The road to Maccabiah is well and truly underway. Athletes, coaches, administrators and everyone else are all working tirelessly behind the scenes to build the most meaningful and successful campaign possible. As a sporting competition, core business for the Maccabiah games generally relates to the sports – so it goes without saying that significant efforts are being channelled towards training, preparing and mastering our chosen crafts. While physical preparation is important, we also want to note how critical mental health and general wellbeing are throughout the process as well. Whatever your involvement with the games, we hope to try and make every step of the way an engaging and purposeful part of your journey with sports and wellbeing.
In the lead up to the games, we’re going to be discussing some of the ideas, challenges and tips that may be relevant to competing at Maccabiah. Given that team selection is on the horizon, we thought exploring the relationship between wellbeing and tryouts might be a good place to start!
After months of training and slogging away, athletes will soon finally be given the opportunity to showcase their abilities in a bid to gain selection for the games. For some, tryouts are an incredibly exciting time. But for others, it can be an equally daunting and challenging process. The reality of tryouts is that not every athlete will be selected to compete at the upcoming games. Accompanying this reality can be a series of impacts on mental health and performance.
In truth, tryouts only offer a narrow window for athletes to showcase their abilities. Given the limited opportunity, athletes often feel an immense sense of pressure and fear around the potential outcomes. Common fears revolve around: failure, rejection, embarrassment, disappointing others (parents, friends, local coaches, etc.), and wasted opportunities/time (sacrifices made in order to train and prepare). When these fears start to take shape and gain momentum, there can also be an impact on: sleep, attention, motivation, mood, tolerance and inclination to socialise.
It doesn’t seem right though, does it? All this doom and gloom from something that is supposed to be fun – playing sports! But the good news is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. While the process may at times seem stressful, there are still some things that we can do to try and support ourselves throughout the process.
Potential, not perfection.
While we want to showcase our best, sometimes that’s just not always possible. There are so many things that are out of control, that demanding complete perfection just doesn’t always serve us. I’m talking weather conditions, injury, travel fatigue, or even just having an off day. Coaches understand the limiting nature of tryouts, and so are often looking for sign of potential in the athletes as well. So if things aren’t going perfectly on the day, try and find another way to show your potential and value to the team, by demonstrating potential in areas such as leadership, resilience, coachability and social cohesion.
When preoccupied with pressures like team selection, distraction can be common. When in this state, our minds often like to wonder to previous performances or potential future outcomes, so it’s important to try and find a way to be more grounded in the present moment. ‘Performance Cues’ can be helpful in shifting our focus away from distractions. An example of a performance cue might be creating a routine to carry out during your performance (think of Rapha Nadal before he serves). Alternatively, a performance cue could be as simple as having a word or phrase that you repeat in your mind to reset your focus, such as ‘game time’, ‘go time’, or ‘eye on the prize’.
Like my grandfather always used to say, ‘whether you think you can or think you can’t, either way you’ll probably end up being right’. That is to say, there is power in the way we think. Sometimes negative thoughts can act like a magnet in our mind recruiting other negative thoughts. While I’m not suggesting that life is only rainbows and Skittles, it is important to our wellbeing that we are taking note of the positives that we can be grateful for. So no matter what is going on during your tryouts, try to take note of the positives that will encourage you and build confidence. One way of doing this can be to construct and repeat an ‘affirmation’ (positive phrase) in your mind such as: ‘I’ve done this before, so I can do it again’, ‘I’ve trained hard, I deserve to be here’, or ‘I got this, let’s goooo!’.
If you’re anything like me, then the last words you’ll want to hear from somebody when you’re stressed are ‘just relax’. Like, if I could calm down, don’t you think I would have already?! We all want to be calm, but it doesn’t always feel so simple – and the truth is, sometimes it is a little bit more complicated. But that’s not to say there aren’t a host of really doable strategies that can help you relax in the moment. One strategy that I often turn to myself is called ‘Box Breathing’, and I swear it actually calms me down. There are four steps, each lasting for four seconds. Start by inhaling through your nose, then hold, then exhale out through your mouth, and then hold again. Try that for 8-10 rounds and see if you notice any difference.
While the suggestions above may serve to support some of you during the upcoming tryouts, it’s also important to remember that these events are challenging, and so feeling stressed about them is completely normal and ok. Whatever the outcome, we encourage you to view this as just another page in the story that is your sporting journey. The next page is your next effort!