SPORT PSYCHOLOGY

— by Dr. Saul L. Miller

At the elite level preparation for winning field hockey focuses on the physical aspects of the game. Drills are designed to improve conditioning and physical skills like stick handling, passing, shooting and marking the opposition. Mental skills like focus and emotional control are relatively neglected. When people do get around to talking about the mental game it is usually in terms of qualities like pride, character, and confidence, with little awareness of what they can actually do to develop these qualities. 

  The way I see it, the mind is like a television set. If you don’t like the program you are tuned into on your mental t.v., if you don’t like how you feel , or if what you’re thinking doesn’t give you power, then it’s time to change the channel. My job is twofold: 1) it is assisting athletes to improve their ability to change channels, and 2) helping them to develop better quality programs to tune into on their mental t.v., which predisposes them to act with more focus and greater control. 

  Let me show you a mental drill to enhance focus and control. It begins with your breathing. Take a few minutes to relax in a comfortable setting and start to observe the rhythm of your breath. Simply watch the breath flow in ....and flow out. Don’t rush the breath. After a few minutes focus more on the ‘inbreath’ and the idea of drawing in "energy." Be aware that there is energy all around you and with each breath you are drawing some in. Actually feel yourself pulling in the breath. Now think you are directing your energy out into your body, through your shoulders into your hands, down through your hips into your legs and feet, and up the spinal column into your head and eyes. As you relax, breathe smoothly, and feel energy flowing out into your hands and feet, and up into your eyes. 

  In this state of ease and relaxation imagine yourself in a game situation. Imagine the scene in slow motion (three quarter speed.) Visualize yourself on offence doing exactly what you want to be doing. When your team has the ball imagine yourself running into space, receiving a pass, handling the ball with control, making good crisp passes "on the stick" and shooting with quickness and accuracy. Imagine yourself playing effective defence: head up, stick on the turf, marking your man, playing your angles, anticipating the play, reacting quickly with speed and balance, "like a big cat." 

  Improving your physical game is similar to improving your physical skills in that repetition builds strength. It takes practice. By practicing your breathing and relaxation skills, defining what you want to do on offence and defence, and then imagining yourself executing well, you will strengthen the mental traces of high performance and actually increase the probability well and the quality of your play. Remember, the mind is like a t.v., it is your t.v. and you control the switch. So take a breath, see yourself making the play, and do it. 
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Dr. Saul Miller, "the man who makes things happen," is a world renowned sports psychologist who has assisted the Canadian Men’s National Program.