Mind Matters

Monday, August 5, 2013

[THE PITCH] A sports psychologist once asked me to complete a simple task. He held out his index finger and said, “focus on my finger for one minute.” I directed my eyes to his finger and told myself, “Okay, that’s his finger… that’s his finger… that’s his finger, I wonder why he wants me to focus on his finger? Christen!… that’s his finger… that’s his… which part of his finger am I supposed to be focusing on?” His smug smile confirmed that he made his point. It’s impossible. “Focusing,” he said, “is the process of constantly refocusing.”

I’ve returned to the blog after a month long hiatus from writing… during which we played and tied our rival Damallsvenskan team Malmö, and I attended USWNT camp where we played South Korea and Abby Wambach broke the all-time scoring record.  I went home to California for three weeks, then returned to Sweden for “pre-second-half-of-the-season” which consisted of training while traveling to watch teammates and friends compete in the  Euros...well...I digress...My point here is...I'm back !!!
I think it is only appropriate to dedicate this blog to refocusing.

Vedic meditation demonstrates the same point as the focus-on-my-finger task. While you try in vain to focus on your mantra, distractors—impeding thoughts—creep in and fight for your attention. The point of meditation is to accept these sometimes-stressful thoughts, and by mere acknowledgment and active refocusing , you can strip them of their power to dictate your life. I have been practicing Vedic meditation for 18 months now, and only recently realized its massive implication to my sport.

Long ago I recognized the importance for me to make performance goals – goals that compare me to only me—rather than outcome goals – goals that compare me to others. Performance goals are in my control. Focusing on the things I can control is where I thought I could find my mental strength.

So, on the pitch, when I start to hear the self-doubt in my head that stems from outcome goal anxiety—if I don’t score, [fill in the blank] is going to outscore me or take my spot—I get angry at myself and begin the self chastising. I begin by yelling, "Don’t think about this Christen!” In the middle of all this cacophonous chaos the game is going on. Perhaps I have lost track of my position on the field, of the ball, or my teammates. Trying to coach myself into positive thinking consumes all of my attention, taking it away from the most important task: football.

Yes, of course I want to think positively about myself, especially during a game. I’d pick confidence as the single most important factor for success. But my mistake is the emotional reaction to my natural stress. By not accepting that sometimes I am simply going to have doubts and worries and by getting angry at myself for this, I give power to the negative, and remain distracted from the goal at hand for longer periods of time.

I thought my mental strength resulted from positive thinking. I was wrong. I thought that if I masked my fear and my frustration with louder positive thoughts, I could trick myself. I was wrong. Like the baby Buddha I try to be during my 20-minute twice-daily meditation, I can bring this mindfulness onto the pitch. Repression is not the answer. Acceptance is. My power as an athlete will grow from maximizing my refocusing speed, the same way as my power as a person. Negative thought in my meditation? Deep breath, get back to my mantra. Negative thought in my game? Deep breath, get back in the game!