"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him ... but let him ask in faith, with no doubting"      James 1:5

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Mind Games

To achieve a higher level of performance on the football field requires discipline and proper behavior (habits).  Some behavior changes are things either the athlete or coach recognize.  For example: losing weight = more exercise, diet, and increased calorie burning activities.

But one of the most overlooked areas for improved performance on the football field, and life, is the mental aspect.  ‘Mental practice’ has been a part of training athletes since the 1960’s in Germany and has been studied with positive results by America and other countries.  The one time we hear more about mental conditioning is during the Olympics.  These athletes are the best at what they do and promote mental practice each time they are interviewed, either before or after competition.

** A downhill skier ... “I just pictured the slope and myself going through the gates at this certain speed or angle”.

** A weight lifter ... “I mentally lifted the weight prior to stepping onto the platform”.

These are just a couple examples of mental practicing we might hear from Olympic athletes.

I feel this will help athletes and coaches achieve goals, if implemented / practiced.

When speaking to groups, working out an athlete, or scouting at a combine I hear a lot of solutions to many problems you may encounter as an athlete or coach.  I hear athletes spending $500 for a speed camp to gain a hundredth of a second in speed, $150 a month (that’s about $1,800 a year) for supplements to gain size and become stronger, $1,000’s on equipment and shoes, $800 a year for a gym membership, plus who know what else!  Now get this … one of the most beneficial things you can do is ‘mental practice’.  AND IT’S FREE.  Won’t cost a thing.  So why don’t more athletes and coaches utilize such a powerful and free tool?  Especially if he/she wants to move up to the ‘next level’.

Could it have something to do with not having time to pick up a two inch thick, four hundred page book written by someone with a Ph.D. in sports psychology?  Or does this kind of book, or class seem like something you could not sit through or finish?  Whatever the reason let me give you an explanation and break down basic ‘mental practice’.  Then maybe, if this helps, you will become inclined to take that class or read the four-hundred page book to research this more.  OK, maybe not .. but at least I tried!

Mental practice is simply repeating a task in your mind, without any movement from your body.

To understand how this works we can break it into two documented theories:

The symbolic theory.  Mental practice, or imagery, is a coding system that will help you understand your movements.  The symbolic theory shows that every move you make is first coded, like a blueprint, in your mind and nervous system.  As you mentally practice an event, you are actually blueprinting each move, making the movements symbolic which in turn make them familiar to your body chemistry.

By doing ‘mental practice’, you are helping the movements become more automatic and easier for your body and mind to recall.

If a quarterback (for example) mentally practices throwing a pass to a wide receiver he could picture the wide receiver running a post pattern.  Seeing the receiver stride up the field, with a defender covering him.  Then the quarterback sees the just right time to release the pass.  Throws the ball.  Then pictures the ball arriving in the receivers hands without missing a step.  This would be coding the body for the pictured performance.  Each movement, from the drop step to the release of the football is now blueprinted in the quarterbacks body coding system.

The other is psych neuromuscular.  Even though you are sitting (or laying) while ’mentally practicing’ there are actually very small muscle contractions being produced with the muscles being used in your movements.  These electronic impulses, or ‘faxes’, being sent to the tendons and muscles reminding them how to perform the needed movements for your position.

Many years ago, while living in Phoenix, AZ (University of Arizona), I remember a study done where athletes mentally rehearsing had their electrical activity measured with an E.M.G. in the arm and legs.  While the athletes, I do not remember the type of sports, mentally practiced the sport movements needed and a printout of the athletes muscle contractions were made.  The printout (and study) of contractions and electrical firings dramatically increased with and corresponded exactly to the sport and movements used.  You see, if rehearsed often you can strengthen and condition the muscle firings and neuromuscular ‘phone lines’ so that the messages are transmitted, and received, more efficiently.

Practicing your position mentally is just as important as everything else you are doing to improve.  Plus it is cost effective.  Try it for a while, make it a habit (behavior), you will not be sorry.  Coaches need to encourage players to picture their performance.