Do You Have The Mind Of A Champion?
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
RPM Sand is approaching 2,000 medals won as a club in the last 7 years. We have won 6 national championships, and have 20 different players who have top 5 finishes at national championships. The environment is that of champions. It starts at the top in the way things are prepared for kids. The avenues we extend to them to interact with other champions. The confidence we have in them, and in turn, the confidence they develop in themselves. Check our our video for when we reached 1,000 medals. See if you recognize any of the faces in it.
This morning I woke up to some messages asking me to discuss the mental side of the game. I really am glad to be connecting with so many athletes and so many coaches. I am humbled to think they want my advice on these things. It was interesting to have gotten messages from both players as well as coaches on this topic. I'm not sure if the coaches were asking how to get through their own mental blocks or to help their players get through them. Hopefully I will hear back from those coaches to get a little more in depth with what it is that they are wanting to know.
As far as the mental side of the game is concerned for athletes, this topic is not easy. Each player and each individual is different. I will give you some of my own tips and tricks on overcoming my own mental challenges, developing mental toughness, as well as what what I have done in stressful moments in matches to help me to overcome. Then, I will point you in the direction of a pro.
For me, the mental side of sports has been interesting to try to figure out. Having played so many different sports growing up, from baseball to football to basketball to soccer and then volleyball, I had a lot of experience with what that looks like in different areas. I was a really good soccer player but not a great baseball player. I could dominate on a volleyball court, but would be made to look foolish in basketball games. You would think, you are either mentally tough or you aren't. You either are a gamer or you aren't. I would have to personally disagree with that statement. My personal view on mental toughness is that mental toughness is a result of physical preparedness. Let me say that again, mental toughness is a result of physical preparedness. What do I mean by that? Well, let's take the sports of soccer and baseball for instance. I trained for hours a day every day for years for soccer. I could do things with a soccer ball at my feet that most kids my age couldn't. then I would step up to the plate in a baseball game, scoot all the way to the back of the batter's box, and flail at the ball. If I made contact, I would try to dig it out for a hit, but I ended up striking out a lot. I was never confident.
I truly believe that if you can have belief in yourself, belief in how hard you have worked, and belief in the training that you have received, when that big moment comes, you will have belief in yourself. When I was on a soccer field as a kid, I knew that I was going to get the opportunity to score the game winning goal for my team. I knew it and I looked forward to it. I wanted that opportunity and I must have envisioned it about a million times. I would lay there in bed at night before games with my ball in my hands thinking about it. You see movies all the time where a kid has a vision of himself being the hero for the team and getting carried around on the team's shoulders. Well, that was me. I would go to sleep and I would dream about soccer. I would dream about what games would be like and I would dream about winning. It became a mindset for me at an early age. Heck, I still dream about soccer and winning games.
How did that mindset come about? How did i develop the confidence in myself and in my game to get to the point where I had dreams about it? How could I carry that confidence into one sport but not another? Why does a mindset work for some situations and not others? For me, it always came down to preparation. When my dad asked me as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told him that I wanted to be a professional athlete, he put a sign on my ceiling above my bed that said, "While you lay here, somewhere, someone is practicing. When you meet him in head to head competition, he will beat you."
When you wake up to a statement like that every morning, you start to truly ponder the meaning of it. If you re-read it, you will see that it didn't say, "you will lose". It said, "he will beat you'. Interesting word choice. You see, anyone who is an athlete knows the difference between losing and being beaten. That simple statement, that simple choice of words shaped my view on competition. It told ME that you don't lose, you are beaten. In my mind that meant that if I worked harder than the other person and prepared myself better than that person that there was NO WAY he could beat me. That stuck with me. Every time I had success, I would attribute it solely to my preparation. Every time I didn't, I would attribute it to my lack of preparation and go back and prepare harder. I wan't confident at baseball because I didn't train for it. I knew other people trained harder and I had to accept that. Probably why I quit playing baseball and focused on soccer.
As I began to play volleyball, I wasn't great at it. I was tall, I could jump, I was agile, I was fast, I had a lot of attributes that would make a great volleyball player. in the beginning I lost. A lot. In fact, in my first doubles tournament my male partner and I lost to a coed team with a girl who was about 5'5" but had incredible ball control. I accepted that I wasn't there with my training yet. Did I get lucky a few times and beat teams that had trained harder than me? Absolutely! I was just beginning to play. My mindset was that I had to play more, play harder, get more reps. As my preparation came, so did my confidence. I went from timidly shooting balls on match point to trying to see how big of a hole I could make in the sand with the ball when I swung. As my game developed even those shots on match point became confident. I began to think about volleyball as much as I had soccer. I would show up early to play and ask anyone who was there if they would set me. If no one was there, I would hit jump serves and chase them. My buddy Shane and I would pepper in my front yard for hours to get touches on the ball. i played in as many leagues and tournaments as I possibly could. If the competition wasn't the best, I would work on setting. If it was great I would work on blocking and hitting.
Did mental toughness come quickly? No, it developed over time. Was I the best player on the court every time I stepped on the court? Absolutely not! Did I think I could beat anyone I played against later in my career? I would have to say that other than a few match-ups, I would have to say yes, I did. I was constantly visualizing success. I was constantly watching other players play and stealing the best parts of their game and making them my own. I was constantly forming strategies for how to beat other players.
It isn't what you do in the moment that makes you a gamer or not a gamer. It's all of the things that you do in the moment that put you in the position to be successful. Last night on our Zoom call with our team, I asked two of our alumni how many days a week they trained with us while they were in juniors to be prepared for college. I wanted the juniors that were on the call to get a real picture for what it takes to put yourself in a position to be the confident and successful players these two have become. Both of them said that they trained with us four days a week and they said it like that was just the norm. For them, their preparation is their confidence.
While we have a lot of very talented athletes in our program currently, I wanted them to be able to do some reflection on their own training habits. What are their goals? Do their levels of commitment to their game match those goals? Are they truly as dedicated to their goals as they tell themselves that they are? Are they getting in the extra training they need outside of practice? Are they studying film? If your goals only require you to train two days a week, that is AWESOME! I am NOT by ANY MEANS knocking training two days a week. You can become a very solid volleyball player by playing a couple of days a week. Your athletic talent might even get you to college doing it! If your goals are to play at a top 25 division 1 program, then your training needs to match that though.
We are currently quarantined. The parks have taken the nets down. We are supposed to stay six feet from other people. This time right here is where the players who are truly dedicated to their goals will find ways to get reps. They won't be the ones that wait for practice to come back. The players who are truly dedicated to their goals are still getting reps every single day of this. They are the ones who when the game is on the line will have the confidence to finish it. They are the ones who will have the confidence to close the game out when we come out of this quarantine against the ones who didn't.
You have all seen it. The athlete who seems to play better when the game is on the line and the athlete who shrinks to the shadows. The athlete who plays with a chip on their shoulder as the underdog and comes back to win, and the athlete who is a front runner and plays better than anyone on the beach when things are going right but disappears with the game on the line after a couple of mistakes. I can almost guarantee you that if you looked at the amount of training those two players had put in side by side there is a HUGE difference.
Some of the biggest and strongest guys on the beach would lose to my skinny, pale self in the sand because while they were working on their muscles, I was working on my touch. When they were mixing protein shakes, I was setting into the basketball hoop. The enemy of anxiety is preparation. All of us have something we feel like we are better than most people at. There are those kids in class that come in to take the test and finish first knowing they got 100%. They walk up to the front of the room and everyone stares at them. They have a smile on their face as they go sit down while the kid in the back is sweating bullets. Preparedness. It was my key, and it can be yours too if you are honest with yourself enough to accept that you can not cheat the grind. If you have ever had someone make a big comeback win against you, it is quite possible that you were out-prepared.
At RPM Sand our athletes work with a world renowned sports psychologist by the name of Dr. Jim Afermow. If you want to be that player that makes the big comeback win instead of having that big comeback win made against you, I highly suggest getting his book. "The Champion's Comeback: How Great Athletes Recover, Reflect, and Reignite"
If you are interested in the mindset of training like a champion, check out this title.
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