New York Lizards vs. Charlotte Hounds 6.21.14 Photo Credit: Casey Kermes
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Up Your Game: The Fearless Mind

Editor’s Note: For the fastest game on two feet, it takes more than fast feet to become a good or exceptional lacrosse player. Given the fast paced nature  and how quick a game-time situation can change, it’s important for a player to always have his or her head in the game, and to be mentally prepared to respond to any situation a game may bring. “Up Your Game” is our newest series for lacrosse players who wants to not only gain the mental edge, but play the game with greater concentration, composure and confidence.

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5 Essential Steps To Higher Performance

In the February 2013 issue of Inside Lacrosse Magazine, the cover story highlighted the careers of Josh Hawkins of Loyola and Chris LaPierre at Virginia. The story reported that Hawkins and LaPierre were two of the game’s best and toughest midfielders. Editor John Jiloty wrote,

“There might not be two players who better epitomize the term ‘badass’…Badass connotes toughness, confidence, talent and experience.”

With the game of lacrosse, it’s essential that you learn how to have a fearless mind; especially at critical moments of a game. Mental toughness comes down to being mentally sharp and emotionally strong so that you can mentally manage yourself and make the best split-second decision during any game-time situation. Whether you’ve just lost a ground ball, find yourself playing man-down, or being verbally taunted by an opposing player, you need to know how to effectively handle whatever pressure or stress you may experience, and continue to play with confidence and poise.

Josh Hawkins is back for Loyola.
Josh Hawkins

According to Tony Robbins, author of Awaken The Giant Within, a person will make three decisions at any given moment of the day that will determine his future.

  • What to focus on
  • Deciding what things mean
  • Deciding what to do to create the results one wants

So, think about this. When you are on the field playing in a lacrosse game, at any given moment of that game you have to make three quick decisions. To make those decisions you have to know what to focus on while you are playing, put every experience into a positive frame of reference, and persevere as you pursue what you want.

Boston Cannons vs Ohio Machine Credit Jeff Melnik 2015

You have to be in the right state of mind (the fearless mind) to clearly read the situation, recognize your options and opportunities, and then effectively respond to put yourself and your team in the best position.

To help yourself become mentally tougher, and make the best decisions on the field, you can develop the “3-D Mindset”. This is where you can teach and train yourself to be:

  • Deliberate
  • Disciplined
  • Decisive

You must stay focused on what you want to do or achieve, maintain that focus and play under control, keep your composure, and quickly act on what you want and know.

3 Tips For Your Mental Game

1. “Wanted: Dead Or Alive”

Many lacrosse players focus on what they don’t want to happen. They don’t want to look bad or embarrass themselves. Maybe they are concerned about losing the game. By focusing on what they don’t want to happen, they are simply creating more stress and anxiety for themselves. Which will probably result in them doing the exact things that they didn’t want to.

These players are so worried about themselves that they can’t really be in the game, and will begin withdrawing or holding back. They are more concerned about how they look instead of how they can play their best game and contribute to the team. They have become “dead weight”.

To be mentally tough, you have to focus on what you want. Only focus on what you want to do in the game and how you want to play. By taking this perspective, you will become a more proactive player and will be more open to seeing every game-time situation as a learning opportunity to grow as a player. When you focus on what you want, you become more assertive, more passionate about playing and basically feel more “alive.”

Chesapeake Bayhawks vs Boston Cannons July 2015 Photo Credit Jeff Melnik

2. “Avoid The Land Mines”

Too often, during a game, especially when things aren’t going as planned, there is that lacrosse player who steps on one of those “mental land mines” where he starts to complain, blame, doubt or question himself or his teammates. And, once this player has stepped on one of these land mines, the mental part of his game has blown up.

He is now mentally wounded and disabled. The player has raised the white flag and surrendered. He has taken his mind out of the game, and feels a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

To have a fearless mind you can not step on any of these mental land mines. You must keep your focus on positive and productive thoughts about what you are trying to do on the field. It’s taking ownership of yourself, and only concentrating on what you want to accomplish to make yourself a better player.

3. “Flip The Switch”

After making a mistake on the field, a lacrosse player immediately tells himself that he screwed up or failed. This negative self-talk will lead to negative feelings and then a negative physical reaction. And sometimes, these negative thoughts and feelings after the first mistake can trigger a second mistake. By making a negative judgment call about himself, this player is kept in the dark. He has lost an opportunity to think clearly and objectively about what just happened. Learn from that experience and make the necessary adjustments to improve your game.

“…the mentally tough athlete…who has learned to harness the strength of the mind wins every time.” – Craig Manning

To be mentally tough, when you make a mistake in a game immediately visualize yourself flipping a light switch on the wall and take a deep breath. As you inhale, ask yourself – “What did I see?” And, as you exhale, ask yourself – “What did I learn?” The message is that if you can clearly see what happened, without any negative judgments, you can learn, and if you can learn, you will become a smarter and better player.

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I look forward to sharing more ideas and information on how you can gain the mental edge and become a better, if not an exceptional player. In this upcoming series of articles, we will review a number of mental skills tools, and explore how to use different mental strategies in specific game-time situations that you could be facing on the field. Also, we will be interviewing players and coaches from around the country on how to up your game and gain the mental edge. Check out my first article of this series Gaining the Mental Edge if you missed it before.