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How to Shake off the Mental Impact of Big Hitting Sports

Fear is a common experience for athletes who compete in high-impact sports. Whether it’s staring down the face of a massive wave in a surf competition or preparing yourself as you watch a 300-lb rugby player charge the field, there’s no way around the fact that those scenarios are scary! Besides the scene itself, you also have the looming risk of injury that can take you out of that game and many more as you recover. So, how do you shake off the fear that threatens to ruin your performance? By learning to control it. After all, fear — in the right amounts — can be a good thing

“I have to accept the fear, I have to feel it, I have to embrace it.” — Maya Gabeira 

Here’s how to shake off the mental impact of high-impact sports.

Honor your Feelings

First things first, it’s important to acknowledge that you have fear in the first place. Otherwise, you experience a physical reaction that flushes your body with chemicals like cortisol without ration. When your mind goes running, by admitting you’re experiencing fear, you can let it go and look at the next steps to overcoming it.

Here’s a video of big-wave surfer Maya Gabeira talking about the necessity of controlling fear when it comes to performing. 

Visualize

Visualization is a common tactic for achieving a peak performance state of mind, and it goes a long way to combatting fear. Visualize yourself coming out of hits (or maybe even being untouchable) and performing your absolute best. Visualize controlling the situation and being calm and in the zone while you perform. Rather than living in fear, you can perform in the present.

Self-talk

Positive self-talk is another tactic long used by sports psychologists. Being aware of your internal dialog, especially as you descend into fear, can help you shift yourself away from a spiral and use that extra adrenaline boost to do some good to your performance. 

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Meditate

Meditating is another technique for combatting fear and staying in the present moment when you perform. Meditation allows you greater control over your breath and recovery, which can help you get out of your fear spiral and back into your body to react and keep moving the way you want to, regardless of the scary condition. Mindfulness, as a whole, goes a long way toward achieving peak performance in general.

Take Control

Finally, another way to accept and move through your fear is to take control of what you can and build confidence surrounding your skills and performance. This article suggests doing it with these three steps:

EXPOSURE

The more time you spend in these scenarios, the easier it is to manage. Watch games, spend time on the field, and get yourself as comfortable as possible with all the components of the stadium of your fear. 

PREPARATION
Preparation is crucial for getting ahead of your fear as best as possible. Master the fundamentals of your sport, practice, and train so that you’re confident you are in control of everything you can be on your end. Preparation also includes gear! You should be sure your gear will support you in your movements and in your sport. One less thing to worry about goes a long way.

AWARENESS
Awareness, like preparation, is two-fold. You need to be aware of the conditions of where you’re about to play, but you also need to be mindful of your own skill level and limitations. You always want to push yourself to improve, but not to the point of becoming injured and taking undue risks.

Handling a Big Hit

Now, what if those big hits from your sport DO result in an injury? Besides the physical part of recovering, like resting, being meticulous about your physio, and taking care to strengthen back up properly before re-entering the playing field, there is a huge mental component to recovery as well — especially if there is some fear or trauma surrounding the hit that caused it.

Here are a few tips for shaking off the big hit and helping yourself get back into the game.

👉Maintain a positive attitude
💪Work on patience (maybe with some mindful breathing?)
👉Set achievable goals for your recovery
💪Visualize yourself healthy and ready to play
👉Focus on the present and don’t dwell on the hit
💪Allow yourself adequate time

If you want more tips, NPR has a fantastic roster of ways to bounce back better from an injury.

There’s no doubt that high-impact sports impact our mentality, and overcoming the fear of injury and scary situations can be challenging. However, it CAN be achieved by using techniques that boost your mindfulness and mental awareness. Your mentality can also help you come back from an injury in a better place and ready to keep fighting. 

“There is really good research that suggests that your mindset, your attitude, your self-talk during your recovery will impact the duration and longevity of recovery.” — Dr. Casey Cooper

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