GET SMART

HOW DO YOU BECOME MENTALLY TOUGH?

BOOSTING CONFIDENCE LEVEL:

ALL WHINING, NEGATIVE THINKING, AND EXCUSES MUST BE ELIMINATED FROM YOUR GAME. WINNING CAN'T BE CONTROLLED, BUT A WINNING ATTITUDE CAN AND NEEDS TO BE.  PLAYERS ACHIEVE CONFIDENCE IN A VARIETY OF WAYS. BEFORE MATCHES, A PLAYER MIGHT PUT HIMSELF IN A POSITIVE MOOD, BY LISTENING TO A SONG THAT HAS A SPECIAL MEANING FOR HIM. YOU MAY DISCOVER THAT MUSIC, QUIET TIME ALONE, OR FRIENDLY CONVERSATION BREEDS CONFIDENCE. FIND THE APPROACH THAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU, THEN DO IT REGULARLY. SOME PLAYERS BUILD CONFIDENCE WITH A "GOOD PRACTICE BEFORE THE GAME." NOTHING ESTABLISHES SELF-ASSURANCE LIKE SOLID PREPARATION. IF YOU CAN'T FIND A PRE-MATCH GAME, FIND AN EMPTY COURT AND RUN THROUGH ALL YOUR SHOTS. YOUR INTENSE COMPETITIVENESS FEEDS INTO YOUR CONFIDENCE AND WILL ALLOW YOURSELF TO FACE IMPORTANT POINTS AS IF THEY WERE NOTHING MORE THAN BUMPS IN THE ROAD. DESIRE IS A HUGE FACTOR IN BUILDING CONFIDENCE, SO GET EXCITED ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF A BIG GAME.

REMAINING IN THE PRESENT:

A BIG GAME IS ABOUT RIGHT NOW. IT'S NOT ABOUT LOOKING FORWARD OR BACK. PLAYERS MUST STAY ABSORBED IN THE PRESENT. CONCENTRATION IS A WEAPON THAT USUALLY GOES UNDETECTED BY THE OPPONENT. THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS, OR EXTERNAL SIGHTS AND SOUNDS, DISTRACT PLAYERS AT ALL LEVELS. REMAINING FOCUSED IS TOUGH AND BECOMES EVEN HARDER WHEN IT'S A CONSCIOUS EFFORT. ALLOW FOCUS TO COME NATURALLY BY ENJOYING THE BATTLE AND REMAINING ABSORBED IN THE MOMENT RATHER THAN WORRYING ABOUT THE SCORE. GREAT PLAYERS WILL FOCUS BY THINKING "WATCH THE BALL" AND "PLAY YOUR OWN GAME." NARROW YOUR FOCUS IN THIS WAY AND YOU CAN ELIMINATE SUCH UNNECESSARY DISTRACTIONS AS NEARBY MATCHES OR SPECTATOR BEHAVIOR.

MANAGING THE DEMONS OF INTENSITY:

GETTING OVERLY EXCITED AND LOSING INTEREST ARE TWO EXTREMES OF THE SAME NEED IN HANDBALL: MANAGING INTENSITY LEVELS. A GOOD PLAYER WILL FIGHT OFF SIX POINT GAMES AND WIN THE GAME. THAT TAKES GUTS. THE PLAYER HAD MANY CHANCES TO GET OVERLY INTENSE OR FEARFUL, BUT HE STAYED PROPERLY ENERGIZED INSTEAD. THIS ALLOWED HIM TO EXECUTE PRECISE SHOTS AND NOT GET FLUSTERED WITH THE GAME IN THE BALANCE. A GOOD PLAYER WILL LEARN HOW TO REMAIN MORE RELAXED. MANY COMPETITORS CITE RELAXATION AS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT MENTAL SKILL TO MASTER. SO IF NERVES BOTHER YOU DURING A GAME, TAKING A FEW MOMENTS TO DO A BIT OF SLOW, DEEP BREATHING CAN BE THERAPEUTIC. ALSO, TRY CREATING AND THEN RELEASING TENSION IN YOUR MUSCLES WHILE IMAGINING CALM AND POSITIVE SCENARIOS. ALTHOUGH RELAXATION IS A GREATER NEED FOR MOST, A GOOD JOLT OF ENERGY IS SOMETIMES REQUIRED. IF BOREDOM OR FATIGUE SETS IN, VISUALIZE POWERFUL FORCES (A GREAT ROLLER) OR JOG IN PLACE TO REGAIN ENERGY. YOU MIGHT ALSO ABSORB EMOTION AND INTENSITY FROM THE CROWD, BUT REMEMBER: YOU MUST KEEP YOUR FOCUS!

SETTING AND ACHIEVING SMART GOALS:

GOAL-SETTING IS A MOTIVATIONAL STRATEGY THAT INVOLVES CHARTING THE COURSE THAT'LL TAKE YOUR GAME WHERE YOU WANT IT TO GO. UNFORTUNATELY, MANY PLAYERS DON'T HAVE A DESTINATION, SO THEY SAIL AROUND THE COURT WITHOUT A RUDDER. FOR THEM, PRACTICE IS JUST AN EXERCISE IN HITTING A BALL, AND MATCHES INVOLVE LITTLE MORE THAN REACTING TO AN OPPONENT'S SHOTS. SOME PLAYERS STAY AWAY FROM GOAL SETTING BECAUSE, "WHAT HAPPENS IS OFTEN OUT OF THEIR CONTROL. YOU CAN HIT THE BEST SHOT IN YOUR LIFE AND YOUR OPPONENT CAN HIT BACK A CHEAP WINNER." ACTUALLY, THEIR NOT AVOIDING GOALS AT ALL; THEY ARE AVOIDING GOALS BASED ON WINNING (OUT-COME GOALS). IT'S FAR MORE EFFECTIVE TO SET GOALS WITH A SPECIFIC AND DETAILED ACTION IN MIND (PERFORMANCE GOALS), SUCH AS INCREASING YOUR FIRST-SERVE PERCENTAGE OR DECREASING UNFORCED ERRORS. THESE GOALS IMPROVE PERFORMANCE, WHEREAS THINKING SOLELY ABOUT THE OUTCOME OF A GAME OFTEN INCREASES PRESSURE AND FEAR.  SOME PLAYERS FOCUS ON SHORT-TERM ACHIEVEMENTS. WHILE IT'S TRUE THAT LONG-TERM SEASONAL OR CAREER GOALS OFFER A MUCH-NEEDED OVERVIEW AND INCENTIVE, THE BATTLE IS ESSENTIALLY WON IN THE TRENCHES BY SETTING AND ACHIEVING DAILY AND WEEKLY GOALS. SHORT-TERM PERFORMANCE GOALS SHOULD BE SPECIFIC, DETAILED, REASONABLE, AND HAVE A TARGET DATE FOR COMPLETION. THEY SHOULD ALSO BE FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO CHANGE AS NEEDED, AND NOT TOO TOUGH--OR TOO EASY--TO ATTAIN.

VISUALIZATION FOR SUCCESS:

VISUALIZATION LETS PLAYERS REHEARSE NEW SKILLS, PREPARE FOR COMPETITION, AND MANAGE MANY TYPES OF DISTRACTIONS. WE ALL HAVE THE ABILITY TO DO IT. INDEED, IF YOU CAN DAYDREAM, YOU ALREADY KNOW HOW TO VISUALIZE. THE KEY? ONLY VISUALIZE SUCCESS, AND RECREATE AS MANY SENSATIONS OF IT AS YOU CAN SO THAT YOUR SESSIONS ARE AS CLOSE TO REALITY AS POSSIBLE. PLAYERS USE THIS TECHNIQUE TO VISUALIZE PLAYING A PARTICULAR STYLE OR HITTING SEVERAL SHOTS IN A ROW AGAINST A SPECIFIC OPPONENT. SOME PLAYERS VISUALIZE WITH MUSIC AND RELAXATION.  I SPOKE TO A PLAYER WHO LIKES TO PUT ON HIS "GAME FACE" WHILE LISTENING TO MUSIC AND IMAGINING WHAT HE'S ABOUT TO ACCOMPLISH. IT'S ALSO SMART TO VISUALIZE ONLY THOSE SKILLS AND STROKES THAT ARE WELL-DEVELOPED. VISUALIZATION CAN BE DONE BEFORE AND AFTER A MATCH OR DURING PLAY. EITHER WAY, IT'LL REINFORCE THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF YOUR GAME.

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