Cover Photo Credit: Deseret News/Club GSL
Preface: COVID-19 has disrupted sports in many ways. Tournaments and competitions were put on hold. Seasons were pushed back. Some high school sports were outright canceled, and players were confined at home. Without the ability to practice in-person everyday under normal conditions, how can athletes, especially volleyball players, maintain their mental focus to perform well?
Josh Brecheisen is the owner of VBMindsetter, a training program to help volleyball players get game ready to perform at the highest level. Check out his guest article below on how players can maintain their mindset even through the difficulties of COVID-19.
-Carson, Stadium Gear & Apparel
How to Maintain Your Volleyball Mindset
By Josh Brecheisen
We are seemingly at the tail end of a more than a yearlong global pandemic. Despite that we are still subject to periodic quarantines due to sickness among family, teammates, and opponents. These quarantines disrupt the flow of our season, they disrupt the flow of our progress as players, and they most certainly disrupt the flow of our team chemistry. It is not easy to maintain continuity when there is so much disruption.
Anyone who has been paying attention to social media over the last year, has seen that a lot of volleyball players have come up with creative ways to just get out there and do some sort of volleyball activity during permanent or periodic quarantines. We have seen people playing on rooftops, with dogs, and all sorts of homemade contraptions. While many of us have come up with creative ways to maintain our physical flow, most of us have struggled with ways to maintain our mental flow. So, it begs to question, how do you stay mentally prepared to play volleyball during quarantine?
The first thing your loved ones will want to have you do during quarantine is to relax and enjoy a little time off. Please resist that temptation. This will cause mental atrophy during a time that you need to build a bridge to getting back on the court.
I am going to give you 3 visualization techniques that you can do to maintain your mental flow during quarantine that I have used with many of the pro and youth players that I have coached over this past year.
#1 Watch LOTS of Volleyball
The first visualization technique is to watch lots of volleyball – or at least spend as much time watching volleyball as you did playing volleyball. Have you ever heard the expression monkey see, monkey do? When we see someone else do something, a part of our brain processes the information the same is if we were the actual ones doing it. That is why we often feel so emotionally connected to the wins and losses of our favorite sports teams. This phenomenon is what scientists call Mirror Neurons (https://www.apa.org/monitor/oct05/mirror). They were discovered in the early 1990s with tests on… you guessed it, monkeys. Hence the expression. So get out there you little monkeys and watch some volleyball.
PRO TIP: Watch the most recent video of yourself playing.
#2 Visualize Something Familiar
The second visualization technique is to visualize something familiar. In other words, if you are an indoor player try to watch, think about, and visualize indoor volleyball instead of beach volleyball. There are times when cross training the brain is important but confusing your mind with the little difference in nuances of the indoor/outdoor games is not helpful when you are focused on establishing mental flow. This also goes with the pro game vs the youth game. Keep your mind focused on the game that is most familiar to you, if possible. Here are a couple useful tips to maximize this strategy. Close your eyes and visualize yourself going through your actual team practice. See the gym. See your teammates. See each drill as you participate in them one by one.
PRO TIP: Visualize yourself playing in the game that is coming up.
#3 Chunk It Down
The third visualization technique is to chunk your visualizations down. Too much information can cause the same amount of disruption to flow as taking your mind completely off volleyball. Remember, the name of the game is flow. Or at least that’s the name of the science. So, if you’re feeling frustrated with your inability to visualize, take it easy on yourself. Don’t get too frustrated. Just visualize as well as you can for as long as you can, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. Again, you can always extend your brains volleyball practice time by supplementing visualization with volleyball videos. The important thing is to do some level of visualization, daily.
PRO TIP: Right before visualization, watch a GoPro video of someone playing volleyball from a first-person point of view. You can find many of those on Instagram.
These are 3 techniques that will help you maintain your mental flow during quarantine or any other break in volleyball, such as an injury. Remember to watch lots of volleyball, visualize something familiar, and chunk it down so you don’t get overwhelmed. The mental game is half the battle. If you can master that during quarantine, you will be Game Ready when your back on the court.
BONUS MATERIAL: Record yourself or someone else reading this visualization below and use it as a guided visualization for your daily mental process.
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose, then breath out even deeper through your mouth. Get in touch with your breath. Deep breaths in, deep breaths out. Feel the awareness that the oxygen flow gives your mind. Feel the agility that the blood flow gives your body. Keep this rhythm of breath going until you feel calm, strong, and in control.
Now, divert your attention away from your breath. Just let your breath take care of itself. With your eyes still closed, see yourself walk into the gym. See it through your own eyes, in other words, see it in the first-person. See yourself go through warm-ups. Feel the increased awareness, calm, strength, and control that your breath just provided you. Let it empower you as you warm up.
See the ball come off your forearms, your hands, your fingertips. Hear the ball come off your forearms, your hands, your fingertips. Feel the ball come off your forearms, your hands, your fingertips.
Feel the flow off the game and feel your body just automatically know how to respond.
Once you feel completely warmed up, hear the sound of the whistle. Step onto the court and set up in row 1. Hear the opening whistle and see the serve come your way. Run through the play in your mind and see yourself perform flawlessly. See everything go just the way you would hope.
Hear the whistle again, as the next play begins. See the play commence. See yourself make the play with confidence. See yourself make the best play ever.
With each play feel your confidence increase. Feel the power of your swing, the ease of your hand and foot work, and notice the natural way that your body reacts to align itself with the play that needs to be made.
Hear another whistle, signaling the next play. Every time you hear that whistle let your mind reset. All that matters is this moment. Trust yourself. Trust your body that it will know how to respond. As this next play begins get into the flow of the game and see yourself get into a long rally. Step into each ball knowing that you're going to make the play and see yourself keep the play alive touch after touch. Then finally see your team win the point. Enjoy the excitement and celebration, knowing that you contributed to that point in meaningful ways. Hear the whistle another time. It's the next play. Work hard to position yourself correctly, trust yourself, and make another great play as you score another point. Keep this going. See yourself make play after play in all aspects of the game that you are involved in. Just take a moment right now and see the game continue on until it's game point. With everything on the line see this next play with laser focus. See the ball come your way and step in confidently to make the final play of the game that seals the win. Celebrate with your teammates and then step off the court. See yourself walk back through the entrance into the gym. Step outside and open your eyes.
Now, go out and bring your visualization to life.
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Josh Brecheisen is a national speaker, entrepreneur, and Extreme Focus coach. He played collegiate volleyball at BYU, where he witnessed a national championship. He has coached at the high school and club levels. In business, he built several recruiting firms and worked with tech giants such as Dell Technologies and LogMeIn. After developing a unique coaching methodology, he exited his business and began mental performance coaching full-time.
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