Don’t Get Stuck in the SuckMay 6, 2014
Mental prowess is just as important as athletic ability in sports. How do athletes bounce back from a major mistake and continue to perform at their best? Sports psychologist Nicole Detling talks about preventing meltdowns and how to not “get stuck in the suck” during athletic performance. She also discusses tips for athletes to get out of their own heads and let go of errors to always play their best game.
Interviewer: Do you have a tendency to get stuck in the suck? We're going to talk about that next on The Scope.
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Interviewer: So as a sports psychology consultant I'd imagine when you watch a game on T.V., you're probably watching it a little differently than the rest of us. I guess what I'm getting at is when you watch an athlete can you see if their having some sort of a mental issue that's preventing them from succeeding?
Nicole Detling: Well, I would say first of all if I know that athlete really well, yeah, it's pretty easy for me to see if it's an athlete that I'm working with.
Nicole Detling: Some athletes are really good at the poker face and you can't tell if they just scored the game winning score of their life or they just had something amazing happen or if they just had something really horrible happen so they approach performance pretty consistently. Others we can all see when some people melt down, right?
Nicole Detling: But I would say having done this for so long, I'm probably watching sports a little bit different than most people. I love watching sports. In fact, it's the only thing that's ever on my T.V. I often get people asking me if I watch shows, and I haven't even heard of half of them.
Nicole Detling: Like if that was on during any game, the answer's "no." But typically, yeah, it's interesting because I'll watch sport and I can really appreciate the physicality of the sport so the grace, the power, the strength. It's so amazing to me what people can do with their bodies, but I can never pull that away from really assessing what's going on with them mentally, and I really like to watch games and look for physical versus mental mistakes. Having the training that I have, I can usually pick out if its just a physical mistake. Physical mistakes sometimes just happen. We just have errors sometimes.
Interviewer: Like in a football game, somebody misses a catch.
Nicole Detling: It depends, right?
Interviewer: Yeah, how would you tell the difference?
Nicole Detling: So sometimes that's just a physical mistake. Well, a lot of times, probably the layman's way to do it if you're interested in starting to do this is watch their reaction afterwards which you don't always get on T.V. because the T.V. might change to something else, right?
Nicole Detling: But if you have an opportunity, just watch that player for just a moment. If you don't get that opportunity, watch that player on the next play and see what they do. Did they miss a block? Did they run a wrong pattern? Did they something else? How many more plays happen before that athlete gets another chance? And if you know a team pretty well and the way a coach is going to coach, it's easy to point some of those things out and find them so it's interesting because you can always see it on their face, on their body language, the shoulders slumped, the head goes down. How quickly do they pick that back up?
Interviewer: Really? Interesting.
Nicole Detling: For many athletes, they make one mistake and they get stuck in the mistake mentally. Why did I do that? That was so stupid. I know better. And they really beat themselves up and that typically results in another mistake and then another mistake and then another mistake, and they spiral downward.
Interviewer: So the key really is to forget it. That was then.
Nicole Detling: The key is to move on.
Interviewer: Moving on to something else.
Nicole Detling: That's exactly right, and that's something I talk about a lot is the most important play in any sport is always the next play.
Nicole Detling: The same is true in life. The most important play in life is always the next play. We might hate what just happened. It might have sucked. We might have looked like a complete moron out there, but you can't change it. So what I talk about is embrace the suck which basically means...right? You embrace the suck so you take a minute and you say well that sucked, but don't get stuck in the suck. And so what that means is you're focusing forward. The most important play is the next play. Not getting stuck in the suck means OK, I can't change that now but I can do something about the future. What's the next play? What am I going to do on the next play? So let's go back to the football analogy. Let's say that a receiver doesn't get another ball thrown to them for awhile, but he does have a job on the next play. He can do that job and do it well on the next play, and each next play he does when he does his job well will help him move past that mistake that he made five, ten plays ago.
Interviewer: I would have a hard time believing that. I'm not trying to be argumentative, but to me it would be like now's the time I've got to catch another ball. I blocked perfectly these past three times. I blew that last block.
Nicole Detling: Yep, and you are 100% right and that's where a lot of athletes go to in their minds and that's when they start making mental mistakes. So even if he missed that ball and it's just a technical error, it was not a mental mistake, chances are his next mistake will be mental, and that's the stuff I work on is teaching them to focus forward so that they don't make a mental mistake again. There's no mental mistake or mental error that's made after that. The common thought process is now I have to do it, now I've got to do it. And typically trying too hard often results in more mistakes.
Interviewer: So you'd be better off just forgetting it.
Nicole Detling: You'd be better off forgetting it.
Interviewer: Just really trying to not even think about it.
Nicole Detling: Absolutely, you'd be better of forgetting it, but easy to say, hard to do.
Interviewer: When you make a mistake, a lot of times that could be an opportunity to learn and you analyze it as such, but could that be detrimental?
Nicole Detling: It could be because you could still get stuck in that so athletes who have a tendency to do that, what I tell them to do is you take a moment, embrace the suck, oh that sucked, OK, acknowledge it. It did. It's OK to say that sucked.
Interviewer: Do you need to say why?
Nicole Detling: Nope.
Nicole Detling: What you do need to do though and this is the key part, and this is what most people... Everybody gets stuck in that suck for a minute, right? Everybody says that sucked. We all do that. We got that part down. The part we don't have down is that the next part which is the most crucial part, and that's do you fix the mistake? So you very quickly just go back, you don't even have to run the entire play through your mind, but take that moment where you made the mistake and do an image of doing it correctly. What do you need to do to do it correctly? So if it's a technical error, your fingers were curled, take a moment and see your fingers in the position they should be in to catch the ball. See yourself doing it correctly. That sets you up for success in the future. There's a lot of research that shows what imagery does for our bodies, and it actually programs our muscles for the action that we are seeing in our mind so if we replay a mistake, we are more likely to repeat that mistake the next time we play.
Interviewer: Mm, the key is to change the mistake.
Nicole Detling: The key is to change the mistake so see yourself doing it correctly, and if you can see yourself doing it correctly over and over and over, you're reprogramming, and the program is stronger so that the next time you have that opportunity, you're more likely to succeed. Of course, there's no guarantee, but it does increase the chances of success.
Interviewer: Are there any other tricks to not getting stuck in the suck?
Nicole Detling: There are all kinds of tricks for not getting stuck in the suck. Absolutely, that's a big one is focusing forward, focusing on the next play. You also have replaying and doing it correctly so you're reprogramming. For a lot of people it's the self talk, alright well that was just a mistake. That kind of stuff happens. Everybody makes mistakes. I got it on the next one. And that's going to go back to maybe some confidence training. It's one thing to say I'm going to get the next one...
Interviewer: Yeah, it sounds so easy.
Nicole Detling: It's another thing to believe it, right? And so if you're not one of those people who has a tendency to be able to believe that, that might be something you'd either want to work on or choose a different strategy. OK?
Nicole Detling: There could be different scenarios where getting out of your own head. A lot of athletes will go into the vacuum and that's something I notice too when I'm watching. If an athlete who tends to be vocal or will cheer on their teammates all of a sudden gets quiet after a mistake, they are over-analyzing and are stuck in their heads so get out of your head which basically means start cheering for your teammates.
Nicole Detling: Talk out loud. Yell things. Get out of your head, and many times just the act of getting out of your head gets you back in the present moment where the current play is happening and then you're out of that past mistake.
Interviewer: Final thoughts on getting stuck in the suck?
Nicole Detling: I would say embrace the suck but don't get stuck in the suck. Use the strategies. Understand that getting stuck in the suck really sucks, but there are ways to get out of that suck.
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