Life's curveballs can have a dramatic impact on your mental state as an athlete, whether it's something as minor as a bad grade on a test or a life-altering event, like what Cardinals reliever Trever Miller had to deal with. Miller discovered that intense training can counteract the negative effects of stress and help build the mental strength needed to be successful in game situations.
Miller's stress came from his home life. After learning that his daughter Grace was born with a rare chromosomal disorder [she can't walk or talk and occasionally gets mucus stuck in her airways], Miller began having dark moods and outbursts. According to Nancy Averett of Runner's World magazine, "Miller turned to drinking, a habit that came to a head in May 2005, when he had a particularly bad night on the mound."
Filled with frustration, Miller went home and began drinking on his patio, putting down beer after beer while a lightning storm came dangerously close. Defiant, Miller stayed put, daring God to strike him down. "The next morning, Miller admonished himself," says Averett. "He knew he needed a different form of stress relief."
Later that day, he ran two miles. Soon, he was running three days a week and doing laps around Major League ballparks while on the road. Miller's new running habit morphed into intense training for the Disney Marathon. Two years after that night on the patio, he ran "26 [miles] for Grace, .2 for me," he says.
An unintended but welcome consequence of Miller's running has been increased mental strength. Greg Hauck, the Cardinals' head athletic trainer, says, "The mental strength Trever has from running allows him to handle stressful game situations."
What improves mental strength varies from athlete to athlete. Running turned out to be the perfect stress reliever for Miller; instead of anger and drinking, he lets the road sooth his psyche. For others, it might be intense sessions in the weight room or the swimming pool.
Discovering your most effective stress reliever will go a long way toward reducing your frustration and building the mental strength you need to be successful in your sport. Experiment with lifting, running and other activities to find your personal best stress reliever.
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