The way an athlete perceives his situation makes all the difference when it comes to anxiety and confidence (Sport Success 360). As we all know, athletes who experience anxiety often struggle with athletic success, while confident athletes usually play well (and sometimes even better than what others would expect). Anxiety bogs down an athlete’s thinking (often self-talk is negative and counterproductive), as well as behaviors (instead of playing loose and free, muscles become tense and tight and throw off important mind-body synchrony).
Interestingly, anxiety, or pressure, is almost always a manufactured mind state that can actually be dramatically improved upon. One sport psychology approach called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) suits this discussion perfectly. Using an REBT model, there are three important facets to consider when looking to improve sports mental toughness:
A) The activating event
B) The BELIEF the person has when thinking about the activating event
C) The consequences that follow the event based on the belief of that event
Stepping away from theory and using a real-life example, take a baseball player who struck out earlier in the game and is now stepping to the plate for his second at bat (AB) of the game. In this example the event , or “A” from the model above, is the upcoming AB. Notice, AB’s are not “good” or “bad,” or “right” or “wrong.” In other words, an AB is just that — an AB.
Now here is where it gets interesting – the BELIEF about the upcoming AB is completely subjective and under the control of the hitter. The batter gets to choose whether he will evaluate the upcoming AB as a scary threat (he might even say negative things to himself as he approaches the plate), or he can choose to look at the upcoming AB as a healthy challenge (in this example his mood state will be positive and his confidence will be high).
The consequences of thinking also play out according to thoughts – if the batter worries before approaching the plate, he will inevitably “feel” the nerves through a rapid heart rate, tense, muscles, and butterflies in his stomach. In this example he will also likely say negative things to himself (like “Don’t strike out again!”). On the other hand, if he approaches the plate looking at the AB as a challenge, his mind and body will stay in synchrony and his self-talk will be positive and productive. Guess which mindset will likely lead to a hit?
Think about how the A-B-C’s play into our everyday lives — how many times have you allowed negative thinking to dictate a life outcome? The great news is we get to choose the way we think, even if it is not always easy to do. Athletes profit by learning this as they can then begin to play in the moment and disregard things that have happened earlier (like the 1st inning strike out) and instead get excited about the next AB. This approach strengthens resiliency, too, as failures are viewed within a more accurate and responsible context — that is, everyone fails in life but it is what we do with failure that counts!
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