How to Move on From Mental Scars in Sports
The past can sometimes haunt athletes. For example, past mistakes, missteps and missed opportunities can prevent you from playing your very best right now. I call these “mental scars.”
Despite the recognized danger of living in the past, many athletes can’t get over these mental scars from the past.
Reliving or revisiting bad plays high-jacks your confidence–and your focus. Thinking about how you messed up doesn’t give you feedback on how to play differently.
What you or your athletes focus on is a choice, so choosing to dwell on mistakes is like purposely and personally fracturing your confidence and programing more poor play.
And a side note… This can lead to playing it safe when you focus on avoiding making the same mistakes you made–in the future.
Have you even been overtaken by negative thoughts? Did those negative thoughts motivate you to perform better? Did those negative thoughts raise your level of play afterwards? Furthermore, has negative thinking ever enhanced your confidence?
If you want to improve confidence, you must make a choice on what you will focus your mental energy on. You have three choices… You can focus on the past, future, or present, but only one option will lead to peak performance: the present!
The question then is: How can you shrug off the past mistakes and focus 100 percent on the next play?
This is the same question Philadelphia Eagle wide receiver Josh Huff asked after under-performing during his first two years in the NFL.
During his first two years in the NFL, Huff would beat himself up after every dropped pass which admittedly crushed his confidence. Huff realized if he was to have a successful NFL career, he needed to focus on clearing his mind of any negativity.
As a first step in developing a new mindset, Huff sought the help of a sport psychologist.
HUFF: “I have been talking to a [sport] psychologist about football. I have been too hard on myself when dropping balls. I also know that it will happen in this league. It’s a long season; you’re not going to catch every pass. That’s what I had to realize.”
Huff learned to immerse himself in the present moment by moving forward after the last play finished and focusing on the play he is actively engaged in.
This strategy has helped Huff play with the confidence needed to let go of past drops and make receptions, especially the ones that are routine catches.
HUFF: “Regardless of if we drop a ball or mess up on a play, we have to shake it off and move on to the next play. Not every play is going to be perfect, and we are not going to catch every ball.”
Huff is determined to have a break-through year by adopting a ‘see ball, catch ball’ mentality.
If you want to have a break-through game or season, stop dwelling on past mistakes and focus on what you can directly control… your effort, execution, and focus on the present moment.
Strategies to Stay Focused in the Moment
Change the Channel – After each play, you need to actively change the mental TV channel.
Let go of the past by reminding yourself that you can’t get a do-over or get it back. The best thing is to move on and focus on a strong finish.
If you make a mistake, say “that’s over” and refocus on the next, play, pitch, or touch.
Don’t waist your mental energy on past mistakes. Save them for the next practice when you can use them to learn and grow!
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