Mental Skills for Sports: Being Yourself to Perform at Your Best
On Monday July 19th Luke Prokop, a prospect for the Nashville Predators, became the first person under an NHL contract to come out as gay. This is a great moment for the game of hockey, and continuing to create a space and environment that is inclusive to all those who love the game and want to do well in it. With time hopefully this type of announcement is no longer 'big news' but just normal. While the courage it took for Luke to be a trailblazer is important, there is one very important thing I want to highlight from the letter he wrote on social media, because it is applicable to everyone from any walk of life.
As you will see from his letter he goes on to say: "I have dreamed of being an NHL player, and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams." This is huge, and he is absolutely correct that this will give him a bigger chance to make it. When we have to hide apart of ourselves we spend energy and use part of our focus on it. This impacts performance, it impacts the ability to bring everything you can to a moment and situation to be at your best. We all have only so much energy to give, and being a top performer, means we need to bring all our focus to it. If we are using some of our focus to make sure we don't say something or do something that might reveal something about ourselves that we are worried about showing to others, it takes away from what we can bring to our performance and life.
When we free our selves to be our true selves in any situation, we free ourselves to bring the best version of ourselves to it. This is applicable for everyone. We often spend so much energy and focus on things that we might not think impact our performance, but ultimately do. This necessarily doesn't have to be around sexual orientation, but can be with anything. Living an authentic life is a big part of being able to access your best. It can be something like, feeling you have to change who you are to be accepted or because of a role you have been given or because you have an opportunity to make the big club.
Let's look at a couple other examples. When I was in college playing hockey, I was elected as captain one of the years I played. I have always been a more lead by example type of person. Leading more through work ethic, then through talking. As I have reflected on my career, I often felt more free to be my best when others didn't want or need me to be different then who I was. I have often liked being the "kid" on the team, because I felt like I could just go out and play.
The one year I was captain in college, I was told by some teammates I needed to speak more, give talks and motivate the team. At the time I almost felt like I needed to, and it caused me some stress, because I didn't know how to, and wasn't me being true to who I was. Now I don't know exactly how it might have impacted my game, I was still the leading goal scorer, but it was energy and stress and focus I didn't need to use up, that could have been channeled to getting better and performing.
Another example I see a lot in my work with professional athletes is changing who they are as a player when they get called up from the minor leagues. They feel like they need to do something different, be different to take advantage of the opportunity. Those who understand all they can be is themselves, flourish when the time comes. Others often struggle with being as good as they need to, in order to give themselves the best opportunity to stay up with the big club.
To be ourselves is so important, and yes, sometimes you do need to take on a new persona to be the best athlete you can be, but it is still apart of who you are, that you know needs to come out to bring all you can to a moment. Kobe Bryant was a good example of this. He created the Black Mamba to be who he needed to be when on the court, it was different then who he might be off of it, but it still came from him, and helped him deal with all that came along with being one of the best.
To your success,
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Kate Allgood Masters Sport Psychology (with distinction) Masters General Psychology (with distinction) Sports Hypnosis Certification Mindfulness Certification
TAIS Assessment Certified