Achieving The Normal Mind: The Path Of The Competitive Athlete
“When you do everything in the normal state of mind, as it is when totally unoccupied, then everything goes smoothly and easily”
– Yagyu Munenori.
“He makes hitting a ball look so easy.”
“Her golf stroke seems effortless.”
Is it just the athlete’s natural ability or are there other forces at work that separates successful athletes from others? It depends on the level of competition. In youth sports, natural ability alone can play a huge role. But to successfully compete with, or against someone who has already achieved a more skilled version of themselves will require more than natural ability. It will require developing that natural ability to a remarkably high level so that whatever you’re doing, it’s automatic and without conscious thought ― like riding a bike. This is what is referred to as being in the normal mind. So how can you help your athlete develop the normal mind and take their training to the next level?
Balance Skill Development While Maintaining Enthusiasm for the Game
Achieving the normal mind is a process that starts with finding your talent and then overcoming your own resistance towards doing the work to develop it. For kids in youth sports, the requirements for developing a normal mind during competition are simple: high volume repetitive drills during practices that will train the body to execute the proper technique without conscious effort. But all of this will be undone if parents and coaches continually “instruct’ during games. Letting the kids just play the game without distractions allows kids to be in their natural state of mind and allows their training to work for them.
Focus on Repetitive Movements
Whether it’s riding a bike, pitching for your little league team or shooting the winning free throw in an NBA championship game, success depends on a calm and empty mind. Achieving this state of mind in a competition first requires the acquisition of physical skills and repetition of basic mechanics. By repeating basic mechanics and movements, training accumulates, becoming muscle memory and second nature. This in turn makes it easier for the mind to be free of conscious thought during competition. When these movements are mastered to the point of natural reaction, the mind no longer interferes with the split-second reaction time needed to hit a speeding baseball, the incredible timing necessary to deke the goalie at the last instant or the composure to kick the winning field goal in a packed stadium of crazed fans.
Be Patient & Foster Enthusiasm for the Sport
Letting your kids just focus on playing the game, ultimately helps them stay excited about their sport and focus less on performance and more on doing what they love. Working towards a normal mind in competition can be marred by a lack of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, enthusiasm is often destroyed by the desire for instant results which only pollutes the mind with shortcuts. Advancing and growing in a sport requires patience and constantly looking for shortcuts can derail efforts towards skill development with distractions of not achieving fast enough.
Practice More Mindfulness & Place Less Emphasis on Failures
Maintaining a calm mind in the heat of competition can be one of the hardest things to achieve. Even with advanced physical skills, the main obstacle to overcome is ourselves. And although we won’t always succeed, we can always improve.
However, it’s more common for us to leap ahead and dream about future outcomes instead of committing to the one step at a time approach to training that will actually take us there; an approach that will free the mind to embrace inevitable failures as a learning tool instead of allowing frustration to influence the next moment; one that will develop the subconscious mind to eventually guide us to perform effectively while simultaneously eliminating distractions. When failures of the past or anxiety about the future are ever-present in the mind, athletic posture will be affected, and timing will be off, and the body follows the mind.
Achieving success in sports is not just physical, it’s mental. It’s the development of strong character as you take the necessary steps in the pursuit of a mind/body connection that will allow the awakening of your normal mind in competition and life.
Chuck Schumacher is the author of “How to Play Baseball: A Parents Role in Their Child’s Journey,” available at www.chuckschumacher.com (signed copy) or Amazon. Chuck has 20 years of experience as a youth baseball coach and 40 years of experience in martial arts. In 2006, he opened Chuck’s Gym in Franklin, Tenn., where he teaches baseball and Okinawan karate. You can contact Chuck at firstname.lastname@example.org.