Why You Must Train Your Brain As Much As Your Body

Mental toughness is just as just as important as physical strength when it comes to sport.

When you start fresh meat, you’re learning all these new skills; pushing your body harder than you have before; putting pressure on yourself to pass mins and finding out all about the rules of roller derby. You’re told you need to get stronger and work on your fitness, you’re told about off skates training and agility, but what often gets missed is mental training.

People seem to think mental toughness is only something you need when you get to the upper echelons of sport, but they couldn’t be more wrong.

The best players in the world are often the ones that understood the importance of mental toughness from the beginning.

Mental strength isn’t something that just happens over night, just like physical strength, it’s something that takes constant practice and involves tweaking and reviewing your process to get the best results.

Getting on the mental toughness train early will not only mean you’ll be well practiced by the time you reach A-team level, it will also make your fresh meat learning experience much more enjoyable and beneficial.

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What is mental toughness? 

The wiki-defintition is this:

  1. Mental toughness is a collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances (such as difficult training or difficult competitive situations in games) and emerge without losing confidence.

Or in other words; the ability to work hard and do what it takes; to be resilient to criticism and to learn from failure; the inner quality that enables individuals to work hard and stick to their long-term passions and goals regardless of, or in spite of, the hardships they face. Mental toughness is keeping your head when everyone around you is losing theirs; feeling the pressure and just dealing with it.

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Why is mental toughness important? 

In sport there are failures. Many, many failures. There are failures at training – still can’t do that derby stop! – in-game failures – we lost! I gave away a power jam! – and failures such as not passing your min skills or making the team. So many big and small failures that, if you aren’t mentally resilient, will leave you feeling like a failure. 

That can make you to give up and go home.

You need to be mentally tough to deal with all these failures, big and small, to learn from them and use them to improve.

You also need to be mentally strong for your team. When you take to the track, you need to be able to trust every teammate on the line up. You need to know your jammer can keep her handle the pressure and keep it together. You need to know that you won’t be left doing two players’ jobs because your blocker couldn’t keep her cool and ended up in the bin.

Roller derby is a team sport and as part of that team, it’s your responsibility to be strong for them, both mentally and physically. No one is going to force you to do off skates training and no one is going to force you to do mental training, but if you want to be the best teammate you can be, you have to take responsibility for yourself and train your body and your brain.

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Quick Mental Toughness Tips 

Become self aware 

You can’t make yourself tougher if you aren’t aware of your weaknesses. Start really taking notice of how you feel and what you think when you perceive pressure or failure. Do you get angry? Does your heard rate go sky high? Do you lose focus? Can you forget about the failure easily? Do you have jamnesia? Figure our which, if any, of these responses are negative or positive and try and change the negative ones.

Only control what you can control 

Realise that you cannot control everything; what other people will do and say; how coaches will score you; how strong and tough the other team is; the referees’ decisions…. Realise that stressing over these things you can’t control is a waste of energy. Instead focus your energy on what you can control; your physical strength and fitness; how much effort you put in to training; how much research you can do on the other team/the venue; how much derby you watch and analyse… Focusing on the things you can actually control lowers anxiety and focusses you on what’s really important.

“I only have control over what I do.”

Realise pressure is all in your head

No one can make you feel pressure. Pressure is something you perceive or decide to feel. We feel pressure when we project an imaginary view of the future, full of negativity and perceived expectations. Expectations that we have also made up in our minds! Pressure is all about what-ifs; what if I fail; what if we lose; what if I mess up? Pressure is thinking about the outcome and things which are out of your control. When you feel the pressure, try to focus on the job in hand; instead of “I must score points!” think, “aim through gaps, fast feet & push”. Or instead of, “I must not lose the jammer!” think, “dig in, focus, communicate”. Take the pressure off by focussing on the here and now and what your job is right now.

“Courage is grace under pressure.”

Reframe failures as opportunities 

Failures are actually incredibly valuable. Failures tell you something; what you did wrong and what you can improve on. Instead of taking a hit to your ego, suck it up and use every failure as a lesson. Review, analyse and adjust then try again. Don’t dwell in failure, learn from it and move on.

“The past is just training; it doesn’t define you.”

Stop comparing yourself to others

Comparison truly is the thief of joy, it’s demotivating and damaging and gets you no closer to your goals. Comparison isn’t thinking, “Wow, how did she do that? I want to do that one day! I’ll ask her for tips…” Comparison is, “Wow she is so much better than me, why can’t I do that? I’ll never be able to do it, I’m so awful and rubbish and shit!”  Comparison diminishes the work the person you’re jealous of has put in, she worked hard to get that good. And you can be that good too if you put in the work! To maintain motivation, you have to be doing this for you, not to be better than someone else. If you think you’re awesome, it doesn’t matter about anyone else!

 “Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20”

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Focus on the process

If you’re only focussing on the destination you are missing the fun of the journey. Winning is great but if you only see winning as your goal, losing feels absolutely awful. If, however, you think of “playing well” or “hitting hard” as your goal, as long as you achieve that in the game you will “win” regardless of the score. This applies to learning skills too; your overall goal might be to jump the apex but first you have to achieve the process goals – building up explosive leg strength, practicing jumps off skates, practicing leaps on skates, practicing apex jumps alone, practicing apex jumps with blockers and finally, attempting an apex jump in a game situation. Focusing on achieving the small, incremental goals will prevent perfectionism and disappointment if you don’t nail that thing right away.

“If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.”

Use your imagination

Instead of using our imagination to think of negative outcomes and pressure, we can harness it to mentally practice, prepare, refocus and build confidence. Before performing – pre-game, in-game, after-game, and before and during practice – imagine yourself doing that thing, doing it well and being successful. Make the image as vivid and realistic as possible, include the sights, smells and sensations. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between real life and your imagination so responds in the same way.  Use positive imagery, or visualisation, to push out negative thoughts and reset your body and mind for what you are about to perform, to refocus you on the task in hand.

Positive visualisation invokes the law of attraction:

“You only achieve what you believe”

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