# 1 Goal Setting
Goal setting can be used in multiple aspects of sport psychology. In goal setting we use short-term and long-term goals. When you think about goal setting it helps to think about it like a road trip. The long-term goal is like the destination. Where do you want to end up at the end of a season, year, or significant amount of time? The short-term goals are the places you stop for gas and food along the way. They are check-in points that help you reach your final destination. It is important to have short and long-term goals.
These goals should always be phrased in a positive way. Instead of saying “I won’t do (name behavior)”, you would say “I will do (name target behavior)”. If you phrase things negatively you will focus on the negative and then it is more likely to happen. By phrasing things with the behavior you would like to accomplish it sets you up for success.
Goals needs to be specific and measurable. If your goals are stated vaguely, how will you know if and when you accomplish them? Goals can include rep/set numbers, number of completed passes, number of points scored, sticking a routine a certain number of times in a row, etc…. Stating a goal like, “I want to be the best” isn’t necessarily measurable. How will you know if you’re the best or not? Having specific and measurable goals also facilitates checking- in with your goals. You will better be able to judge your improvement, which will increase confidence.
When using goal setting it is important to check on your goals every day. Take 5 minutes before practice to write down what you would like to get out of practice that day. Then, take 5 minutes after practice to reflect. Did I accomplish my goals? Then state why you did or did not accomplish your goals. Periodically it is important to look at your short-term goals and assess if you are achieving them, if they are helping you reach your long-term goal, and how can you improve on what you’ve done already to get closer to your goals. If your short-term goals are not working effectively feel free to re-assess and adapt so that they are productive.
Athletes will not be aware of the need to gain control unless they first identify their own ideal performance state and can contrast that state with the present one. To summarize that, I will say, you can’t gain control if you don’t realize you’ve lost control. This is where practicing focus is used.
To help you figure this out you can use “check-ins”. Check-ins determine if your current state (arousal level, focus, motivation, positivity…) is appropriate and, if not, adjust. You can use check-ins after each play, game, or while watching film.
It is also good to have appropriate focal points to help lock-in your concentration. Depending on the sport, or position, these focal points will vary. Football can use things like the snap, or play motions. Baseball can use the pitch or ball movement. Basketball can use rebounds, shot motion, the shot clock, or play motion. Soccer can use ball movement, play motion, or keeper position. These focal points are things you should be expecting and ready for. If you set it up, these things can become anticipated actions that flow smoothly.
You should also practice and master the basic skills. If you haven’t learned the fundamentals, like throwing motion or pitch form, the more complex tasks will become overwhelming and much more difficult. It is also very beneficial to have a routine. You can have routines before the game, during the game, in between plays, and in between competitive events. These routines will give you a sense of control. When things start to feel out of control on the field, if you stick with your routine it will give you the control back.
In life the only person you can control, is you. Everyone makes their own decisions. You can inform, guide, instruct… but in the end the individual will make the choices. If your activity is dependent upon a team it can be frustrating when teammates aren’t performing their role effectively. There are times when no amount of yelling will correct the problem. Take a different route instead! Control yourself, practice your routines so that no matter what happens on the field you are in control of yourself.
# 3 Focal Cues
Focal cues are triggers that help you remember an action during your sport. It will help you refocus your attention and stop negative or distracting thoughts. Focal cues can be a word, phrase, or acronym. For example, if you want to remember to watch the ball at the snap, you would say “ball” to yourself.
There are 3 things to consider when creating a focal cue: personal, positive, and short.
Personal: A focal cue should be personal to you. To help create a focal cue, you can ask yourself “What do I want to accomplish with this task?”, “How should I perform this task?”, and/or “What kind of athlete do I want to be?”. If these questions make you think of a specific word that may be your focal cue.
Positive: Focal cues, just like goals, should be phrased positively. Negative self-talk only produces negative actions. Focus on what makes you better, don’t waste time criticizing yourself.
Short: It is important for focal cues to be short. You can’t give yourself a long pep talk in the middle of a play. You want the focal cue to be short but memorable. Something that stands out and that will trigger you to carry out a specific action. For instance, if you want to remember to stay low and drive your feet, you would say “drive” or “low and drive” to yourself. It doesn’t take very long to say, short and to the point. You can repeat this in your head during the action to help you body remember to do the actions.
You can use focal cues for more that just an action. They can also be used to change a mindset. If you start getting frustrated, upset, angry, lost, unfocused… any unwanted emotion, come up with something that helps you refocus and stay positive. As soon as you start to feel the unwanted emotion you repeat this word or phrase and forget the other emotion.
Include these focal cues in your goal setting. Practice using them in practice so you have them in your tool belt for games. Set goals for yourself to use it a certain number of times in practice. Be mindful of your practice; physical and mental.
# 4 Imagery
Imagery is using your senses to recreate or create an experience with the mind. The key for you is to learn to use imagery in a productive and controlled way. It will help you learn from mistakes and program your mind and body to better respond. Imagery can teach you to learn from mistakes by imagining what should have happened immediately after a play, after the game, or while watching film. You can also create new experiences by imagining running a specific play and imagine the play working the exact way you intend.
When using imagery you should only imagine things going well, stay away from negative imagery. If you’re imagining a play going wrong, use that image to find the solution. Conquer the obstacle with your imagery to prepare yourself to act in competition. Use control with your images, stay focused and away from daydreams. This is mental practice, practice specific plays or techniques.
When you practice imagery there are 2 ways to see things: from an outside point of view (POV) or an internal POV. Practice from an internal POV. Seeing things in practice the way you see it in a game will make you adapt to game situations. Use the focus cues you have in your imagery to help make it more game-like.
Imagery will help manage thoughts and emotions. It will keep you level headed or help shake off a bad play or game. You can use it to control your excitement levels too. If you need to get more excited, imagine playing aggressively with a large loud crowd cheering in the stands. If you need to calm down, imagine a tough situation that you handle perfectly with quiet anticipation. This is something you should practice daily. I have things that can walk you through this step-by-step, if you need it.
#5 Reduce Burnout
Athletes can experience burn-out, a withdrawal noted by reduced sense of accomplishment, devaluation/resentment of sport, and physical/psychological exhaustion. Basically, you feel exhausted and overwhelmed by your activity and it no longer makes you happy. There are a lot of reasons burnout can happen, but a big one is not taking time for you.
Some of the warning signs for burnout are negative mood shifts, a struggle to meet professional and personal obligations, feelings of disappointment and frustration, feeling physically tired, difficulty in communicating or unhappiness with social life, and a feeling of insufficient support from staff. When these are present you haven’t hit full burnout yet. There is still time to go back!
Symptoms of burnout are mental and physical exhaustion, feelings of isolation, low confidence, difficulty concentrating during performance, and feelings that their career is not moving forward and that their own contribution to the team is small or not valued by others. When you get to this point you’ve reached burnout.
To reduce burnout, you should follow these guidelines: play for your own reasons, balance your sport with other things, no fun- no play, try to make it fun, relax, and accept help with burnout. An important key is taking time to do something you enjoy. It can be by yourself or with other people, just do something to help you unwind. Allow your body and mind to reset and wash away previous struggles.