Monday, June 14, 2010

Mind Gym

"What you think affects how you feel and perform. Training your brain is as important as training your body."-Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence

If there's one thing I learned at the Regional CrossFit Competition it's this: I need to SERIOUSLY work on my mental game! If I had to make a list of all the things I excel at in CrossFit, I think it'd be pretty long...Cleans, Deadlifts, Burpees, Thrusters, Ring Dips...I've spent the last year trying to master all of the physical movements in CrossFit (though I still need work on some of them....(hello handstand push ups and muscle ups!) but there's one thing that I've been completely ignoring, my mind!

Taking a look back at my athletic life, I can't really remember a time when I've ever thought about my mental game. A good friend of mine explained it to me like this. "Natural athletes have never had to rely on anything except their physical abilities and when they finally reach a point in their athletic careers where it takes more than just their bodies to achieve greatness, they falter."

Growing up, I was always a natural athlete. I started playing organized sports at a very young age and transitioned seamlessly into Junior High Athletics. I was always on the A-team. I played Junior Varsity Volleyball as a Freshman when all my friends were still on the Freshman team. I was a starter for the Varsity as soon as I made the team. When I got to college, things weren't quite as easy for me. I walked on to the Trinity University Volleyball team, but by 2 months into my Sophomore year, I had earned a starting position and kept it until I graduated in 2007. But that was then....this is now! Now, I don't walk into the gym knowing that nobody can beat me. You see, back then, I didn't need to rely on my mental game to make me a better athlete. I knew how to play the game and I just did it, without thinking about it and this unfortunately has left with a big handicap to overcome.

At the end of day one at the Regional CrossFit event, I was in 14th place and I was happy. 14th out of all the competing Crossfitters in Texas, Oklahoman, New Mexico, and Louisiana was pretty damn good in my mind. I knew that I couldn't physically finish the fourth and final workout on day two, but I figured if I competed really well on the 3rd workout, I'd have a chance to keep my spot in the top 15. Day two rolls around and I'm in the first heat for the 3rd workout: 100 double unders then 3 rounds of 10 deadlifts @185# and 1 sandbag sprint then 1000 meter row to finish it off. I was feeling pretty good about it. 185 pounds wasn't anywhere close to my max and I'd been doing really well with my double unders lately. But as soon as that clock started and I started my jumps, I was in trouble. I only got through about 20 some odd double unders before I messed up and immediately my mind started racing. How was I supposed to win if I had already messed up?? How many other people were having trouble with their double unders?? And that's where I lost mind was so busy worrying about what everyone else was doing and berating myself for messing up, that I completely "checked out" for the rest of the workout...I had the whole rest of the workout to do!! How much time could I have made up if I just gritted my teeth, finished those double unders, and then raced through my strengths (deadlifts and the sandbag)?? But I had given up. When the day was done and I was lamenting my 24th place finish, I came to a strange realization. The reason I was so upset about it was that, deep down, I knew that I hadn't given it my all. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I had actually given it my all in a workout.
"You know what your problem is right?" One of my friends said to me on the way home. "You don't have a mental game. You don't gather yourself and focus. You don't come to win...You just come to do a workout." I guess I should have been upset about this comment, I mean come on...I just finished 24th in the whole region! But he was right...I don't have a mental game. I don't focus, I don't think about what I have to accomplish, I don't visualize myself winning...and because of that, I don't win.

And this has led me to my new summer goal, finding my mental game. I have so far purchased "Mind Gym: An Athletes Guide to Inner Excellence", "The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, Physical Conditioning from One of The World's Premier Sports Psychologists", and "The Mental Edge". Hopefully by Sectionals next year, I won't be looking back at my performance wondering how much better I could have done if I had only tried harder!

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