In my opinion this is the best time of the year.
Football is a complex sport. Offense players must memorize dozens of plays, learn to read defenses, pick-up blitzes quickly, and run patterns or make blocks with precision.
On the defense, players study film of offensive plays to learn the opponent’s tendencies, recognize offense of sets, and be able to react with speed and power.
Successful execution of each play, whether it’s offence, defense or special teams, require specific technical skills that vary depending on the position.
On top of the litany of things a player must and understand, there are constraints that impact how much they can practice and prepare. Let’s face it, as a football player, there is a limit as to how long your body can tolerate the physical contact and abuse that comes with each practice or game. Your body will eventually begin to breakdown.
In addition to the physical and learning aspects of football a collegiate athletes face limits related to how many hours they can be an organized practice each week. School, injury, fatigue, family and logistics place even more limits on their efforts to learn and improve their football skills.
So, how can an athlete maximize their time to development the skills in a complex sport while, at the same time, having limited time and energy to train?
Awhile ago I read a story about an individual who, in addition to having a full-time job and a family, was an elite athlete trying to make the Olympic team. Life, and all the things that came with it, determined when and how long he could physically train.
Thankfully, there were no limits when it came to his mental training. He developed a training plan that combined mental training with physical and technical training. By doing so, he was able to optimize his preparation by tapping into the power of mind for mental training…he made the Olympic team!
Now let’s look at how you can also take advantage of mental training off the field and using visualization and mental practice to enhance your athletic and sport skills.
There is a lot of information out there on how to use visualizing and in the book “The Body Has A Mind Of Its Own” there are recent studies that have proven some methods are much more effective than others.
I’ve written other posts on the “how to” of visualization and this post I’m going to focus on how it can serve as an additional form of practice and improve the learning and facilitation of sport skills.
But first, for those first time readers, let me briefly go over visualization as it relates to mental training. Visualization is the creation or re-creation of an experience in your mind…your imagination. For visualization to be really effective you must include ALL your sense, i.e. sight, sound, touch, emotions, smell and taste. You want to make the image as real as possible and make it as vivid as possible.
Basically you are creating an internal experience that is so real your mind doesn’t know the difference. The key though is for skills enhancement you must experience the visualization as if you are looking through your own eyes.
Watching yourself as in a looking at movie, does serve a purpose, and for this technique you need to be “associated.”
OK…now let’s integrate mental training into your program.
Football practice involves repetition, repetition, repetition. On a daily basis, you run through a multitude of drills that help you develop your skills. This repetitive practice is needed for you to properly execute on the football field during a game.
You also run through a large number of plays that require you to carry out specific skills, according to your position, quickly.
You can add to your ‘repetitions’ by the use of mental training.
During a practice, when you are working on your specific skills such as tackling, see and feel yourself tackling before actually doing it. Yes, while you are on the field. This only takes a second and it will prepare your nervous system to execute this maneuver perfectly
When you are running through your plays, either offense or defense, use your mental training to first experience the drill.
This mental training is not limited to filed work; you can also visualization before and after practice. And actually by using between practices you’ll actually be getting in more practice.
Think of specific scenarios and mentally train on how you would react. Here are a few examples:
- You’re on offence and it’s third and goal, the ball is on the 15 yard line. The play is called; it’s going to be a pass to tight-end deep into the corner of the end zone. Given your position, what do you need to do for this play to be successful?
- OK, same play you’re on defense, you’ve seen this formation before and you know it will be a pass play. How will you react when the ball is snapped?
You mentally experience this play, full sensory and how you react. Do it again, and again, and again until it becomes second nature.
The cool thing here is you’re not on the practice field, but you are practicing.
I’m sure you can see how doing this enough, in conjunction with physical practice, can enhance your learning and execution of skills.
Now, the real challenge is to do it consistently and purposely. Most athletes use imagery, but it’s often random and more like daydreaming than a form of practice.
Commit to mental training for your specific sport skills on a daily basis, just as you have made the commitment to your physical and technical training and you’ll be amazed at your improvement in your athletic performance.
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