Bad breaks are part of life, on and off the field. Thankfully, though, serious emotional upsets don’t often arise during a game. But when they do, whether as a result of injury to a teammate or a horse or bad news from home, a player has to cope on the spot. That means to keep playing as though nothing has happened. That’s not easy to do, but it’s crucially important. Here are some methods that polo player clients of mine have used to keep their mind on the game in the face of a personal misfortune.
THE COMPARTMENTALIZATION APPROACH
For comparison, a military or law enforcement person carries out their duties when the battle is on. They don't let up or allow themselves to react, mourn, reflect or decompensate during the action. When it's all over, they go off to lick their wounds and to try and make sense of what happened. During the contest, they are all about having an action orientation. Their goal to is win.
It's energizing being on a team. We get inspiration from our teammates. We also can play "in honor of our teammates." These teammates may be injured, maimed, or no longer living. The athletes on the field can dedicate their performance to those teammates who can't be on the field.
THE PROFESSIONALISM APPROACH
Top performers are consistent for a reason. They set high personal standards and don't allow immediate circumstances to change those.My definition of a professional:"A professional is a person, who, when they are having a bad day, no one can tell."
A pro "sucks it up" and does not allow temporary, unfortunate circumstances to stop them from succeeding.This is a bedrock tenet of their philosophy of life, and of their sport.
THE “I-WILL-GROW-FROM-THIS” APPROACH
A pro has the belief that while having an easy day once in a while is nice, when we are cruising, we are not really growing. Growth comes at the leading edge of trouble, obstacles and problems. All that pain requires us to adapt and overcome. And that promotes personal and professional growth.
THE MORATORIUM APPROACH
The moratorium approach is to shut off social media and personal communications outside the sphere of the sport context that day.
To avoid distractions, set a boundary around you so you can stay in the "zone bubble." At a minimum, this should be set an hour before the game, and all the way through it. Many athletes create this boundary the entire day leading up to a game.
I suggest you also create a moratorium on a larger scale than social media. The day of a game, avoid reading any newspapers and hearing or viewing any radio or TV news. This is so you can avoid having negative news accounts infect your psyche (most news is negative).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bill Cole, MS, MA is one of today’s most prominent, prolific and successful performance psychology consultants. In addition to his work with professional polo players, he has been the mental game coach or consultant to world champion athletes, world record-holders and Olympic athletes who have won bronze, silver and gold medals. Cole has worked with 19 world and national teams; nine international and Olympic teams; 32 professional sports teams, associations or leagues; and athletes who have won 36 world and national championships. Contact: Bill@MentalGameCoach.com
Photography: Horseplay Productions