I have the privilege of being the strength and conditioning coach for a National Basketball League (NBL) team, just one of several teams to whom we offer high performance coaching.
Being so close to the players on the physical and emotional level, I can see the amount of noise and clutter athletes endure on a daily basis. Athletes are paid to perform, and not just perform, but to do their job properly or have the fear of sitting on the bench … or worse, having their contracts terminated.
Players have to worry about the physical aspect day in and day out and are required to push their bodies to the limit during practice and then put their bodies on the line during games. Media plays a big role on players performing or cracking under the pressure because no matter how good you are, there are thousands of people judging your every move and then splashing your mishaps all across the social networks.
If athletes manage to survive all of these, they still have to face the biggest critic of all the “inner voice”.
Your inner voice is brutally honest and at times very negative. It pushes you down, it highlights your faults and most of the time you feel that it seldom has anything nice to say.
If you are not sure about what I am talking about, the next time you are in competition and do you something wrong like score an own goal, miss a free throw or drop the ball a meter from the try- line, you won’t need to listen very carefully, because you will hear your inner voice, loud and clear.
It expects better of you, it expects you to be perfect all the time and sometimes expects things from you that are unrealistic. The biggest critic of all comes from within and all external negative stimulus is firewood for the flames confirming that the inner critic was right.
So how do you tame the beast you have to face on a daily basis and how do you turn the beast into your friend? The first step is:
Listen and acknowledge
The reason your inner voice is screaming at you is because you probably have not been listening. Your inner voice is trying to tell you something and it will keep bugging you until you acknowledge it and then do something about it.
An example would be a footballer whose primary job is to step up the play and cross the ball into a designated area so that the strikers know what to do with it. The midfielder meets the cross, but for some reason he misses the mark. His team-mates are frustrated and the coach is perhaps looking at replacing him. You can only imagine what this poor guy’s inner voice is telling him.
The first part is to listen to the inner voice without taking criticism from yourself. Is the reason the athlete is not hitting the target because he has not practised enough and under pressure, or he just can’t seem to hit the mark, or is it the opposite and he has been practicing like Beckham and hitting his 1 000 crosses through a tyre every week?
If the athlete knows he can hit his mark, then he needs to make an adjustment or get advice from an outsider, like the technical coach, to pinpoint an area that needs attention.
On two occasions I saw from the bench that two players were not performing. I knew it was not their best because I had been training with them for months. They were hard on themselves during the game and each player was desperate to know why his shot was not going in.
During a time out and in the space of 15 seconds I walked up to these players and gave them the boost of confidence they needed to hear and gave them advice about what was wrong with their shot. Their games turned around instantly and one even got the MVP of the match.
As an athlete, your inner voice is critical to your development as a player, but you need first to listen, then analyse, what it is trying to tell you and acknowledge your inner voice by doing something positive about it.
Whether it is telling you to practice more or it is telling you something doesn’t feel right in the moment, whatever it is, you need not take it as a negative, but rather as a positive reinforcement that your inner self wants you to do well and wants you to be the best player you can be.