Providing the Mental Edge, Part II
This part II of Providing the Mental Edge will build the foundation of the Mental Edge Pyramid below which was developed as a Model of Mental Toughness by sport psychologists Dr. Rick McGuire, Dr. Amber Selking and myself.
Mental toughness begins with examining and then optimizing the motivation for the athlete. Ideally the motivation for the athlete is intrinsic, internal, approach based, and positive. Determining if the motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic is based on the source of the reward – the athlete knowing inside, “I did a good job” (intrinsic) vs. receiving praise from someone else for doing a good job (extrinsic). Although extrinsic praise and recognition can be helpful and motivating, true mental toughness requires the athlete being intrinsically motivated. This will ensure when things get tough and naysayers come out of the woodwork, the athlete has the intrinsic reward coming from within to stay mentally tough.
The source of the reward mentioned above is closely tied to the source of the driver. An athlete that is internally driven will be more mentally tough than one who is externally driven to perform. To drive this point home, consider the athlete who is driven from within to succeed versus the athlete whose father or mother wants them to play the sport. The athlete who is internally driven to perform will better use their mental toughness as an advantage.
The next aspect of motivation of the athlete is determining the direction of the intended action. An athlete with an approach-based intention will be thinking along the lines of “I want to be the best.” Athletes who are the opposite and have avoidance-based intention are performing solely to avoid a negative action, “I don’t want to get yelled at.” Think of the impact each approach will have during the countless reps throughout practice. One is working toward mastery, another is avoiding perceived negative consequences.
The fourth and final aspect of determining the motivation is within a positive or negative ethical context. To demonstrate the difference, think of the athlete who will do everything within their powers, and within the rules, to win the game (positive) versus the athlete who will win at all costs, despite the rules (negative). The old saying, “If you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying,” doesn’t hold water when it comes to mental toughness. An athlete with a positive ethical context sport will have the leg up on their negative counterparts.
With an understanding of determining motivation, we can begin Thinking Right in sport. Our most basic understanding of Thinking Right is knowing that wrong thoughts, including negative and distracted thoughts, hurt sport performance. Right thoughts, including positive and focused thoughts, help sport performance. Learning to think right is a skill, and like any other skill, Thinking Right can be learned and developed.
Focus is the goal of Thinking Right – to be able to focus on every play, and then re-focus for the next. Focus leads to great performance with an athlete being totally in the present and totally in the moment. It turns out focus is just a thought, which means it’s controllable and it also means you have a choice to take that control.
We’ve gotten a bit ahead of ourselves though, let’s get some basics covered on how we think. People are capable of thinking one thought at a time, and I think my thoughts (one at a time) and you think your thoughts (also one at a time). I pick my thoughts and you pick yours, neither of us can make the other think anything because I am responsible for my thoughts and you are yours. This means if I find myself with a wrong, negative, or unwanted thought, I have the choice to pick a different, right thought; same goes for you and your thoughts.
Although it may seem redundant, most people have been very hesitant to believe we are each in complete control of our own thoughts. We like to give control over to a bad call, the weather, an injury of key player and let that explain away an athlete’s lack of focus. However, developing the skill of Thinking Right allows an athlete to assume complete control of their thoughts, and thus their performance. We can choose great performance.
Now back to focus … focus is way more than just concentration. Focus is the well spring of peak performance, of being ‘in the zone,’ and the feeling of ‘flow.’ Focus is the key to great performance because it allows for being totally in the moment, in the present, in control, composed, poised, concentrated, ready, engaged, resilient, and tough. Having focus also allows an athlete to re-focus when the time comes. Focus and its resulting effects mentioned above inspire an athlete’s confidence and trust in themselves.
People are capable of thinking one thought at a time.
Focus is a thought which means it’s a skill that’s completely under our control, we can choose focus. In choosing focus, we allow ourselves proper time orientation. I mentioned before the ability to re-focus in time for the next play.
From Dr. Rick McGuire, “Whistle to the Snap”, Time Orientation (Reardon).
As shown by the time orientation spectrum above, the past is a time for evaluation where we learn from great performances, mistakes and from others. The future is a time for planning, goal setting, game planning and practice. The present is where the magic happens and choosing to focus allows us to be present in our present.
“The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift, that’s why they call it a present.” Be present in your present. Think Right.
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