I was chatting with a local high school lacrosse coach yesterday, and he told me the hardest thing to coach isn’t the strategy or the game itself, it’s how to help his players improve mental toughness in lacrosse.
That part of the conversation really stuck with me because it’s in fact one of the most important aspects for players to develop but the lacrosse community doesn’t talk about it enough. Most lacrosse players I see only spend time on training and building their technical and tactical skills. They often aren’t aware or tend to neglect the importance of the mental game.
So to help more players recognize this is a topic we need to talk more about, I did some research on how the mind affects players’ performance and how the best athletes approach the mental part of the game. Therefore, in this post, I want to show you how you can develop mental toughness.
Why Is Mental Toughness Important?
First, let’s take a moment to define what mental toughness means. Mental toughness is how well and stable players are able to perform under different sources of pressure. These different forms of pressure can come from themselves, the audience, the spotlight and also the coaches. In other words, the mental toughness is measured by how well this player is able to perform in important games just as naturally as s/he is in practice.
As you can see, even a player blessed with extreme physical talent needs to train and develop the correct mental muscle. Otherwise, they will not be able to perform at the level they could be in the most important games. In my opinion, the ability to deal with the stress of high competition is more correlated with a player’s success than physical talent. This is a big reason why you see many raising superstars never quite accomplish what is expected of them.
So the will to succeed and improve must be cultivated alongside the physical side of training. In addition, having a tough mind can carry players through the low points of their careers. Even in the midst of burnout, without mental toughness, many players will be overwhelmed and decide to quit lacrosse once and for all.
With all that said, let’s break down some of the best ways to improve your mental toughness. Remember this is a virtue that will be beneficial to not just playing lacrosse but to almost every part of your life.
Read also: As a backup player, how to get better
How To Improve Your Mental Toughness In Lacrosse Today
Discover the source of your passion
I am a fan of anchoring discipline to the reason why you love lacrosse. If you have been playing lacrosse for more than 4 years and you are reading this blog, I am 90% confident you have a passion for lacrosse. It’s something that’s on your mind every day, so ask yourself why you lacrosse so much. Is it because it’s super fast paced, or is it because you love the competitiveness of the game? I know for many young players it’s not something they think too much about, but this will be a great motivator that pushes you through the challenges and pressure.
If you are under extreme pressure, take a moment and start to recall all the reasons why you are playing lacrosse and why you love it so much. Let your source of passion guide you through the stress and the downs. This is a mental practice I have been doing ever since college and I wish I have started this earlier.
So next time when you are feeling immense stress, close your eyes and think about why you are playing. Rather than focusing on the game itself, think broader about the sport itself. Suddenly you will feel lighter and more relaxed.
Aim for a higher standard
“If you aim high and fall short, you still achieve more than by aiming low and falling short.” This quote pretty much summarizes why mental toughness goes hand in hand with always having a higher standard.
If you want to develop mental toughness, you need to constantly push yourself to become better, overcome higher challenges and don’t give up when things get tough. One thing to note is that you can’t develop mental toughness overnight. It’s a gradual and consistent process.
Therefore, you need to apply a higher standard both in practice and during games. Even during warmup when other players are goofing around, you have to block out the distraction and focus on your movements. Fight for every ground ball even if it’s a practice game. Starting with these little things is how you toughen your mind which is what it’s all about.
Once you get used to always going for that extra mile, you will be used to challenging situations. So even if it’s a final championship game, you are able to maintain the same level of play you do during practice. So remember every little thing you do above and beyond will add up eventually to help you succeed in those big moments.
Find your strength
One thing I didn’t do earlier enough in my career is to recognize what I was good at and what I wasn’t. Until I started playing in college, I finally developed an understanding of my strengths and weakness. Looking back I think that’s why during high school I never really had strong confidence in myself even though I was pretty good at it. I simply didn’t know my ability enough.
You need to know where your strength lies in order to develop mental toughness. It gives you the confidence to work through tough situations. Because when you are under immense pressure, you know you are able to do certain things really well and you can even do them better than other players. This is a great positive signal to your brain that helps many players to maintain great performance.
So how to recognize your strength? One good way to do that is to ask your coach. Chances are if you are playing lacrosse on your school team, you must have something special your coach identifies. Second way is to do reflections after every game by asking questions like what you did great and what you didn’t do that well. This can also tie back to the first point which is to examine yourself from a third-person point of view.
If you are still in high school, definitely start to dig in and learn about yourself — your strengths and weaknesses.
Stay focused and be in the present
Today’s world is a very much different place. Social media wasn’t as present as 10 years ago and there were fewer sources of entertainment and distractions. So what this means is to be great at lacrosse today and going forward you need to learn how to stay focused and block out all the noise. If your mind is a mumble jumbo, your performance will also be severely impacted.
If you watch how the best of the best players get ready before a game, you will notice many of them mediate. And in fact, many of them are big fans of doing regular meditation every day. It has lots of benefits. If you are a person who is easily distracted, I recommend you start doing meditation. Even just 5 minutes every day definitely helps your mind to calm down.
You could either focus on your breathing or focus on one thought in your mind. More importantly, get yourself used to silence. Being comfortable with sitting in silence has helped me improve concentration tremendously.
Develop good habits
I want to iterate this notion of you have to consistently practice your mental muscle in order to build mental toughness. Clear away as many obstacles as possible before every game, which includes making sure your gear is strapped in, your stick is ready to go and you are fully warmed up. These things will not only physically protect you but also send a signal to your brain that you are ready to rock and roll.
Any external factors can directly influence your performance. If your helmet isn’t correctly attached to the throat protector, your mind will be distracted. If you aren’t properly warmed up, your body will not be able to perform as well. So in order to avoid these things, develop good habits and stick to them. Remember the last thing we want is to create unnecessary mental stress.
I hope you have learned something by reading this post. At the end of my conversation with the local coach, I told him mental toughness needs to be talked about more often. It’s probably the biggest virtue that makes or breaks a player’s career.
So if you want to continue to improve, I strongly recommend you read through this post again and start to train hard both physically and mentally.