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Winning Techniques and Strategies to Stay Tough in the Clutch

By adam.warner - Last updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Looking for ways to help your players reach their potential during high pressure situations? Read on as renowned sport performance expert Chris Stankovich reveals proven techniques and strategies to stay tough and deliver in the clutch.

Tips During the Game

While it’s certainly most important for players to think about game strategies, plays, and the x’s and o’s, there’s a number of things you can do to help with mental toughness. Read on to learn about sure-fire ways to help kids reach their potential just by knowing a few tricks of the trade — key techniques so your players stay calm, cool and collected, and have that athletic confidence needed to have success in sports.

Arousal Regulation

Arousal is defined as human energy. Think of it along a continuum. On one end would be low arousal state, like when you are at home sitting in a recliner. This is when your focus is wide.

A high arousal state would be defined as any kind of panic situation, emergencies, or situations when you are frantic. Your focus is very narrow and not wide and this causes a lot of anxiety.

Therefore, the key to performance is to moderate that arousal level. When student athletes have very low arousal, this is when you want them to pick it up. In a high arousal state, it’s like game situations when the pressure is on.

The ultimate goal is to get players into an optimal arousal zone – -AKA “The Zone.”

Techniques to Get Into “The Zone”

It’s key to understand that arousal will vary. As you are coaching kids in the game, remind them about specific skills they can use during games they can execute that will help and provide maximum results.

1) Teach kids the importance of breathing. Teach kids to bring oxygen to their diaphragm. Our rib cage constricts our lungs, so we are able to bring in more oxygen into our stomachs. So teaching kids that in moments of panic, they want to learn the importance of taking two or three deep breaths into the stomach, holding for a few seconds, and then releasing. It quickly brings your arousal level down and helps center an athlete.

2) Tense/relax technique. When feeling nervous, focus on one muscle group at a time. The hands are a good place to start. Tighten your fists a few seconds, release, again, and then release again. This shakes out anxiety and puts the focus back on the athlete and not on the crowd or other factors. This is great for pre-game or stretching. You can even go through each muscle group, just do it one at a time.

3) Cue word. Pick a phrase that your players are comfortable with. If you see a kid nervous, remind them to think about that cue word. Pick the right places and moments to use this.

4) Imagery. During a timeout, remind kids to think of a good place, a past moment, and put your mind back into a good, positive emotionally charged place where they feel good. This is where they can go back and draw on an experience in which they were successful.

*Remember, while this is quick and easy to implement, the key is to make sure your players do them.

Resiliency

Think about teaching kids the importance of resiliency and developing a bounce back technique/strategy. This is something unique to each athlete that allows them to get their thinking back where it is supposed to be and back to a positive place.

Often you will see as a coach when players have a couple bad plays and the wheels fall off. You can tell they are losing it out there and you want to help them get their head back in the game and get back to that optimal level again.

Resiliency Goal: Pair something physical players do with a thought in their mind. It allows them to change their momentum, even if they are having a bad quarter, half, or game. This will allow them to stop that and get back in the game.

Ideas: Teach kids something simple like pinching grass and letting it go in the wind, symbolic for letting that play go. Another idea is during a timeout, have the athlete untie and retie their shoelaces.

Here, you are physically doing something to change momentum but also have that paired with, “Let’s get my head back in the game.” Normalize this. Teach kids that sometimes things will not go your way. So instead of letting the wheels come off, do something that will help stop that momentum and turn them back into your favor and a positive direction.

Tip: This should only be used in key situations. Don’t use the techniques every few minutes. Use it only when necessary.

The previous clips can be seen on Championship Productions’ DVD “Winning the Mental Moments: Developing Team Toughness in the Clutch.” To check out more performance training videos, check out our extensive video library.




4 Ways to Build Mental Toughness This Offseason

By adam.warner - Last updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In this week’s player development feature, we’ll focus on some off-the-field methods to get athletes to realize their full athletic potential. When it comes to fulfilling athletic and team potential and delivering in the clutch, mental toughness development is just as important as physical training and technical skill instruction. Athletic counselor and sport performance expert Chris Stankovich defines mental toughness before revealing some offseason strategies that will get athletes ahead of the competition.

What is Mental Toughness?

First, it’s key to illustrate the different components of athletic success.

1)    Physical. Players must be in good shape, pay attention to their diet, have an exercise routine, get rest, stretch, etc.

2)    Technical instruction. This pertains to the skillsets necessary to performing a certain sport. For lacrosse, it could be shooting, dodging, riding, passing, etc.

3)    Mental toughness. Here, it’s about making these previous things come together so you can play in perfect harmony. Your mind and body can be in sync so that you can play a sport effortlessly and with great confidence. Also, focus is key at the task at hand so you have a high motivation level from the beginning to end. It’s also about the ability to bounce back and have that element of resiliency in order to reach the highest level you can as an athlete.

The mental component is the piece that allows you to execute and play in games the same way you do in practice when there is no pressure. Remember, mental skills can be learned, and as a coach, the more you buy into the mental skills training, the easier it will be for your team to grasp and apply the concepts.

 

Confidence vs. Anxiety

Confidence is key for any sport. Often, the more confident you are, the better you will perform. Meanwhile, anxiety is often what leads to “choking.” This is when athletes know what to do and can perform in a practice situation, but not in games. It often begins with irrational fear, which is self-imposed pressure due to outside factors that have no impact on the game. If an athlete has this fear, typically it leads to anxiety. With anxiety comes shallow breathing, an accelerated heart rate, negative self-talk and sweat – and they all work against the mind-body sync and are detrimental to their play.

When anxiety happens, players play below their ability. It goes right back to the top of the model: More fear and anxiety and inevitably poor play.

It’s ideal to have mind-body synchrony or “flow.” This is being in that optimal zone where play comes naturally and you don’t have to really think about what you must do. It’s automatic. Here are some tips on how to begin developing that in the offseason.

Offseason Strategies for Developing Mental Toughness

Start developing your mental toughness strategies in the offseason or preseason. This is a great way to get ahead of the competition.

The first thing that athletes should do is Goal Setting. A number of studies have examined goal setting for teams who have set measureable, controllable goals, and compared the results to other teams that set no goals or “do your best” goals. The goal setting group almost always outperformed the second or third groups who didn’t set goals. When done properly, this can accelerate performance.

 

Key Components of Goal Setting

1) Get with your team during the offseason or preseason and talk to them, get to know each other, and start the goal setting here. Create a positive climate. When doing goal setting, kids should feel comfortable and loose and allow themselves to expand their minds and write down on paper what they want to achieve. As a coach, create that climate that allows kids to think about what they can accomplish and can look forward to.

2) Get the kids with a notebook and do some brainstorming. This isn’t necessarily good or bad or right and wrong, it’s whatever comes to mind. You want to prompt your athletes about some of the things you want to accomplish in the upcoming year. What do you want to improve? What type of player do you want to be looked at by the end of the season? This is imagery. It’s where the athletes see themselves by the end of the season. Encourage them to write whatever comes to mind, no matter if realistic or not or long term or short term.

3) Develop a goal ladder of long-term, mid-season, short-team and micro-goals.  Remember, the more specific you can get, the easier it is to track the progress. If it’s too difficult, they will no longer sustain motivation to that goal. If it’s too simple, you will also lose motivation. You must find a balancing point that sustains motivation.

Micro-goals are the little things, like being on time, being prepared, well rested, hydrated, etc. These daily things make all the difference. Long-term goals should be specific, measurable, challenging, realistic, and controllable.

Journaling

While it may be easier for girls than boys, journaling is a crucial piece to athletic success, but you must buy into it and encourage others to do it. As a coach, you must explain the importance of writing things down. Our memories are not that good. But here, all goals can be seen on a daily basis.

Every kid should have a notebook they can write in during the season. Remind them that professional and colleges athletes do this. Normalize this practice for them. It’s not just busy work. Date each entry and keep personal notes, like stats, ideas, feelings, questions to ask, goals to see growth.

There are three questions to get the most out of this. First, what did I do well today? This works on the confidence piece. Second, what do I need to improve upon? And third is “other”, anything the kid needs to do to prepare for the future. It could be academic related, too.

The dividends are huge here. You are essentially cataloging a training program. During the season, the kid can go back and see points, accomplishments, statistics and other things. It’s important to know that confidence development comes with time. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but it’s key to do it to get their confidence up as much as possible for the season.

The previous clips can be seen on Championship Productions’ DVD “Winning the Mental Moments: Developing Team Toughness in the Clutch.” To check out more performance training videos, check out our extensive video library.




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