Ultimate Intelligence – How to train your mind…
All developing Ultimate players will eventually face the reality that they have a physical shortcoming that needs work in order to continue their growth as a player. For example, your long-range forehand may not be very reliable, or you may suffer from fatigue on longer points.
In any sport it is a reality that each person’s unique physical makeup will create a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Some people’s natural physical state allows them to run fast, others may be able to jump high. Training is required to develop those natural skills but also to fill in any gaps.
It is important to recognise that the same can be said for the mental attributes that a player brings to the field. A person’s upbringing and experiences in life all add up to produce their unique state of mind with far more potential for variance than the same person’s physical attributes.
For physical shortcomings there is generally a reasonably well established path for improvement. Regular throwing sessions with a focus on weaker throws, or setting up a more regular running routine, are two approaches that would work to improve the physical shortcomings mentioned above. The question then becomes, how do you train your mind?
Perhaps the same approach used for physical improvement could be used for mental improvement. My interpretation of that approach includes the following steps:
For example, in the examples mentioned above:
- Identification – You’re struggling to maintain accuracy over longer distances with your forehand. Your reliability and success rate is low.
- Measure – Figure out how far you can throw reliably at this point.
- Goals – Set yourself a realistic goal. This would be how far you want to be able to throw reliably, and the time you’ll give yourself to get there.
- Train – Practise throwing, as often as you can. Mark out and aim for your current distance and maybe your goal distance.
- Measure – As you train, keep measuring to ensure you’re progressing towards your goal.
- Implement – After a while your confidence will grow, deservedly so. Time to throw some long-range lasers into the end-zone!
Fatigue on longer points
- Identification – Any point over five minutes leaves you unable to keep up with your opponent, or get away from them.
- Measure – Time yourself running over a reasonable distance. I find 5k is a good indication of stamina.
- Goals – Decide on a distance and time goal (or pace) to work towards. Give yourself a period of time to work towards that goal.
- Train – Go running! There’s plenty of ways to get better at running. Google can help!
- Measure – Continue to measure your progress against your benchmark. Watch the improvements, work towards your goals.
- Implement – Next time you’re on for a long point and there’s a turnover bust to the end-zone leaving your defender flat-footed!
Applying these same steps to a mental improvement can be a difficult process. We can work through it together, based loosely on my own experience with some mental shortcomings I have worked on:
1 – Identification
Identifying a mental shortcoming that is affecting your game is a really tough thing to do. However, if you observe your actions and reactions to the things that happen on the field you may start to notice a trend.
For me, I am quite capable of giving myself a hard time if I stuff something up.
The warning signs to look out for are generally any negative feelings. Am I starting to feel frustrated? Unreliable? Maybe even angry? At my worst I can convince myself that I’m better off on the sideline than on the field. You can imagine how this must make my teammates feel. I’m negatively affecting my own game and also theirs!
I feel that the key is to be on the lookout for negative emotions. If you’re not feeling positive then there’s a chance there’s some mental aspect affecting your game. As mentioned above, there’s a huge amount of scope for what the issue could be depending upon yourself as a person.
2 – Measure
Setting a baseline for a mental improvement is also a really hard thing to do. It takes some serious thought and honesty to understand that, on a bad day, 60% of your less-than-perfect throws are causing you to despair about your worth as a player (This is my own example again here!). Obviously I have no way of knowing if 60% is a real figure. For mental improvements I think it is enough to recognise that you’re doing being negatively affected more often than you would like.
3 – Goals
Goals for mental shortcomings are easy – you want to eradicate them! Realistically though, you can’t eradicate a mental shortcoming completely in the same way that you can’t throw perfect long-range forehands every time. Experiencing a noticeable improvement is a worthy goal. Keeping your cool for longer throughout a game is certainly something you can work towards.
4 – Train
Initially I thought that mental training could only really be done in-game. Upon further thought I realised that a useful attitude can be developed at all times. If you’re at a training session and your goal is to not-let-the-bad-throws-get-you-down then focus on that whilst training. Train your mind at training! Learn from your mistakes, but continue with a positive outlook.
5 – Measure
Keep yourself accountable when you’re playing. I had to get myself into a position where I could objectively analyse my own behaviour when I was stuffing things up. Was I being affected as much as in the past? Was I able to carry on and give my best performance to the team?
6 – Implement
Next time you’re at a tournament you want to be physically and mentally trained up. From a mental point of view you should be in a position where you are positively contributing to the performance of your team throughout the whole tournament.
As you may have gathered, the process of training your mind isn’t necessarily as straightforward as training a physical attribute. There are a lot more variables and less-tangible things to consider. To assist in training your mind it is worth considering enlisting a friend or teammate. If you really want to make a difference to your mental state then let someone on your team know. You will feel more accountable and, even more importantly, they will be able to let you know how you are improving.
I’ve alluded to some of the mental shortcomings I’ve dealt with in the past. After my most-recent tournament our captain commended myself (and another player) on how we have improved mentally. It was a hugely successful tournament in many ways (silver medal baby!) but receiving that feedback was certainly a highlight.
In terms of being accountable – I’ll let you all know that I’ve still got more to do. In the grand-final my mental shortcomings were starting to make themselves known. I have a few regrets, and fear that the close-game could have come out with us on top if I had maintained a better mental perspective. I definitely don’t want to let that happen again!