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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10 Steps to take when the game begins:
1. Stay in the moment.
You gain the mental edge when you keep your attention and focus in the present moment. Don’t think or worry about something that happened five minutes ago or will happen in the last ten minutes of the game. You can not be a proactive player in the present moment if you’re mentally reacting to what already happened or are mentally projecting about what may happen in the future.
2. Know what you want.
You gain the mental edge when you keep focusing on what you want to do on the field. When you begin to think about what you don’t want to happen or are afraid could happen, you will become more anxious and increase your stress level. Also, by worrying about making a mistake, you find that you can’t visualize what you want to accomplish or achieve because you keep imagining the worst outcome.
3. Play with your eyes.
You gain the mental edge when you can clearly see what is happening on the field, instead of clouding your view with negative judgments or feelings about yourself or your game-time situation. If you are playing with any negative feelings or judgments, you won’t be able to “read” and clearly see what is happening on the field and thereby make the right or best decisions in the game.
4. Repeat the mantra “I am a lacrosse player.”
You gain the mental edge when you step on the field and simply tell yourself that you are a lacrosse player. “I am” are two very powerful words. Do not include any adjectives based upon your performance at any particular point during the game. If you keep changing how you describe yourself based upon how well or poorly you are playing, you will end up feeling like you are riding an emotional roller coaster.
5. Accept each mistake.
You gain the mental edge when you accept each mistake as a teaching moment instead of making a negative judgment about yourself or believing that any mistake is a sign that you are not a good player. You must remember that mistakes are just a necessary part to becoming a better player. In fact, the moment that you make a mistake, immediately ask yourself – “what did I learn?”
6. Take a deep breath and count to three.
You gain the mental edge when you find moments during a game to stop and just focus on your breath. Taking one deep breath and counting to three will help you regain your composure and concentration.
7. Remember why you love the game.
You gain the mental edge when you remember why you love playing lacrosse as well as how much fun and enjoyment that you get from being on the field with your teammates. If you start thinking about and focusing on what you don’t like about playing, then you will lose your sense of enthusiasm and energy to give your best effort.
8. Don’t step on the “landmines.”
You gain the mental edge when you are able to refrain from complaining about or blaming others for what is happening in the game. When you do this, you keep yourself from stepping on a mental landmine that will destroy your concentration and composure, and ultimately “blow up” your game.
9. Focus on what you control.
You gain the mental edge when you focus only on what you control in a game – which is basically yourself. If you begin to focus on what you don’t or can’t control, you will become distracted, and will probably experience more anxiety and stress.
10. Ask the right questions.
You gain the mental edge when you only ask questions about things that you control and put you in a positive, productive and proactive state of mind – How can I create a turnover? How can I set up my teammates to score? How can I help my man-down unit on defense?
Never ask questions about things that you can’t control or will trigger negative thoughts, feelings or behaviors – Why do I keep making mistakes? Why am I not as talented as the opposing player? Why are the refs always making calls against my team?
Q&A with Bobby Thorp
I had an opportunity to speak to Coach Bobby Thorp who has been coaching for various clubs and programs in Southern New Jersey; including Southshore Lacrosse, Reaction Lacrosse and South Jersey Black Story. He played at Cherokee High School, and was honored as a two-time All-American and All-State midfielder. Also, Thorp played for Cabrini College in Pennsylvania, and was honored as a two-time All-American attackman and Academic All-American.
As a coach, what do you think is important to the mental game of a lacrosse player?
BT: The mentality of a lacrosse player is unbelievably important. Going into a game with the proper mindset of being determined for nothing but success is what differentiates the highest talent from the rest. I was told at a young age that “you win before the whistle blows.”
In training and coaching lacrosse players, what do you find are important mental skills for lacrosse players to learn and develop?
BT: There are many important mental skills for lacrosse players to learn and develop with training, but the most important one in my opinion is perseverance. When I am training a player I am constantly pushing him mentally to compete in each individual drill to see how far he is willing to go for success without giving up because it may seem too difficult.
In your experience as a coach, what aspects of the mental game do some lacrosse players struggle and/or have problems with?
BT: In my experience as a coach, it is obvious that some lacrosse players struggle mentally with battling adversity. A lot of lacrosse players react negatively to a bad play, which usually results in being drained mentally and takes you out of the rest of the game.
In the hours leading up to a game, is there anything in particular you want your players to focus on or think about as they get ready to play?
BT: The one thing I ask players to focus on before competition is visualizing success. When a player goes into a game nervous or scared, they typically perform below their potential. Instead, they should envision winning a face-off, scoring a goal, or making a defensive stop in order to feel confident when the game begins.
During a game, is there anything in particular that you instruct your players to do to keep their heads in the game?
BT: I am constantly instructing players to remain confident. Everyone, not just lacrosse players, need to have their confidences boosted in order to feel mentally prepared to handle whatever lies in front of them and to expect a positive result.
For any high school lacrosse players who want to play up at the collegiate level, what do these players have to work on to be mentally prepared to play in college?
BT: The one thing I preach to incoming collegiate players is that how they handle adversity will define their college career. Most arriving college players were among their top talent on their high school or club teams, and how they handle themselves when things don’t go their way in college will shape them positively or negatively.