Mental Toughness Question & Answer

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My name is David and I am a 14 year old high school student in New Zealand. My sport is rugby union. I don't know if you have had any experience with athletes in this sport, but it is a lot like Gridiron.

In the past few years that I have played this sport, I have always enjoyed it. I would often do well and contribute a lot to the team. I often thought about growing up and representing my country in this sport.

This year, I got into the school's top team, the 1st XV. I was really pleased about this, however so far in the season, after 5 games in the pre-season and 2 games in the proper season, I'm often walking off the field after the game feeling really bad about myself. I've been playing quite terribly so far, and even when our team wins I don't fell happy because I feel as if I didn't contribute to it. I've made some really shocking mistakes but it is certainly not a result of lack of practice. I've always pushed myself to practice the areas that I find are lacking.

Perhaps the biggest thing that has been affecting me is my confidence. In the games I've played this season, I'm often very scared. This is probably justified because I am one of the smaller players and being in the 1st XV, there are some players a lot bigger than me. However, my team-mates are not much bigger than me and they do not have this problem.

In a game today, I dropped a high ball that they kicked and when I received the ball, I went to push a 50/50 pass rather than run it up. I was really scared and dropping my confidence rapidly just because the other team had some big Polynesian players and I was scared of getting hurt, unlike some of my teammates who are really selfless and are great players. Not long into the first half, I asked my coach to take me off. My team-mates were quite angry at me for making these mistakes, they could see that I was scared. We ended up winning the game but I felt terrible anyway.

This has never happened to me before, and all of a sudden I'm having some really negative thoughts. I've been thinking about quitting the sport, and all the great dreams I've had about playing in representative teams when I got older are starting to look less and less realistic.

What is happening to me? It is almost as if I have no mental toughness whatsoever. Is there anything I can do to get back my competitive edge and become a good player again? This sport is a great part of my life and I would hate to give it up because I am unable to do my best. Is there anything I can do? Please help.

David


Dear David,

James Griffing passed along to me your e-mail and asked if I might provide you with a bit of insight into your situation. In order to do this, I think it best to first relate an experience I had a few years ago with a young Arizona State University freshman track athlete who was considered one of the country's top talents. Unfortunately, she, like you, was not performing up to her skill level. The coach asked if I would work with her, especially since she was considering dropping out of school. At our first session together it was obvious that she was burdened with many personal problems and issues, most of which involved the health of her mother who had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and her stepfather who had used her credit card and ran up an enormous bill for which she was responsible and could not pay. She also had a sister who had a small child and needed financial help. All of this was weighing heavily on her and until our meeting, she had no idea that keeping everything bottled up inside herself and not discussing any of this with anyone was doing great harm to her potential as a track athlete. Eventually, she began to understand how important it was for her to resolve (or begin resolving) these issues in her life if she wanted to be successful in her sport. Keeping them inside herself (withholding her feelings and emotions) was a form of lying that lowered her feelings of self worth. And because "we see things as we are" (not as they are, but as we are), if we have low self-esteem we will begin to see things around us negatively, and creative negative thoughts about ourselves and our ability to perform in our sport. These negative thoughts then begin to affect our performance on the field. Once she was able to work through her issues, and she understood what the problems were, her outlook went through a remarkable transformation and she began to perform closer to her skill level (she was a world-class athlete). The bottom line was: she stayed in school, and for the following three years set NCAA Division I records in the 400 meter sprint, and then, in 1996 won a gold medal in the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I relate this story to you so that you might want to examine what is happening in your own personal life. Because even though we often feel we can block out negative thoughts, we can't. We must deal with them and resolve the issues (or begin resolving the issues) that are creating them. I say "begin" because there are some issues that require time to resolve. For example, if you owed someone a thousand dollars (US dollars), and began paying them even $5.00 per week, you would begin to feel better about yourself immediately. It may take you a long time to pay off the debt, but at least you're attempting to work through it - rather than ignoring it completely. So the questions you need to ask yourself are: Am I having problems in my personal life that I'm not confronting head-on? With my parents? With my girlfriend? With some player or players on the team with whom I have a personality conflict? With the coach? I think you get the idea. I'm sending along an attachment with this e-mail which I believe you will find helpful. I don't know if you use visualization techniques or not, but if you do, the attached will be of value. It's very important that, if you want to perform to your skill level on a consistent basis, your life must be in harmony. Please be sure to let me know how you progress. Good luck.

Marv Fremerman


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