As you progress in your sport, you will receive instruction from many sources including your parents, coaches, other players, videos, and books. To learn a new skill (or correct one that is deficient), you need to understand the fundamental movements that comprise the skill and how these movements flow together in a coordinated sequence. You will need to initially think about the skill, break it down, and analyze your execution of it.
When you’re competing, however, it’s essential that you trust the skills that you have learned and practiced. As the Nike motto says, you need to “Just Do It!”
Imagery Instead of ThinkingYou cannot think about how you will execute a skill during a game. If you do, you obstruct the subconscious body-mind connection that you've developed through hours of practice. This will slow reaction time and often destroy the natural flow needed to properly execute a skill. Likewise, observing yourself (as if you were a third person watching you) will also hurt your ability to perform well.
Confidence and positive imagery is instead the key to success. You must know that the ball will go in, and see it doing so in your mind’s eye. See yourself executing each skill with perfect form—without thinking through every step. Live in the moment of these images—picture your success.
For example, broad or triple jumpers in track need to get their approach’s steps down properly to achieve the longest jump. The last step should ideally land immediately before the far edge of the takeoff board. By repeating successful approaches and takeoffs in practice, the mechanics of this skill are ingrained within a jumper. Thinking about how this is done during a track meet will only inhibit the body’s ability to do what it has been trained to do. Instead, a jumper needs to cast away any doubts about footwork and envision a perfect approach, takeoff, jump, and final result.
When I played basketball in high school and college, I always approached the free throw line thinking that these “gimme” points were mine and envisioned the ball going through the hoop. Once I had begun the initial movement of my shooting motion, I would clear my mind, focus on the target, and let the hours of practice take over.
Use Trigger MovementsTo let “muscle memory” take over, incorporate trigger movements at the beginning of the skill. In golf, this might be a simple “waggle” of the club’s head before beginning your back-swing. For a basketball free throw, you might bounce the basketball four times to engage your body and then exhale immediately before beginning the actual shooting motion. Whatever your routine, do it the same way every time.
Practice your skills to the point that you don’t need to think about how you perform them. Trust your skills and play your game with confidence knowing that your body will follow your mind’s eye to the result you see and desire.
Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved