Now that your players are on their way to improved awareness, and you are helping them build the proper perspective, it’s time to talk about about their ability to respond. The relationship between awareness and response is an important one; gathering information is fundamental, but what you do with it determines whether or not it has meaning.
For example, if you wear a fitness tracker and at the end of the day look at your number of steps and simply say, “neat,” and continue about your business as usual, your gadget isn’t worth much. However, if you take that information, evaluate it, and force yourself to get a few more steps in to meet a goal, it has value. We have to teach our athletes when and how to respond to the information they’re gathering, which often requires taking a couple of extra steps.
I believe most valuable lesson for your players in this regard will be for them to learn the power of their breath. A deep, smooth breath can help bring calm in times of stress, and focus in times of chaos. For many players, the idea of focusing on their breath will be completely foreign, so you will need to guide them through it. Once you commit to adding it to your daily practice plan, the exercise will get easier and the juice will be worth the squeeze.
When I started to add breathing exercises to our practice plan I dove in head first, but only after a significant nudge from Alan Jaeger. I spoke with him for about 15 minutes at an ABCA convention and got an idea of how to add them to our routine. I was nervous to lead the exercise with my players, even though I knew it would be beneficial—it can be nerve-wracking to put yourself out there and try something new with your team. To prevent this nervousness from being obvious, I wrote myself a script and found some music to play in the background to cut through what may otherwise feel like awkward silence.
I began by leading a 10-minute long breathing and visualization exercise that was probably a little bit much for some of my guys. If given the chance to do it again, I would ease them into it with a shorter, more focused exercise and build towards longer sessions with visualization and affirmations. So, that’s how we’re going to do things here.
I recommend doing this exercise at the beginning of practice, before anything else, so that it can act as a transition. Players can feel themselves leaving anxiety and stress about other aspects of their life behind, and be focused on the task in front of them when they reopen their eyes.
Skill: Players will understand the power of their breath, and be able to use it to bring themselves back to the present moment.
Why: Your breath is the single most powerful way to help yourself relax and focus on the present moment.
Method: Build in time at the beginning of your practices to take your players through a 3-5 minute breathing exercise. Once they understand the calming effect deep breathing can have, they will be able to use it during stressful moments of competition.