Now is the Time to Focus on Your Mental Health

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Afremow

Dr. Jim Afremow is a much sought-after mental skills coach, licensed professional counselor, co-founder of the Champion’s Mind App, and the author of The Champion’s Mind, The Champion’s Comeback, and The Young Champion’s Mind. For over 20 years, Dr. Afremow has assisted numerous high school, collegiate, recreational, and  professional athletes. Major sports represented include MLB, NBA, WNBA, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, NHL, NFL, and the UFC. In addition, he has mentally trained several U.S. and international Olympic competitors. He served as the  staff mental coach for two international Olympic teams, the Greek Olympic softball team and India’s Olympic field hockey team. He served as a senior staff member with Counseling Services and Sports Medicine at Arizona State University, and as a Mental Skills Coach and the Peak Performance Coordinator with the San Francisco Giants MLB organization.

// Reframing COVID-19 as a Chance to Develop Your Mental Health

The past few months have presented a unique challenge for people who train. This is particularly true if you’re preparing to perform in a team sport, as group practices have become persona non grata and competitive games are still a no-no. With sports effectively shutting down the rest of their seasons – or, at least, pushing a big fat pause button – it’s understandable that you have been feeling sad, angry, disappointed, and fearful of the future.

Yet, in the pro and collegiate athletes I consult with, I’ve seen their competitive fires burning brighter than ever before during the shelter-at-home period. A true champion in any endeavor always seeks out new challenges and looks for new ways to gain a competitive edge. And even though you aren’t able to train below the neck as they’d like to right now, you can still get in mental reps by training between the ears.

It’s 75% Mental

Most coaches would say that at least 75 percent of any performance is mental, yet all too many teams leave this aspect of their preparation to chance and circumstance. As a result, there’s a lot of untapped potential going begging. I don’t view this as a problem per se, but rather as an opportunity to improve. As little as five minutes of mental skills training each day, every day can lead to big advances in confidence, gratitude, goal setting, and more. If we’re being honest, we could all use something else to do right now that uses time purposefully, rather than frittering it away on frivolous pursuits like checking Facebook for the 10th time today or watching TikTok videos. 

Daily mental skills training can also provide some much-needed structure to an otherwise disordered schedule. One technique I’ve found to be very effective – whether it was working with San Francisco Giants baseball players or athletes across all sports at Arizona State University – is to bookend each morning and evening with accountability and intentionality. In the morning, you could ask yourself, “How can I be a champion today?” Then in the evening as you are reflecting on what you did well and what you can do better moving forward, you can ponder, “How am I going to be a champion tomorrow?” 

In a few years, athletes are going to look back on this point in their careers and either realize that they’re proud of using this time productively to get better, or that they let the days, weeks, and months slip away. It’d be better for you to make the mistake of getting your mind over-prepared for when you return to sport rather than for the restart to sneak up on you and be caught unaware and unprepared.

The mindset battle

Part of the mindset battle right now is analogous to when you’re dealing with an injury. The best of the best certainly don’t celebrate when they get hurt. In fact, they’d give anything to be back out there on the court or field, giving their all for their teammates and coaches while playing the game they love. Yet they come to relish the steps needed to get through their rehab process and rebuild their bodies so that they can make a champion’s comeback. 

The COVID shutdown presents a similar chance. Sure, it sucks to miss out on time with teammates, the ability to practice together, and then to have your skills tested in the fire of competition. But you can challenge yourself to look at this long layoff as something new to progress at. You can pick a part of your lifestyle – like nutrition, sleep hygiene, or mobility – to excel at, and then celebrate your wins in those areas. In addition to becoming more physically competent, you would also do well to choose a mental skill like goal setting, self-talk, or visualization, to start mastering.

A Brief Summary

While no athlete has a choice but to be out of their game from a bodily perspective right now, they never have to leave the game mentally as they can still get those crucial reps done in their heads.

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