Sport Psych Wednesday with Brian Alexander - Perfect Time to Train


Perfect Time to Train: Mental Reframe of the “Perfect Shot”

Imagine you are at your favorite position in the pool and you see the right opening for a shot that you know you can make. You are watch as the ball moves around the perimeter and hear the splashing of the water as your teammates move the ball. Your defender looks out of position so you know you can make this shot. You call for the ball, “Ball!”, and as it sails over to you all you think is catch and shoot. Little did you know but the goalie also saw your opportunity and anticipates as the ball flies in the air to become ready for your shot. You catch and shoot and the goalie, a step ahead of you, proceeds to swallow up the block and in one motion signal the counter-attack.

Stop and ask yourself: What could I learn from this process? How would I want to respond?

This scenario is a common one in which a player with high aspirations and belief in themselves, lets the outcome of the shot impact their game for the next two to three minutes during play while they work to let it go. However, dwelling on the negative outcome of the shot may trigger more mistakes and induce a downward spiral of thoughts that takes you off your best performance mindset.

With the men’s collegiate and high school seasons finished and the women’s collegiate and some high school seasons just beginning, this time of year is the perfect opportunity for every water polo player to train themselves to learn to release their attachment to the outcome. It is also the perfect time to preview the next time you are in that position and start to imagine how to become adaptable and present minded so that you can adjust in real-time to make the shot.

Here are some mental skills to use in your training:

1. Reflect on your best past performance or goal in any game. Relive that experience with the vividness of the example at the beginning of this article. Repeat this imagined experience many times with as much detail as possible by including as many sensory experiences as you can (i.e. sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches…). The mind doesn’t know the difference between a dream and the actual event when you are in it.

2. Watch video of other high level athletes (like our national team players) whom you aspire to play like and study their movements. As you start to understand the fundamentals of their movement, try to replicate them in practice with your own style. Repeat and adjust again and again until you are seeing the result you want in practice and then try it in the game.

3. Finally, leave judgment of your play for the end of the game. Water polo is a fast-paced sport with missed shots and other mistakes as a central part of each game. The players who respond the way they would ideally like to rather than reacting with uncontrolled emotion will play their best game. Maintain a present-focused mindset so you see the opportunities in the game as they are presented.

At the end of the game, as you evaluate how well you or your team played, break down each movement into controllable process steps. You can create a mental scorecard for each shot, pass, counter, and defense that doesn’t focus on the end result but on whether or not you executed the fundamentals correctly. Reframe each game and moment within that game as a learning opportunity rather than a loss or mistake. You either win or you learn, the only time you lose is when you have given up.

If you are interested in one on one mental skills coaching or for your team, you can contact Brian Alexander via email: Alexander.brian3@gmail.com or at www.athletementalskillscoach.com Also follow him on Twitter @BA_POS_MIND on Facebook (Athlete Mental Skills Coach) or follow his biweekly blog post on LinkedIn.