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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Doing Your Mental Skill Drills
You can incorporate your mental skills training into your physical conditioning program, team practices and when you practicing on your own. These mental skill drills will help you review and reinforce specific mental skill tools that you will be using during game time. Here are three mental skill drills that you can start doing today:
1. When you are stretching and exercising, you could do the Q&A Drill. This is where you ask yourself a question out loud and then answer that question.
For example, “What do I control?” and “I control myself.” Or, “What am I focusing on?” and “I am focusing on my responsibility.” And, “What is my goal today?” and “My goal today is to get mentally stronger.”
The purpose of this drill is to get you focused and develop some of your basic mental skills.
2. When you are going over designated plays or game-time situations on the field, you could do the MR Drill.
This is where you physically run through a play, and then you take a moment to mentally rehearse and replay in your mind how you plan to successfully execute your role and responsibility.
Take 3 Drill
3. When you are standing on the field or sideline for even 30 seconds, you could do the Take 3 Drill.
You take a deep breath and you mentally review three different affirmations – “I am identify one your personal strengths.” “I love identify one thing that you love about playing.” “I will identify one thing that you plan to do in the game.”
Q&A with Daniel Steigert
I got a chance to speak with Daniel Steigert, Associate Head Coach for Dominican College, about mentally preparing to play lacrosse at the top levels.
LAS: As a coach, what do you think is important to the mental game of a lacrosse player?
DS: I really feel two things stand out, among many other traits, that are important to the mental game of any lacrosse player, which is your attitude and your self-motivation. These are important to me as a coach, because they were important to me as a player. Every lacrosse player, and athlete for that matter, is in control of their attitude and self-motivation.
One thing I like to relay to players all of the time is to “Control the Controllables”, and these are two things that are certainly controllable. Every day, we want our players to come out with a positive attitude towards the game of lacrosse. As a player, when your strap up your helmet and tie your cleat laces, you should have a positive attitude.
This will make you enjoy playing the game of lacrosse and will make you interact effectively with other players. As a coach, we want players to realize they are chasing excellence, and not so much perfection. We’re human and we make mistakes, and having a positive attitude can make it easier to learn from mistakes and failures and move on to become better players.
It also develops a high level of respect for the game and everyone associated with it. Self-Motivation is important because it’s the direction and intensity of effort you put into your game. Every lacrosse player should be self-motivated, especially at the collegiate level, to be the best and perform the best that they can. A player has to be self-motivated to give 110% during every practice drill, during every minute of every game, and to put the work in outside of practice to enhance their game.
A player that has a great attitude and is highly self-motivated, will then develop a very high level of self-confidence in their game. Once you have self-confidence in your game, the sky is the limit!
LAS: In training and coaching lacrosse players, what do you find are important mental skills for lacrosse players to learn and develop?
DS: It starts with a players and coaches ability to set goals for individuals and for a team. I feel when goals are set, it creates a greater level of motivation to achieve those goals, for both an individual player and a team. We can set goals for an individual to develop them as players, as well as goals for our entire team and putting both together can be very important to a team’s success.
This is where a players attitude and self-motivation can also come into effect and which is why I feel it’s important to the mental game of a player. With a positive attitude and high self-confidence, reaching your goals can be an easy feat.
When setting goals, we want to make sure they are S.M.A.R.T. The goals we set out, whether it is for an individual or as a team, should be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
Once you have your goals set, what are your actions/processes that are going to help you achieve your goals? As we go through our actions and processes, we hope that we condition and develop players to play unconsciously versus consciously. Reading this as player, you may think what’s the difference? Doing something consciously means that you basically stop and think about what you are going to do, while unconsciously means that basically you will just do an action without second thought. In addition to setting goals, setting expectations can be a valuable tool for a players mental game.
As a coach, we can set expectations for a player. The expectation that us as coaches set out can influence a players behavior and then that can affect the players performance. When that happens, the players performance confirms our original expectation as a coach. A lot of players will also set their own expectations which is something I like to recommend to our players.
LAS: In your experience as a coach, what aspects of the mental game do some lacrosse players struggle and/or have problems with?
DS: The thing I feel players struggle with is not playing with confidence. Making a mistake or two can really effect that players confidence. As a coach, one thing you don’t want to see is a player lose their confidence. That’s why as a player, I feel, you should have a high level of self-motivation and a great attitude to help you learn from those mistakes and move on.
A lot of players dwell on mistakes and they shouldn’t. It can, and will, affect your game and how you play. Learn and move on! On the other hand, players can still play with a lot of confidence, but may make “mental mistakes”. Players may not be able to face the adversity of them being physically tired. That’s where as a coach, we have to help condition players, both mentally and physically to make sure you can overcome that adversity.
As a player, you should be doing the same thing every day too. A great example I like to tell players, is to run about 2 full field sprints (there and back) and then immediately take 50 shots, then repeat. You’re are going to be physically tired after running, and when you start shooting, always make sure to have a correct shooting form. You might find that after running 400 yards and shooting 50 shots, your form may not be great because your physically tired. But the more you do this drill, consciously, the more you will notice that your shooting form becomes better.
Your shooting form in this example is you exhibiting an unconscious behavior. When you can exhibit an unconscious behavior like this, especially when physically exhausted, will make you a better mentally tough player, and a better overall player.
Another aspect I’ve noticed as a coach is that players can struggle and/or have problems with reinforcements. Reinforcements are the use of rewards and punishments, which increase or decrease the likelihood of a similar response/behavior occurring in the future. As coaches, we understand that players react differently and it’s our job to find out how to get the best out of each player individually.
As a player, its important to realize this is a major part of your mental game and development. A coach will have a good understanding of who you are as a player, and they will help mitigate negative actions/behaviors, or reinforce successful actions/behaviors. Having a good attitude as a player, makes this a lot easier.
LAS: 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?
DS: We tell our players to focus on their job for that game. We want them to focus and concentrate on their individual match up. Scouting reports and film are given prior to a game, and we like for our guys to envision the game and/or plays in their mind, based on the scouting report we provide.
An effective technique that I have seen, is the use of imagery. Our players would basically imagine themselves in their individual battle and we would want for them to imagine themselves winning that battle. We want to think about the little things they have to do as players, that will help them perform better.
By doing this, we hope this would reduce any anxiety or stress beforehand as a player may be able to eliminate any “what if” Scenarios that may occur during a game. On the college level, the hours leading up to a game can have other distractions which can take a players mind off the game. We like for our players to show up as early as possible to take their minds off of those other distractions, whether it was a test they took that week, a girlfriend, social life, internships or whatever the case may be. In the immediate hours leading up to the game, we like for our players to concentrate and focus on the game, our opponent, the scout and their specific job.
For any player, it is important to eliminate any off the field distraction and to focus on the game at hand, as well as the use of imagery to help you envision your job for that day.
LAS: During a game, is there anything in particular that you instruct your players to do to keep their heads in the game?
DS: This may be one of the hardest components as a coach with respects to a players mental game. Just a quick backstory, as a small Division 2 school, sometimes we get to play in unique and historic venues, or even on televised broadcasts. This past season we had a great opportunity to play at Georgetown University and at Homewood Field at Johns Hopkins University, both really great experiences for our players.
With that being said, trying to keep our players’ minds on those games was a difficult task considering their standing on fields they grew up watching on ESPN. We had told our guys to stay concentrated on the game, their individual battles and try to reduce any anxiety they may be feeling. The message to our guys was that the field wasn’t going to make a difference in the outcome of the game, their performance was.
Sometimes I digress, but during a game it’s important to always make sure players are concentrated on the game and what job they have to do. One thing I always instruct to players is to stay concentrated. Sometimes a player might make a mistake or two early on, but a player can’t dwell on those mistakes. They have to accept the fact those mistakes happened and then focus on making the next play. This is where having a great attitude comes into play and learning from those mistakes so they don’t happen again.
One of the main things I like to tell our guys is to always stay concentrated on the game and your job, and don’t let previous mistakes ruin your confidence. If you as a player can stay concentrated on the game and your job, you will be successful. Something we instruct our guys on, and it’s something that’s very important for any player, is to keep your emotions in check, both for yourself and against opponents.
Your body language is a clear sign that you might be the guy to pick on, and that your emotions have gotten the best of you and your confidence. If we see a defensemen slap his stick and scream out in anger after being beat, guess what, were going to dodge on him again. If we see an attackmen throw a bad pass after pressing out, and he swings his stick around like Harry Potter and throws his head back in disgust, we are going to press out on him again. Don’t be that guy that shows his emotions, just play the game and you will play with more confidence.
LAS: 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?
DS: I think it’s important for high school players who want to play at the next level, and more importantly be successful at the next level, is to first understand that high school lacrosse and college lacrosse are very different. The players are much bigger, stronger, faster and have developed both physically and mentally on the college level.
The game is also played at faster pace and the players are more physical. I think accepting this fact will steer players in the right direction of what to expect if going to play on the collegiate level. High school players who do go on to play on the collegiate level, whether it’s Division 1, 2 or 3, JUCO, MCLA or NAIA, have to be prepared to come in motivated and ready to work, and have a great attitude with the understanding that they are fitting in to a Team System.
Coaches will be there to help you develop both physically and mentally as an individual, but you have to be accepting to those changes too. Players in high school now, can start by setting both short term and long term goals, along with personal expectations for themselves. This will start to prepare you for what a future college coach may put out in front of you your freshmen year. By setting these goals and expectations, and practicing every day, you can develop your self-confidence and condition your mental game.