I LOVE this time of year! I love the game of softball, but I love championships even more! Lacrosse, baseball, softball…. there are plenty of great games to watch over the next few weeks and we can learn from all of them.
When I was at Cleveland State, I had the pleasure of serving on the NCAA Men’s and Womens’ Fencing Committee. I admittedly know nothing about fencing, but I loved watching the athletes compete and was particularly interested in watching how they composed themselves as they moved through the championship brackets, balancing the pressure of the bouts and the expectations of everyone around them with their own expectations and excitement.
As I watched a few softball games last night, I saw athletes who looked like they had not a care in the world, smiling, competing, and excelling.
I also watched athletes come unglued or act in ways, both overt and subtle, that hindered their ability to compete at their best.
I wish I would have started this in game 1, but I began to make note of the athletes who used a deliberate deep breath before pitching or as they approached the plate. I would love to see what stats look like of those who take a “gathering” moment vs. those who just plow ahead without taking a second to focus on what is in front of them.
It was no surprise to see the best player in the country, Rachel Garcia from UCLA, take a centering breath before she stepped in the box.
I am not sure how she personally uses this simple act, but I am pretty sure it is deliberate and helpful to her performance.
No doubt she has incredible talent, but as she continues her career (as we all continue our careers) the talent margin shrinks and how we do our work becomes more important.
It is my goal to have every athlete with whom I work take a page from Rachel’s book before they step in to compete.
No, this isn’t to mimic the best player just because she does it. It is WAY more than that!
Taking a moment to take a breath or to GATHER themselves allows our athletes to stay in control of their thoughts and behavior, whether in a game that stops and starts like baseball or golf, or in soccer or basketball that have both “continuous” play and skills that must be executed when play is stopped.
I’ve heard it said that we can’t stop an out-of-control inning (when the circus comes to town – insert the circus tune – do do doodle doodle doodle do do doodle doodle…) or a run-away scoring drive without first stopping ourselves.
To be effective at gathering, we must practice it in good times first. We must have routines that we rely on to keep us focused on the task at hand.
There are many ways to do this but adding in a centering breath is a great place to start.
The truth is this…we can go 3 months without food, 3 weeks without water but only 3 minutes with out breathing!
We know it is important, yet we breath less frequently, hold our breath or let it get out of control when we get anxious or stressed!
Increased breathing rates negatively affect our ability to see, our ability to predict and our muscle function, all vital to peak performance.
Aside from all the reasons deep breathing is important for brain and body functions, the more consistent our breathing patterns, the more consistent our approach and consistent performers are the best performers!
I recently read James Nestor’s Breath. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it!
I am a mouth breather – which is horrible for a host of reasons and the research has scared me into working on breathing more intentionally 😊. Since reading the book, I have been focusing on my breath and have worked to slow my breathing rate down – in and out through my too-many-times broken nose.
I have come to find an unintended benefit to my new breathing practices. I have SLOWED DOWN. Those closest to me may not have yet noticed (I know someone in my house who will be thrilled when it is noticeable!), but when I am focused on my breathing, I am more present and deliberate.
I am not suggesting we slow our athletes down, literally.
I am suggesting we teach them to slow themselves down, for as long as it takes to fill our diaphragm and lungs with breath and let it go intentionally, to slow the game down…to allow them to see, predict and perform more consistently and in the moment.
I can’t wait to watch the NCAA Softball Super Regionals so I can do a small study of those who “gather” in one way or another – obviously watching someone take an intentional breath is an easy way to see it – and see how it affects performance over time.
I’ll be gathering clips of athletes using this technique to share with my teams and athletes…as I have heard said so many times, success leaves clues and learning from those who succeed then making similar actions fit our routines is a great place to start as we learn the tools of peak performance!
So, breathe deep today as you approach the tasks that come your way. Think about ways you can encourage those you lead to “gather” themselves and add it to their routine before they speak, act or perform any task.
Take a deep breath before you walk into the house after a long day of work. Take a deep breath before that Zoom meeting (and a few in the middle). Take a deep breath before you start that task you have been putting off.
Consistent breathing leads to consistent performance.
Breathe intentionally. Fill your body and brain with all the good stuff that comes from the simple thing that keeps you alive!
Have a wonderful week!
P.S. Thinking about implementing a more intentional Mental Performance program for next year? I can build one for you that fits your schedule and budget! Let’s set up a time to talk about how we can build your team’s mental toughness. Give me a call or text at 234-206-0946 or send me an email at email@example.com