The other day I was having lunch with an athlete, and they mentioned to me they had a “big” game coming up and they were frustrated because they felt their team collectively was scared. I didn’t understand what they meant, I asked for clarification. The athlete responded, “it’s weird, we just never play to our potential against them. If you even mention the word [Team Name] and half the team starts to freak out.”
Confused, I asked for more specifics and the athlete divulged that the other team has had a lot of success in the past and the last few times they have played each other, their team has “fallen apart” against them. “We are a good team, but we just can’t beat them.”
I quickly responded with my best Herm Edwards impression.
I then explained to the athlete, they and their teammates were just allowing themselves to be intimidated (called Self-Intimidation). They were breaking a cardinal sin of performance known as normative-comparison, simply they were comparing themselves to their opponents. In this case, they were making negative comparisons or allaying to how they’re not as good, fast or strong as their competitors. I told them, “you’re basically psyching yourselves out!”
Self-intimidation is one of the more frustrating challenges athletes must learn to overcome, because the athlete must learn to overcome their own thoughts or doubts.
The following are signs you might be intimidating yourself:
- Your focus on the other teams players, concentrating on their size, skills or speed.
- You sometimes find yourself in awe of the game or other athletes.
- You feel no matter what, you will not play well against a particular opponent.
- You compare your skill set to your teammates or opponents.
- You’re afraid of making a mistake and looking stupid.
- You feel you don’t belong at the game or with the team.
Mental Training Tip: Overcoming Intimidation
Don’t focus on your opponent. If you are thinking too much about your opponent, focus on your preparation instead. Think about your team strategy and how you will execute it during the game. Focus on your warm-up and what your strengths are.
Don’t focus on the outcome. Instead of thinking about what it will mean to win or lose, think about the effort and hard work that is necessary for you to excel. Focus on what you have control of.
Be in the moment. Don’t be thinking about the bad pass you made 2 minutes ago or the dreaded, “there is only 2 minutes left and we are up by 3.” Instead, the only thing that should be on your mind is what you have to be doing right now!
Jared Ocana, M.S., is a Mental Skills Coach and Adjunct Faculty at Westminster College in the Human Performance and Wellness Department. Besides working with student-athletes at the school in 17 intercollegiate sports, Ocana also provides coaching and training to individual athletes along the Wasatch Front. To connect with Jared, or have questions or comments, you can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org – (801) 448-6818