One of the most difficult things as an athlete is to accept when things aren’t going our way. One of the most powerful things we can train ourselves to do is to completely accept the situation we’re in with out resisting it in any way. What does that mean??? Let me give you an example from my sport of baseball… Let’s say you’re up to bat and the count is 1-1. The pitcher delivers the pitch and the umpire makes a terrible call. Now you’re down 1-2. Most hitters get upset, they feel robbed of an opportunity where they would be in a more advantageous count. Their mind begins spiraling out of control, they become frustrated, maybe even angry over the blown call by the umpire.
But Ryan, the guy made a terrible call. Don’t I have reason to be upset? Maybe. But that’s not the point. The point is that your job is not to be upset or frustrated but have the ability to mentally put yourself in the best position possible to succeed on the next pitch. Let me ask you a question… In your entire career has getting upset over a blown call, bad weather, mistake by a teammate, playing time, ever changed the situation? Have you ever gotten upset with an umpire or an official and then after voicing your displeasure had him look at you and say, “You raise a good point. Ok I’ll change my call.” I’m going to go out on a limb and that’s probably never happened. Yet time and time again we allow the situation to dictate our mental state.
So why is this so important? Let’s look at what happens when we’re in a state of resistance and how that impacts your ability to perform. First of all when I say “resistance” what I mean is the mental resistance you have toward the situation. It’s the negative self-talk and subsequent feelings that go along with your frustration over things not going the way you want them to. When we’re in this resistant state our mind taps into our body’s primal fight or flight response.
What? Yes, when you don’t fully accept the present situation you are in a state of fear. Fear of failure, fear of letting your team down, fear of not being as good as think you are, whatever. Anytime we experience those negative, performance inhibiting thoughts and emotions you activate the fight or flight response. This response can cloud our thinking, shallow our breathing, increase our heart rate, increase muscular tension, and decrease fine motor movements. It’s these fine motor movements that allow us to execute our mechanics correctly. It’s these fine motor movements that make the difference between success and failure. So essentially your job as an athlete is to effectively manage your fight or flight response placing yourself in the best position to succeed.
So how do we do this?
Daily mindfulness/meditation practice
You can’t play in the moment or have your mind completely focused on the here and now without practicing being in the moment. Setting aside time each day to sit in quiet meditation is crucial to your mental development both as an athlete and in life. It develops within you the ability to stay focused on the present moment regardless of what your external situation might be.
Make acceptance a conscious decision
Before each practice or game it’s important to consciously remind yourself to completely accept whatever situation you may find yourself in. If the count is 1-2 then your job in that moment is to execute a quality swing on that 1-2 pitch if it’s in the hitting zone. Being frustrated or upset over the fact that the count is 1-2 is counter productive. Whatever the moment brings you then in that moment that is your job. You don’t have to like it but you do have to accept it.
Nothing brings us back to the present like our breath. If you find your mind focusing on past or future simply slow your breathing and listen to yourself breathe. By listening to our breathing we break the habit of allowing the situation to dictate our reality. Over time your mind will develop the ability to stay present and accept whatever situation may arise. But until then use your breath as a tool to return you to the here and now.
I’m not going to lie. Acceptance is much easier said than done. In any competitive environment it’s easy to let our ego get involved. It’s easy to become fixated on who’s to blame for our failures instead of accepting what’s happening and staying focused on what we can control. However, developing this ability to not resist whatever the present moment brings will not only help you perform to your highest capacity on the athletic field but also in any other aspect of life you choose to apply it to.