In working with lacrosse players, I will sometimes talk to them about what it takes to be an exceptional mountain climber.
The climber needs to use various mental and physical skills to successfully reach the top of the mountain. This includes effectively coping with the different challenges and obstacles that he will face with each step up that mountain.
And the farther up that mountain the climber gets, those challenges and obstacles that he faces will become bigger and more difficult.
Climb the Mountain
Lacrosse players should look at their mental preparation like someone who is going to climb a mountain. It takes a variety of mental skills to not only start the climb but to successfully face and effectively cop with all the physical and emotional challenges that the climber will face on his trek up the mountain.
Likewise, being a successful lacrosse player means that you must continue working on and developing your mental skills to elevate your performance and raise your game. If at any time you decide to stop improving or using those skills, there is probably a good chance that your game will drop or fall off.
For a lacrosse player, that definitely means a poor performance. For the mountain climber, that could mean injury or death.
As a lacrosse player, you can reach your mental peak by taking six specific steps up the mountain. These steps should be incorporated into every practice and training session as well as become a part of your pregame ritual. Also, you can use various verbal and visual cues to reinforce these steps when you are on the field playing in an actual game.
6 Steps to Reach Your Mental Peak
#1 Play With a Sense of Purpose
Not only do you need to have goals that give you a sense of direction as to why and what you are doing on the field, but to have a clear understanding of how you plan or want to accomplish your goals. Also, you should know the purpose of everything you are doing in practice or a game; whether it’s the exercises, drills, scrimmages, runs, workouts in the weight room or changing your diet. Think about this.
If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, then how do you know that what you’re doing is the right thing to do.
I’ve met a number of lacrosse players who are frustrated or upset with their game because they don’t have any sense of direction or purpose. And when players don’t have any purpose or direction they tend to look at and worry about things they don’t control.
#2 Play with the Right Perspective
As a lacrosse player, your mental frame of reference is so important to how you end up playing the game. For example, you can look at any mistake that you make in a practice or game as a negative judgment about yourself as a person and player, or as an opportunity to learn something new to help you grow as a player.
Also, you can focus on your weaknesses or limitations to reinforce a negative image that you have of yourself or you can start focusing on your personal strengths, and explore how you can use those strengths to build your game and support your teammates.
And when you simply think about why you love playing the game, and what the game of lacrosse has given you and what you are grateful for, you put yourself into a very positive and productive state of mind.
Lacrosse players who do not have the right perspective will develop a sense of entitlement, become easily frustrated and become an emotional drain on their teammates and coaches.
#3 Play with a Presence of Mind
It’s vitally important that you always keep your attention and focus on the present moment. To get mentally sidetracked by thinking about what has happened or worrying about what could happen will only take your head out of the game. When you are able to be in the moment, you will find that things tend to slow down, and you end up feeling less anxiety or stress because you are not thinking about things that you can’t control.
For some players, taking a deep breath or repeating an affirmation is a good way to bring oneself back to the present moment. Also, I have advised some players to simply say “check” to themselves. It’s a verbal cue to remind themselves to mentally check back in to what is happening right in front of them.
#4 Play with Poise
Every good coach will talk to their players about keeping one’s composure when playing a competitive sport like lacrosse. There are so many triggers that can take a player’s composure away and actually destroy his mental game.
From questionable calls by the refs and being preoccupied with the numbers on a scoreboard to verbal taunting from opposing players and beating yourself for a making a mistake, you have to be aware of all the different game-time situations where you can get hot under the collar, and lose your cool.
You have to know how to mentally respond to different stressful situations and keep your poise so you can remain mentally strong and make the smart decisions at any critical moment of the game.
#5 Play with Passion
Knowing what inspires and motivates you, and then channeling that into how you play on the field. It’s essential to fueling your desire and drive, and to use that energy to support your mental skills. The key is to funnel the energy into your mental conditioning so you can control and direct those emotions to lift your performance, and not let them overwhelm you or drain you.
Every exceptional lacrosse player has a different approach to finding his or her passion. For some players, it could be a piece of music or a line from a poem. For others, that passion could come from the love for the game or that they are playing in honor of someone or something.
It is with passion that a lacrosse player can keep playing even when he or she is feeling emotionally or physically exhausted.
#6 Play with Perseverance
This is where you learn to keep your commitments, hold onto your priorities and goals, and never give up. You’re learning how to play with courage as you face your fears. Even when you begin to feel overwhelmed, or under a lot of pressure, you keep the faith in yourself and continue to move forward – one step at a time.
For some players, it’s just focusing on what’s right in front of them. For other players, it could be taking a deep breath and saying “it’s all good.” And for one player out there, it may be rebuilding his belief system and improving his self-esteem.
So, if you want to reach your mental peak and become an exceptional lacrosse player, you must learn to play with a sense of purpose, the right perspective, presence of mind, poise, passion and perseverance.
With each step you take up the mountain, you will come to realize and appreciate that these mental skills are the “climbing tools” you will need to elevate your performance and raise your game. And as you raise your game and elevate your performance, you will truly understand how important those mental skills are to your development and growth as a lacrosse player.
Q&A with David Higbee – Bridge Lacrosse
David Higbee is the Executive Director of Bridge Lacrosse. David immediately moved to Dallas after graduating for the University of Oklahoma. Prior to becoming the Executive Director for Bridge, he worked in the environmental industry. David joined Bridge in 2009 as a volunteer coach with the youth Saints boys teams.
Since then, he has enjoyed coaching year-round and participating in various events on behalf of Bridge. In 2011, David was a recipient of the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double Goal Coach Award for North Texas. David has enjoyed developing lasting relationships in both the lacrosse and the philanthropic landscapes.
What do you consider some of the most important mental skills tools that lacrosse players need – especially at the high school level?
Over the past several years, we’ve begun to emphasize and reemphasize various character traits to help our student-athletes better prepare for competition and, more importantly, life in general.
In those years, our coaches continue to highlight two skill traits that have helped our student-athletes succeed, by their own definitions.
First, patience. Like many young student-athletes, the frustration of learning a new sport, or mastering one, can be extremely tedious and challenging.
We have grown quite accustomed to helping our student-athletes regain their composure and keep them motivated to continue and get better. Patience in their craft is key to success and we must constantly be there as coaches to remind them of the journey.
The second skill set that we have found to be important for our high school teams is simply a short memory. It’s important for each of our student-athletes to not dwell on mistakes, but to learn from them and quickly set aside the emotion of failure. This short term memory keeps them focused on moving forward and not looking back on past miscues.
In your experience, what do you see as some of the key areas where lacrosse players struggle with their mental game?
There’s an emotional response to frustration, and often that emotion can overtake our ability to press forward. Lacrosse provides many unique scenarios in which a student-athlete can lose their composure due to frustrating circumstances.
For example, a ground-ball scrum where a player just simply cannot get the ball off the ground. Another great example are goalies, where a mere 50% of saves is a good day, in just about any other category, 50% isn’t going to lead to much success. These little things over time in competition can breakdown a student-athletes mental game. For Bridge and our coaches, we teach our kids to control and regain composure of their emotion, and help them restart their mental game.
How should lacrosse players mentally prepare themselves for an upcoming game?
Each Bridge student-athlete is different. We don’t instruct on any one way to mentally prepare for games. However, we do emphasize the importance of getting enough sleep and eating healthy prior to competition.
For many of our coaches, they share stories of their own routines in college or high school, as lacrosse players. We encourage all of our student-athletes to do the same thing. Whether it’s listening to music or a certain way they warmup, creating a game-day routine has shown immense value to our kids.
What can lacrosse players do to stay mentally strong when they are playing in a game?
We believe that in times of frustration and mental breakdowns, it’s the job of the team to build up their teammates and keep the sideline motivated. Our student-athletes and coaches are family. We want to make sure we’re building a cohesive group of energetic and positive teammates, to support each other in times of mental shakeups.
Our coaches have a great understanding of what that means. They do an excellent job of managing a positive and motivated sideline.