Think back to last year. Has your performance changed? Even if you considered yourself a serious athlete then, you should have improved over the year. How often do you truthfully evaluate yourself? Do you readily embrace technical changes that need to be made? (The best of the best do it. For example, check out How Troy Polamalu evaluates his performance.)
The science behind high performance estimates that it takes 30 to 60 days to totally change your technique. However, if you set out to make improvements believing you only need to make physical changes, that will slow down your progress. Adjustments require emotional and mental work too.
Physically, your brain is working behind the scenes to help you change. Imagine new information pathways being built to turn a new activity into a familiar habit. That's why your coach repeats drills. Repetition strengthens the information pathways in your brain, so eventually you can perform an action without thinking about it.
Mentally, working on any new technique requires focus and staying in the moment. That's because you really have to think about practicing the new method instead of the old comfortable one. It'll feel like you have to slow down. Any resistance will in fact slow things down. But if you stick it out, eventually the new technique will become automatic.
Then there's the emotional piece. When your coach tells you to change, do you dig in your heels or take it personally? Coach's advice has nothing to do with you as an individual, but everything to do with your performance. It's not a judgment call, it's a performance change. You'll become more flexible and resilient when you rise to the challenge.
Here are three quick sports psychology tips to help you become more adaptive:
Find a word to remind you of your new approach. It'll help you focus while making the necessary changes. Example: when I was a competitive rower working on my technique, the two words I used were "roll-up" and "lift"— so I would remember to roll my blades up early and lift my hands before the blades dropped into the water.
Visualization helps speed up the learning curve. Why? Because your brain can't tell the difference between reality and visualization. It's part of why your dreams feel so real. What's really cool is that you're actually firing your muscles as if you were actually doing the reps, so you're training the technique between practices. (Improve your visualization techniques with some tips.)
As you continue working on the change, you will start to relax into it. It won't seem stiff and unfamiliar anymore. Get out of your head, and stop thinking about the step-by-step movements. Instead, begin seeing it all come together smoothly and easily. Imagine how you want it to feel when it kicks in and you get it. Relax and trust that your body knows what to do.
That's why elite athletes are always pushing the envelope and trying new things. They know it's good for them. It keeps things fresh and strengthens their game.
I like to remember that what was once difficult becomes easy. It's true. Continue challenging yourself to make small incremental changes. See it as an ongoing process helping you to perfect your skills and strive toward excellence.
Change takes work. It might slow you down and feel uncomfortable at first. Find a keyword to help you remember the new technique you're working on. Close your eyes for a moment and in your mind's eye see yourself easily using the new technique. How does that feel? Continue using the keyword and visualization to help speed the process. Stay focused on the result and how you'll be a better athlete because of the changes you're making.
photo credit: ace.com
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