Until recently, athletes did not talk about mental health much. It has been barely considered. The sports culture is predicated on being able to rise to the moment, to have laser focus, to do things that seem superhuman. If you show even the slightest faltering mentally, you’re weak. You’re not up for the challenge. You’re not one of the best. You don’t belong.
But as we have moved towards the peak of human performance, the pressure to win titles, break records, or become the GOAT is at an all-time high. Kids are being pressured from a young age to choose a sport, train like crazy, and do everything they can to make it to the professional ranks. Not to mention, sports have risen to a higher status in a society where athletes are looked to as having all the answers.
Athletes are human, just like anyone else. Subject to the same limitations.
Mental health is just like physical health. If you had something wrong physically that was keeping you from competing at a high level wouldn’t you get a check-up with your doctor? Why should it be different for mental health?
Don’t get me wrong, athletes can have elite focus, strength, and performance. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have challenges in the mental department. More and more athletes are becoming increasingly open about the struggles that they face (or have faced) to stay elite, day in and day out. The world of sports and it’s athlete have gone mental.
In this five-part blog series, we are going to explore what may be causing these mental health challenges, how to address them, and how to find your optimum.
This is a vital part of becoming a more conscious athlete.
Gone Mental Part 2
Expectations are resentments waiting to happen
Here on the Chronicle, we talk a lot about closing the gap between expectation and reality. The gap can be very motivating, driving us towards our ultimate goal of being the person and athlete we can be.
However, just like it often does in life, what happens when our greatest asset becomes our greatest weakness? What if focusing on the expectation gap keeps us from our dreams and causing us to suffer mentally?
Macklemore put it best when he said, “expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”
I will give you a concrete example.
Say that your dream is to obtain a D1 scholarship to be a baseball pitcher. What do most people in sports do? They start looking around to compare themselves to those around them, or better yet, to a high standard that is believed to be the golden ticket to the next level. It would help if you were 6’4″, threw 90 mph, and had fantastic breaking pitches.
However, you don’t.
You throw 85-88 mph, but you can get people out.
So you start to focus on, “how can I throw 90 mph?” “What training can I do to get to that level?” You have already created an expectation that maybe doesn’t apply to your path to a scholarship.
You start sweating and grinding to make up the speed differential and looking up YouTube videos, searching every workout imaginable, trying to copy programs that people with other body types. In the meantime, you are struggling on the mound when you get a chance to play. Your performance is either wavering or getting worse.
This cycle can be dangerous, but it is all too common. Even more frustrating, it continues to happen at a younger and younger age when the gap between what you expect to be in the future can be huge.
What if, instead of focusing on the speed gap, you focus on your greatest strengths. “Yeah, I throw 85-88 mph, but my curveball and change-up are hard to hit.” “If I can get my change-up differential to my fastball to be larger, I can get more people out.” Instead, you find another pitcher with your exact body type and try to learn what makes them successful. Maybe you look at their path and see what you can glean from it. Perhaps your ticket to the next level is unique to what you can do with your skillset.
The truth is that the only person you need to be is you.
Any athlete that has made it can only stand in front of you and tell you what they did make it. Because at the end of the day, there is only one way that matters, and that is your way. Only you will experience the trials and tribulations that will lead to your ultimate goals. You can take pieces of advice and mimic what others do, but you have to make it uniquely yours at the end of the day.
When you transfer into that realm, something unique starts to happen. You begin to develop the intangibles like grit. You gain confidence. All of a sudden, things that seemed out of reach just began to happen.
It’s hard to trust it, but it’s the way forward.