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Tryouts: 3 Mental Tools To Cope With The Pressure

It's that time of year for some people! Depending on who you are, tryout season may be something you look forward to, or something you absolutely dread. And some strategies may help but others may not. I know for me personally if someone said, "just have fun. Go out there and enjoy yourself," I was not listening because that didn't seem possible for me! I needed something more stress relieving than that. So don't wait until the last minute to be mentally prepared. Start developing more sustainable tools you need now. Through this blog I will be using soccer examples, but these are applicable to any sport or performing art.

Spotlight Technique: Also known as the "floating field" or "island" technique. In this mental skill you close your eyes and picture you're competing at tryouts. Now I want you imagine all of the lights go out and it's pitch dark, whether you are indoor or outdoors. Suddenly one light turns back on and is only shining on the field, you and the other players. The light does not reach beyond the lines of the field or court. Coaches and parents are no longer visible. Keep your eyes closed and continue to perform or compete for as long as you can. This can also be done with the image of a field floating in the clouds or on an island floating in the water. Either way you can only see what's within the lines, taking your focus off of what is outside of the lines, giving you more control over your actions. After practicing this with your eyes closed, try it out with your eyes open when you are at training or competing in a match.

Process Goal-Setting: In this performance psychology tool, make a commitment to focus on what is 100% within your control, and create goals around those actions. For example, you may want to score a goal at tryouts, but that is a performance goal, not a process goal. In that specific example, you would need to be on the field in a goal-scoring position, with enough time to get a clear chance on target. Instead focus on actions that you are always in control over such as, "I will focus on putting my shots on target," or "I will be more aggressive for every tackle I make." Make 2-3 of these goals for yourself, both on and off the ball that are task focused and are applicable for however much time you have on the field, for whatever position you may be playing.

Tactical Breathing: Has anyone ever told you to take a deep breath? Well that's a good start, but let's be more intentional about this. Tactical breathing is a sport and performance psychology tool that the Navy Seals implement with their soldiers. Can you imagine the level of stress they will feel in combat? They understand it's better for their accuracy and rational decision making to clear their minds. When we get stressed or over-excited, the sympathetic nervous system gets activated causing sensations such as increased heart-rate, shallow breathing, sweaty or clammy hands, and muscle tension. A tactical breath helps reduce those symptoms to allow for clear execution. A 4 second inhale through the nose and 4 second exhale through the mouth already starts to activate the parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for relaxing you. If you can repeat this 2-3 times when you're not immediately engaged in the exercise or activity, this allows for you to let your skills take place without the fog of emotion and anxiousness clouding your mind.

Try these out in advance before tryouts! You can use these mental coping strategies in a game or competition as well. There are plenty more mental skills tools to use but I figured I would share one that is image based (spotlight), one that directs our energy (process goal setting) and another that is immediately symptom relieving (tactical breathing). I hope these help and best of luck!

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