The Mental Aspect

Take a two by six piece of lumber, say about 20 feet long. Put it on the ground on a flat surface where you have a clear path over the top of it. Now walk to the other side without falling off. Pretty easy isn't it? Now stretch that same piece of timber between two tall buildings and gather a group of several hundred people or so to watch from far below. Same piece of wood. Same width. Same length. But it's not quite the same is it?


Suddenly you are going to notice if there is even the tiniest crosswind blowing. You are going to check and make sure your shoelaces are tied perfectly. You are likely going to take a few minutes to mentally prepare yourself before you step out over the abyss. You might even take to the internet to find tips about tightrope walking and inquire if you can carry one of those long poles that they use for balance. You can't. Just you and 20 feet of space. That is if you do it at all.


When I was still coaching I always gave some variation of this speech a couple times per season.


This is the mental aspect. It's not about the fundamentals of walking. You already know how to do that. It's not about keeping your balance. Years of athletics have honed your ability to stay upright in tough situations. Of course you know HOW to do it. But can you? Or more importantly, WILL you. This is pressure. It's what you can't drill at practice. It what they neglect to tell you at the fancy camps you attend over the summer. It's what you don't develop playing off season sports because no one other than your mom is really interested in the results of those contests.


You might be able to walk across on your hands all relaxed over the summer. In December you might be able to hop across on one foot or do it backwards. That's great if it's helping you to cross it when the stakes are raised. I've seen guys who appeared to be able to do anything have their legs turn to jelly when the pressure was on. They inevitably have some ready-made excuse. After they always lost the high-pressure match they only wanted to talk about number of contests they won against freshman or personal statistics accumulated in contests no one saw. I LOVED competing against those guys.


Welcome to post season sports. Win or go home. Win or buy a ticket to watch any more games this season. I'm old and I've been around high school sports in one capacity or another my whole life. I'll let you in on a secret. No one will ever ask you who you beat in week two of the season. A few people might mention the home stretch. Postseason, though. Now that is a different story, isn't it? Everyone will care, and more importantly so will you and your teammates.


The regular season season exists to prepare you for the post season. It's why you don't get too down after you lose and you don't get too high after a win. Regardless of result, those contests are to be used as a barometer of where you are as a team and an individual. It's important not to let the emotion consume you following these games. Stay the course. Don't disrupt the path of your team or your goals because of one single, non-essential game. Don't become a distraction to your teammates and your coach.


You can only truly learn to succeed by first falling short. How else are you going to know where you need to improve? Or where some future opponent is going to be able to exploit one of your weaknesses? Maybe some crappy, biased refereeing costs you a game. So what. You had a better night than they did, and crappy crews/refs don't usually get to work the important games. They will have to buy a ticket to see you play in February too, so don't let them bother you.


I loved making opponents mad. The thought of them thinking about me on a personal level instead of simply walking to the other side of the proverbial two by six filled me with confidence. The goal is winning; it's not personal. The goal is staying alive and keeping the season afloat. So, you slap that two by six down on the floor and practice walking across with people throwing stuff at you. You practice with obstacles in your way. You practice with people shouting insults at you. You practice by putting yourself in harder, more challenging situations than you'll see to prepare, not feeding your ego by cupcaking it all season.


Listen to your coach. He/she has a plan. They have walked the plank more times than you can count, and want your success more than anything. Handling your own failure is one thing. Watching someone you have bonded with and grown to love over the course of a season fail haunts you for years. I speak from experience on that.


The post season is right around the corner. It will be time to make your walk soon. Clear your mind and take everything you have learned during the season, in the off season, and away at camp. Focus on that and avoid thinking about what happens if you lose your balance and fall. It's as simple as walking to the other side. That's mental preparation.


Why do you see crazy upsets in the post season? Why is there always some ten-loss team making life hell for the favorites come February? Good question right? It's because their mind is right. They HAVE to cross the abyss to save their season. They don't fear it, they embrace it. You better get there yourself. Inevitably all but the greatest among us fail along the way. When and if it happens to you, know deep down inside you did everything you could to help your team (or yourself if you wrestle). If you don't it will be tough to look at yourself in the mirror for years and years. Again I speak from experience. That is if sports matter to you like they do me. If not, I'm really not talking to you and you are likely used to having to buy a ticket to see the mentally tough play anyway.


Now get back to the proverbial two by six in your gym. Back and forth and back and forth. Clear your mind of everything else. It's going to be time to put it across the drop soon and we are all coming to watch you cross it when you do. See you soon.