By Rosanne Franco

The team had just started its season. Everyone was excited to be back together and curious to see what the new players would bring to the team. The student athletes expected hard physical preparation for the pre-season workouts. They never expected what the coach had planned. At the end of the previous season, injuries had been a major factor in keeping the team from the playoffs. In the off season, the coach did some homework on resilience and positive self talk.

Teams with a history of championships keep winning. The coach found it wasn’t all tradition, it was also mind set. The players of these teams were more resilient in losses and worked harder during practices. The key ingredient was not the talent, but the heart. So, how does a coach build heart?

The psychology professor came into the room with the expectant players. The student athletes expected a conversation about strategy. The psychology professor taught them to breathe. So simple. Count to four for each part – breathe in, hold breath, breathe out, hold breath, repeat. Yet the players struggled. They became frustrated with the challenge of something new. They all heard a whisper from the back, “this is a waste of time.” The doubting player gave the psychology professor the lead she needed.

“You play how you practice,” said the professor. The rest of the players nodded because the coach said that multiple times daily. In their hearts, they didn’t get it, but practiced harder when the coach said it. “Consider this next thought,” said the professor, “you practice how you think.”

Self talk is what you say to yourself either inside your head or out loud throughout your day. What does your self talk sound like? Many people speak to themselves in a very negative and demeaning way. In fact, many people cripple themselves by the way they think about and speak to themselves.

The psychology professor then taught the players to relax. She taught them to lie on their backs, close their eyes, and go through all of their major muscle groups, tensing and relaxing their muscles. When they finished, she told the players to tense up all of their muscles and on the count of the three release their muscles and breathe out quickly and loudly. The room erupted into laughter. The players realized that practicing harder made them tense, which led to playing the game with stress. Their self talk became negative as they played harder, but worse, and their injuries came when they pushed themselves too hard instead of playing their game.

Breathe. Think positive thoughts. Speak positive words. Good things will follow.