By Jimmy Yoo, MA Sport Psychology
“Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” -Steve Prefontaine
This is one of my favorite quotes! While winning and success are a part of sports and competition, it isn’t the main reason why athletes compete or why they love their sport. Joy, fun, and personal passion are the motivation! As I write this, there are probably athletes wondering, “So how do I do this?”
During one of my recent workshops with a swim club, we discussed the importance of doing things in MUNCHABLE CHUNKS. The question I posed to the group was, “If I asked you to eat a large pizza in one bite, could you do it?” Answers included: “no, that’s impossible,” “it would get messy,” and “huh, I’m not even sure how I would do that.”
The art to eating a pizza is similar to an athlete’s approach to sport. If I only focus on the end result, I can get caught up thinking things like, “this is impossible, so why bother trying,” “if I try this and fail, what will others think of me,” or “there’s so much I need to accomplish, I don’t know where to start.” While it is good to have the end result in mind, to accomplish the task at hand (be it practice or competition) athletes need to focus on the small things that help them in the moment.
Taking things in munchable chunks allows an athlete to focus on the task at hand. For example, a swimmer who focuses on the little things (that are relevant to performance) will take the time to warm-up, visualize their strokes and breathing patterns, and he/she will focus on his/her own performance rather than focusing on who he/she is swimming against and/or the pressure to win that race.
Overall, when athletes can focus on the little things that contribute to their performance they are able to concentrate on the task at hand and they are in control of their performance. When athletes perform with this mindset, they are confident. And, when athletes are confident, they tend to enjoy what they are doing.
1. As an athlete, set long-term and short-term goals with your coaches. A long-term goal can be something you work toward by the end of the season, a year from now, or 4 years from now (i.e., a high school career). A short-term goal is the process or the munchable chunks. These are the little things that you have identified to work on each day, each week, and each month. They are the steps that help you work toward your long-term goal.
2. As we focus on the task at hand, we need to be mindful of things that are helpful versus things that are hurtful to our performance. The swimmers identified things like, proper warm-up, stroke count, breathing, and focusing on good form as things that are helpful to performance. They also identified the following as things that are hurtful or distracting to their performance, thinking about who I am going to swim against in my heat, wondering what people are thinking about in the stands, and thinking about how critical this race is for my future.
*Remember, it’s a process! When you focus on the little things, you will feel in control of your performance, you will approach each practice and competition with a sense of personal expectation and purpose, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment and pride with each competition and practice.