This article explains in some detail the importance of a strong mindset and elaborates on certain skills that can be learnt in order to achieve stillness in your thoughts. With the rise of depression, anxiety and sleep disorders on our community and studies suggesting that one in four people will suffer from a mental health disorder in their lifetime. We are currently in an epidemic of mental health diseases. This is a problem we see our athletes struggling with from as a young as pre teens. The rise of social media, environmental pressures, social pressure and the constant push to achieve, has many athletes struggling. At RSS, we extend far past the physical and endeavour to take our training into deep realms of the internal also. It is here where our athletes will perform at their peak. It is here where our athletes will achieve their greatest triumphs in sport and in life. At the end of our time, sport and success means nothing to someone who couldn't appreciate the journey along the way. I hope the readers of this article can find some value in these methods and will attempt to try them in some shape or form not just for sporting success but for the improvement of your life as a whole. - Daniel Robson Petch
Mental Health and Performance Recovery
You hear it all the time from your coaches, “make sure you get your recovery in”. But what does that mean? Is it an ice bath after games or to drink plenty of water before you hit the beers? Those examples may definitely help, but recovery extends further than game day. Your body is a workhorse, it’s stressed, fatigued, sore, tired and it needs to get up every day and keep doing what you ask of it. Your body will look after you if you look after it. Athletes, if you are still sore on Tuesday afternoon after a Saturday game, your recovery sucks. Now, this doesn’t extend to those who have suffered from a muscle tear, sprain, concussion or contusion. We are talking about muscle soreness, joint stiffness and mental fatigue.
The daily pressures of life make being a social or competitive athlete a hard task to say the least. Where do you find the time to eat healthy, stretch, drink plenty of water, give yourself a mindful hour, meditate, go to the gym or get an extra run in? Especially when you already work 40 hours a week, train 2-3x, play a game on Saturday whilst also trying to maintain a social life and not be the Debby downer on a Saturday night at the local. There's alot to cram into the week! Athletes, we have been working with people in your same situation for years and there is a golden mindset that will help you live a fulfilled life, allowing you to work hard, pay your bills, enjoy your social life and give your body the nourishment and recovery it needs to compete every week.
How would you describe your mindset?
Let's take this time to self reflect. Athletes, I want you to answer the following questions to yourself truthfully and honestly. You are the only one who needs to hear this as you are the only one who can make the change. Or maybe this is a moment for self acknowledgement. If you are happy with all of your answers, then you are doing more for yourself than the majority of athletes. Give yourself a mindful moment to grab a pen and paper, number each line from 1-40 and write your honest answer. This exercise is only to provoke conscious thought and help stimulate intrinsic motivation as we continue through this article.
What are your stress levels on average out of 10 on a daily basis? 10 Being completely overwhelming and thought consuming.
How deeply do you sleep on average per night?
Do you suffer from night terrors or sleep anxiety?
What does your pre-sleep routine look like?
How often do you worry about the future? This may be in sport, work or life circumstances
How hard is it to wake up every morning?
How much do you enjoy your work?
How much do you enjoy your sport?
How motivated are you to get to the gym?
How motivated are you to get to training?
How nervous are you before a game/competition?
How happy are you with your social decisions?
How much time do you put into your own mental health?
How much mindfulness time do you give yourself per day?
How often do you meditate and for how long?
How would you rate your average food consumption?
How would you rate your average water consumption?
How would you rate your alcohol/ drug consumption?
How much time do you spend in front of the tv, laptop, computer or phone per week?
How many breaks do you give yourself at work?
When was the last time you changed your weekly routine? And Before that?
When was the last time you did something for yourself, by yourself?
When was the last time you did something personally liberating or inspiring?
How do you cope with losing? Or a bad game?
When was the last time you put yourself out there and had the conversation you needed to have?
When was the last time you stood up for yourself?
When was the last time you did something bold and it spiked your confidence? And before that?
How often do you action that awesome idea you have been pondering on?
How often do you stress about money?
How would you describe your self-awareness?
Do you love yourself, the body you are in and who you are? How much?
How often do you take time to acknowledge how far you have come?
How grateful are you for the little and big things in life?
How judgemental are you on random topics? Are you quick to pick sides either positive or negative?
How often do you visualise your version of success?
How big do you dream? Where is your limit of success? Not just in sport, but life also.
How many fears do you have? Have you ever tried to break them?
How do negative comments against you make you feel?
Do you regularly look for acknowledgement?
Are you confident in your own abilities to succeed in whatever it is you want in life?
These questions are endless. Mental health is a huge topic which has only surfaced within the last decade or so. It’s still young and the stigma behind mental health is still somewhat there. Often athletes will put so much work into the physical aspect of their training but they neglect the mental. A strong mental game, gets you up in the morning, it gets you to training, it makes you resilient, it makes you bold, confident and trusting in your own judgement. A strong mental mindset encourages you to look after your physical body. It makes it easier to jump into the ice bath, stretch on a sunday and eat healthy food. Now I may not be a psychologist but I am someone who has been an athlete before and has worked with athletes for a decade. I understand their struggles because I too struggled with them as well. I am a strong advocate for mental health and have been through my own personal journey with anxiety, stress and fear of failure.
This article has the potential to be the most influential and powerful article I have ever written. As resistance Sports Science develops, so will the mental health aspect of performance. Too often I hear of athletes struggling with exams, work and compounding life stres. Performance, social and sleep anxiety. Depression, fear of failure, panicat leat attack disorders and the feeling of being trapped or not good enough. These mental health issues are extremely common in our modern society. Constantly our Australian athletes put themselves on their own comparison wheel, comparing their performance, their bodies and their social media influence to big name instagram socialites. How many likes and comments did that last photo get? How many views did you get on tik tok? Our youth athletes are battling with themselves everyday as to how they can be better. But how can you get better if your thoughts tell you that you aren’t good enough? How can you get better if you have an exam in two days, but your friends want to catch up with you but you also have training tonight and a game on saturday. It’s all too much, isn’t it?
Meditation and Grounding Yourself
An important tool for any athlete or person who is struggling with compounding life stress is the ability to ground themselves. What is your stress? Is it about what could happen in the foreseeable future? Is it about things that are out of your hands? Is it about things that have a deadline? This is a common mindset that athletes suffer with. The key to de-stressing is to ground yourself. Where are you right now? What are you currently doing? Are you in danger? Are you safe? Can you do this? Grounding yourself is about bringing your consciousness and thoughts to the present moment. In the present moment you are in control of your thoughts and what needs to be done. To be grounded is to be aware of the stillness of the present moment. There is no stress in the present moment, only action. Removing yourself from the past or future will bring you to the present and ultimately ground your senses to what's in front of you.
For an athlete to know that they are stressed, they need to be self aware that they are stressed. Many athletes may not even realise they are stressed. So we need to look for ques. Do you grind your teeth at night? Do you crack your neck a little too often? Do you have this uncontrollable habit which you can’t stop doing? Are you shoulders really tense and constantly raised? If you as an athlete can find your stress ques, you will become conscious around your heightened stress levels. This allows an athlete to know when to ground themselves and bring those stressful thoughts to the present moment where you are safe and capable of achieving your tasks.
Meditation can be a fantastic way for athletes to clear those stressful thoughts and ground themselves. In the recent decade, elite sporting organisations now incorporate meditation into their holistic programs for player welfare and management. Meditation is a learned skill which requires practice and patience. During meditation you can allow yourself a mindful moment to become self aware of how you are feeling, why you are feeling like that and you can use it to change your perspective on a given situation. For example, an athlete may be struggling with the high pressure of exam week at university. Their initial thoughts are, I am never going to get this done and I am just going to fail. During a meditation session, the athlete may give themselves the opportunity to think differently about the situation. They may start to think things like, you are doing the best you can. Stay consistent and you will finish this. Just finish one task at a time and you will finish with ample time before your exams. These grounding thoughts may just be the kick you need to intrinsically motivate you, decrease your stress levels and work hard towards your goals.
Where athletes go wrong with meditation, is that they feel like they are wasting time when they could be working and doing other things. This is comparable to saying that an athlete who keeps missing that kick for goal and can’t stop missing, should just keep kicking until they get it regardless of how frustrated they get. Maybe this athlete would benefit from walking away, grounding themselves, decreasing their own perceived pressure and then come back and try again later? This is a form of meditation in itself. Implement it everyday and feel the difference in your emotions. Meditation can turn your stress into strength. It can turn your anxiety into motivation. There's no pressure to do it “right” because there is no such thing. Just start by giving yourself 5-10 minutes, try your best to listen to your thoughts and eventually, you will be able to sit still for over an hour in a clear blissful state. Just like running, we started by crawling.
Breaking your habit loop
Have you ever stopped to think about what your routine is like? Does it involve the same breakfast, the same uniform, the same office, training in the afternoon, games on the weekend and a tired and sore sunday? Whilst routine is a fantastic way to stay organised and on top of your weekly tasks, it’s what we do in between our “need too’s” like stated above which can make the biggest difference to our mental health. For example, what is the first thing you do when you wake up? Do you check your phone? Watch TV? Scroll through instagram? Do you wake up to your alarm clock, hate how early it is, scroll on your phone, go to the bathroom with your phone in your hand, have a shower and think about the stressors of your day, brush your teeth, check your phone, pack your lunch and head to work/ school? Do you do this everyday? Do you hate how early it is because of how late you were up watching TV, youtube, studying or scrolling again? Do you see where I am getting at?
What we do in between our routine is what is harming our mental health. Our Phones are a hand held marketing device which companies manipulate to get your attention. Our addiction to hits of dopamine (feel good hormones) and desire for more fuels our downtime and in return we feel anxiety about our current situation, our possessions and our social status. Our mindset is an internal dragon which is addicted to external happiness. Meditation, groundedness, visualisation, breath work and self awareness are all internal skills which can improve our internal state. Stress is a mindset which many athletes and people are addicted to, it is an internal Dragon which can be tamed with Internal skills. Comparing yourself to others, wishing you had better things, more clothes, better skills or were playing at a higher level are all Internal anxiety ques which can only be tamed through internal strength. The point here is, the more we spend our conscious time, being unconscious, worrying about the future and what you wish we had, the more our internal dragons take over our state of mind. This makes us feel more unhappy, making us less productive at School or Work, more stressed and as a result our performance and recovery gets worse.
Breaking your habit loop starts by waking up 30 minutes earlier and giving yourself you time. Being present may look like reading a book, going for a walk/run without any devices, practising yoga, meditation or just simply stretching. Whatever you get a kick out of starts in the morning. Maybe you just like cooking a healthy breakfast without any distractions? Whatever it is, this is the very moment you start your day for you, becoming more consciously aware of your actions and taking control of your mental thoughts. Here's a quick an easy one - when standing in line, going to the bathroom or waiting for a coffee. Don’t pick up your phone, take the time to ground yourself, become present and appreciate the world around you. You will find your best ideas and innovations are created in moments of stillness.
Learning how to sleep
The title of the segment sounds stupid right? Everyone knows how to sleep. According to certain sleep articles, up to 60% of Australians may have at least one sleep disorder symptom which disrupts their sleep pattern, mood, function, performance and daily life. This is absolutely huge. I know many athletes I work with struggle with sleep. From night terrors, sleep insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks and just general hyper-stimulation. Many experts will tell you that you will need to get at least 8 hours of sleep to ensure you maximise all the benefits of sleep. Unfortunately, in this day and age many people struggle to get 8 hours of sleep because they haven’t been taught any sleeping skills! I am an activist for a strong sleep routine, in fact over the last two years I have prioritised it so much, I now look forward to sleep and the internal realms in which I can explore. I now have extremely vivid dreams also known as lucid dreams which keeps me dead asleep until the moment I wake up the next morning. Whilst this isn’t the goal of this article, I think it’s important to understand how much more there is to sleep and the complexities of deep sleep and dreaming. So where do we start?
Firstly, you have probably heard this before but Athletes, you need to be away from screens for at least an hour before you hit the pillow. This is an important time to minimise hyperactivity of the brain and decrease any thoughts causing anxiety or stress for the next day. You need to prepare your body for sleep like you would prepare for your next competition. Without sleep we can’t perform and without it completely, the human brain can completely shut down. So prioritise this time, just like you did in the morning as conscious YOU time. Do something which is thought stimulating but also relaxing like reading, playing a board game or just be still and let your mind wander. If you like playing music, keep sounds ambient and relaxing which keep your heart and breath rate down. Now is not the time for exciting your neurons and partying with your anxiety. I recommend listening to music without words. Words can stimulate relatable thoughts relating to your life which don’t matter. (As an example, if you have just been through a breakup, we don’t need to be listening to songs which might stimulate negative emotions about a certain person). As humans, we tend to relate our lives with music and this can be a powerful emotional tool but not when we are going to prepare for the next 8 hours of sleep. So keep it relaxed, and play something you enjoy the sound of. My favourites are Lofi, ambient chill and relaxation meditation music to name a few.
Next, it’s time to prepare your body for complete relaxation. As we lay down, this is a perfect opportunity to find our stress points in the body. Where have you been holding stress all day? Is it in your shoulders? Your face? Your thighs? Maybe it’s in all of them. Stressful thoughts are displayed in the body and you can feel it when you relax them and give them your attention. I start my sleep relaxation by scanning my body. Start with your feet and completely relax them, move to your calves, knees, thighs, stomach and so on until you reach the top of your head. Feel all of the tension your body has held onto today and relax your tension points one by one. An important tip here is to use your breath as your sleep friend. You can diminish any thoughts about the day by purely focusing on your breath. Focus on gently breathing into your belly, and then your chest, completely filling your lungs and as you breathe out, relax your stress points and let go of any tension. This may take a few goes and you may even struggle to stay focused for the first few times. Like learning a new skill in your sport, it takes practice and eventually you will nail it.
From here, you can either fall into sleep or listen to a sleep meditation. Maybe even have one prepared. The only time you will look at your phone is to press play on your sleep meditation. Listen to the ambience and the instructions from the guided meditation instructor. Let yourself fall deeply into a meditative sleep where both your body and mind are completely relaxed. Let go of the day, the future and past stressors. They are not important, this is Conscious YOU time and nothing else matters at this moment. I recommend ear phones or a sleep headband ( I know that's not very stereotypically “cool” but neither is feeling like crap all day). Treat yourself.
Performing a routine similar to this and finding what works for you not only will help you have a deeper, longer sleep, you may even discover the hidden world of dreaming. If there's any reason to try and get better sleep, how about the fact that people like you and me are able to control their dreams. They can use their dreams for practising their sport, for flying, for experiencing new realities. I am no scientist (well I guess I am an Exercise Scientist) but I know it can be done.
Mental Health and your Performance
Ok, So I have only just touched the surface here on taking the reins on your mental health strength. I could write a book about its complexity with relation to performance however there are a few key take-homes I think every athlete can use to their advantage. Firstly, find time for you. The more you can bring stillness to your mind and rid the self doubt, negativity and anxiety, the more productive, happy and fulfilled you will feel during life in it’s simplest form. Your performance will then follow. With more time and a more positive mindset, you will find it easier to get to training, to do your stretches, to work on the skills that need attention and to dedicate time to fitness. A clearer headspace will improve your decision making and help you achieve results at work and school at a much faster rate than one clouded with procrastination and doubt. Ensure your sleep is prioritised, learn the simple skill of meditation and grounding yourself to the present. Stay away from consuming past and future thoughts that don’t matter and spend more time in the present. YOU in the present moment are the most important thing. Break that habit loop and take control of the little things you have control of.