Athletes today spend a vast number of hours honing their craft, working on various physical techniques hoping it pays performance dividends at future competitions. Athletes hire private coaches, spend extra time after practice and dedicate themselves to their sport throughout the year. Athletes analyze, evaluate, examine and dissect minute details of technique as they attempt to discover more optimal ways of performing. Great! Hard work is of tremendous value to anyone in search of achieving new standards in any life endeavor. If work works, why do some athletes fail to reap the rewards from their efforts? Though there are many reasons why some athletes have difficulty transferring their physical skills training to competition, this article will examine the issues of over-thinking and its performance effects.
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Let me illustrate how over-thinking can affect performance…
While in school, did you ever study hours for a test and feel completely confident that you knew the material? Then, as you started filling in the answers, you got to that ONE question… You knew the answer… You remembered reviewing the information… It was on the tip of your tongue but you just couldn’t seem to recall the information. You attempted to think harder but to no avail. As soon as you left the room, the answer came flooding to the forefront of your mind. Basically, you knew the information but that over-thinking interfered with its retrieval. Over-thinking creates a narrow internal focus which initiates the stress response and interrupts performance.
When athletes over-think in sport, it freezes them slightly. In baseball, that narrow, internal focus causes batters to hesitate, resulting in late swings and slower reaction times. Let’s examine hitting further: It takes less than a half second for a pitch to reach home plate but often, during games, hitters give themselves detailed reminders of what they are working on in practice. Think of how long it takes to describe just one technical aspect of your swing. In fact, try timing yourself describing this technical aspect. Is it longer than .5 second? There is potentially a lot to think about while in the batter’s box hitting (loading, stance, stride, hips, swing, contact, follow through, etc) and that can be problematic. To complicate matters, hitters mired in slumps, typically dissect and think about their technique even more. I’m not advising baseball players to abandon batting practice, I am merely suggesting there are more effective approaches to hitting that counter the internal dialogue and increase the likelihood of successful at-bats.
So what can you do?
Take a deep breath – Deep breathing is the quickest and easiest way for an athlete to relax, lessening the stress response.
- Routine – A player should have a consistent pre-swing routine which helps the hitter focus on external physical actions rather than internal thoughts. Make sure this routine is implemented in each at-bat in practice and games.
- Cues – Identify 2-3 cue words to remind yourself of the technique you have been practicing instead of a lengthy description. After your pre-swing routine, say cue words to yourself. (ex. “hands in,” “stay back” or “follow through.”
- Readiness – Perform one physical act to signal readiness to yourself (ex. tap plate).
- Practice the way you want to play – The key to staying relaxed is to use these techniques in practice, make these techniques a habit. The desired mindset you want in the batter’s box during games should be the same mindset you target in every practice at-hat. Remember, no success happens by accident.
To summarize, there is nothing more beneficial than hard work. If you can outwork teammates and opposing players, you will put yourself in position to succeed. Commit to work because work works! What you practice will become habit, so practice the way you want to play. When game time rolls around, the majority of your work is done. No one ever won a baseball game by thinking about playing, games are won by playing.
Joe Weber, M.Ed. is the CEO and Director of Performance Enhancement at MINDSPORT mental training systems. MINDSPORT provides mental training for elite and professional athletes. Joe is widely considered by many as one of the most effective and successful consultants in the field. He has consulted with collegiate and nationally-ranked athletes, elite coaches and professional teams with positive results and has authored numerous Mental Training articles for sport journals and magazines. Joe specializes in performance enhancement and injury management. Joe Weber is a member of the International Society of Sport Psychology, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, and the International Positive Psychology Association. To learn more about MINDSPORT, visit us at: www.mindsportonline.com.