Leaving Your Shadow Behind
Top athletes often recall moments when their game was at its best. Physically, the athlete may recall moments of feeling stronger, healthier, faster, or more fit. Mentally, the athlete remembers feeling more confident with little to no worry, and being able to focus longer. Technically, the athlete may feel more complete, with more natural movements, and without as much conscious thought. Tactically, the athlete may feel more confident, with memories of fun moments and happiness.

These past feelings are positive memories that can greatly elevate an athlete's future performance when his or her focus is managed and directed appropriately; however, the problem arises when athletes become obsessed with the necessity to return to where they used to perform. I refer to this problem as "chasing your shadow."

The most common causes of shadow chasing are due to setbacks such as injury or technical changes in an athletes game that take them away from their current playing level. In addition, parents, teammates, and coaches may be at fault due to their awareness that the athlete is not the same as before. Parents and coaches may stress the importance of having to perform like " you used to" in order to compete at a higher level, get into a good college, improve ranking, and more. Teammates may remind the athlete of their shadow by asking them why they are not performing like they used to. These reminders only grow the shadow more to where the athlete cannot escape the shadow. As a result, the athlete is in a constant mental battle, comparing his or her performance each day to where they were before. This mental struggle results in athletes forcing their success in daily practices and competition. Sport psychology literature on peak performance often emphasizes forcing as one of the major setbacks to getting in the zone. When athletes start forcing their success in training and competition it prevents them from reaching their full potential and in many cases causes them to perform even worse.

Listed below are a few tips to help the athlete remove the shadow:

  • The athlete has to have the courage to let the shadow go.

  • They must accept that they are a new athlete and that today is a new day.

  • They must believe that their potential is not limited to their shadow but exceeds even their best performances in the past.

In addition, their support team must also redirect their focus:

  • Parents must be very supportive through the hardest times and remind the athlete that they are there for them every step of the way.

  • Coaches should use the past only as reminders that they do have what it takes but avoid using the past as a measuring tool of their current level.

  • Instead, coaches should get the athlete to look ahead to only the immediate future and short-term goals.

For more information on how to remove the shadow and much more contact SPMI and start training your mental game today.

Patrick Alban B.S., M.S.
SPMI, Director of Mental Training