the form, because we are all competitors. So instead of patting yourself on the back because you do not like soccer, take a moment to appreciate that those players and all the fans are feeling what you feel when you compete. You are not as different from them as you may think you are. You are a competitor, just like they are.
“The golden opportunity you are seeking is in yourself. It is not in your environment; it is not in luck or chance, or the help of others; it is in yourself alone.” ~Orison Swett Marden
Each day when we wake up we are given an opportunity to be better. Better parents, better workers, better athletes, better spouses, better people. Some days we seize these opportunities and crush them, and other days we spend unnecessary energy blaming everyone around us for things not working out the way they are supposed to. What really defines us and our character is how we respond in less than ideal situations. Think back to the events this season that did not go the way you planned. Think about how you performed in those events; how you reacted when you realized things were not going to go as you planned. Anyone can compete and challenge themselves when conditions are perfect, but how do you respond when curve balls are thrown your way?
As you think about that response, compare it to a similar situation that is not sport related. Are your responses consistent? Do you tend to roll with the punches easier in a work or home environment rather than a sport environment or vice versa? If so, it is essential that you take the time to examine these situations and the factors involved that push you to react differently. What factors enable you to be more flexible in one situation but more rigid in another? If your reaction to less than ideal conditions and decisions is consistent, then is this reaction positive or negative? If it is a positive reaction, that does not mean that you like the conditions, but it means that you are able to adjust your preparation and game plan to the new “rules.” If it is negative, that means that you are unable to make any adjustments and your entire experience becomes a catastrophe.
In any event and in any situation that you will encounter or experience in your life, there is one common factor in every single one of them. You. There is nothing else that will be exactly the same, and there will always be, ALWAYS BE, factors that are completely out of your control. The only thing you can control in unfavorable situations is yourself and your reaction to your environment. It is in these decisive moments that we can make a choice. We can choose how this moment and how our reaction will define our character. We can choose to be better. We can choose to take the opportunity as exactly what it is, an opportunity to prove to ourselves how incredible we can really be.
Post Season Wrap Up, Winter Goals
“The common conception is that motivation leads to action, but the reverse is true — action precedes motivation. You have to prime the pump and get the juice flowing, which motivates you to work on your goals. Getting momentum going is the most difficult part of the job, and often taking the first step is enough to prompt you to make the best of your day.” ~Robert McKain
For many of us, the end of one season of training marks the beginning of a new season of training or lack of training. Winter months often are a test for many of us as we try to navigate training and fitness through cold, harsh, less than ideal weather conditions. Throw in holiday eating and family gatherings and we have a real possibility to begin to beat ourselves up over what we are NOT accomplishing. But we must not fret! The off-season is a great time to get yourself mentally ready to tackle a new year. With fresh goals and new training ideas, it is a great time to reassess the past year and set new goals for the next.
As athletes we are way too hard on ourselves if we miss a day of training or take too much time off. It is important to realize that time off is just as important as training. Our minds and bodies (and families) need a break. Oftentimes, all it takes is a little more time off than we were planning to get our fires burning to blaze a new trail. So the first rule of thumb as you take time to gear up for another season, allow yourself a break! After you have taken your much needed break, whether it is a day or two weeks, it is essential to take a look back at the past season’s goals. I have talked before about the importance of goals. Goals act like a map for your training. If you know where you want to go but have no plan or map of how to get there, then you are just going to be driving around in circles. This season recap also further illustrates the importance of writing those goals down. There’s an amazing thing that happens when you take a goal and put it to paper. It makes it real. So if you wrote your goals down for the past season (and even if you did not), pull that list out. Get your red pen out and go to town. Were your goals realistic? Were they too easy or too hard? Should they have been more specific? Did you knock them out of the park? We must constantly assess our goals and the process and make any changes that we see fit. The process of reassessing our goals allows us great self-awareness. Strengths and weaknesses become glaring if this process is done properly and intentionally.
Too often self-awareness goes unnoticed when it so essential to becoming a better athlete and a better person. When we take the time and intentionally evaluate and reevaluate where we have been and where we would like to be, we allow ourselves the opportunity to really be great if we are willing to pull out the red pen. Do not allow yourself to settle for less. The off season can be a great time for reflection and recreation of new and better processes, so do not let it go to waste. Remember, all it takes is a little movement to spur motivation. You have already shown what you are capable of, so there is no excuse to not continue that movement or restart the movement if needed.
Pre-Race Jitters: Making Anxiety Work For You
Butterflies. We have all gotten them at one point or another. Some of us get them each time we arrive at a race site. But alas! There is good news! This seemingly pesky feeling of anxiety that creates these “butterflies” is actually a good thing. Believe it or not, we actually need a certain amount of anxiety in order to perform at our best. The number of butterflies needed is different for every person. Some of us need a LOT of big, beautiful, colorful butterflies filling our core and others only need one or two Monarchs to do the trick. Think of it this way: anxiety is your body’s way of letting you know that there is meaning behind what you are doing, and the outcome of the task is important to you. What you are doing actually matters. If zero anxiety exists, not a butterfly a-fluttering, then the effort behind the task would be minimal. If too much anxiety exists, get the nets out because a swarm is coming, then it can hinder your performance level. It is important to find the level of anxiety (or arousal) that is optimal for your body.
Here’s a little tip to help you find this: Think back to your best performance. What are the sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings that come up for you when you replay this performance? Really connect with the images of this great competitive experience, as it is through this awareness that you will be able to recreate that experience. After all, how can we recreate a performance if we are not aware of what made the performance so great for us? What was your pre-race routine? What did you eat? Who did you talk to before/during/after the event? What was your anxiety(arousal) level? What thoughts were going through your mind during the performance? Increasing your awareness of the factors needed for YOU to perform at your optimal level will give you control over the butterflies. We are better able to harness our energy when we know what we need to spend it on. Besides, anxiety is essentially built up energy that needs to be told where to go.
So rather than trying to make the butterflies go away, try to get them to fly in formation. They are your greatest asset.
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