Although I have quite a positive attitude towards most things and can find the bright side in lots of situations, I think that it is important to be honest that there are also times when the rational side of my brain just switches off and I find myself struggling. One such meltdown occurred in training a few weeks ago, that given time to reflect, has been an insightful experience. First let me provide you with a bit of context…
I finished the 2018 season with some pretty good stats, however, one negative stat that was highlighted as an essential area of improvement for the team moving into the 2019 season was ‘GD possession loss’. This has been something that I have always been aware of needing to work on and in order to help me combat my unforced errors when I was younger, my coaches used to refer to my net gain as being one indicator of whether I had a successful game. The basic principle being that I needed to be able to gain more ball than I threw away.
Getting your hands on an interception in Suncorp Super Netball is like panning for gold in a muddy puddle and I want to make sure that I maximise the opportunities of any ball that my teammates or I gain and play my role in getting the ball down the court to the shooters.
In my individual performance plan in November we identified my key areas for improvement for the 2019 season. Despite some coaching intervention and making these the centre of my attention come my next IPP review in February, my losses (from training and practice matches) were still an area of focus.
Going into a training session as a team we set goals, which sit on top of my individual goals and aims for the session. In short, I am always thinking about how I execute at training so that I am practicing for the pressures of a game. In the week leading up to the Team Girls Cup pre-season tournament we were in a tough court drill where I was struggling to find a connection with our attackers, leaving me frustrated at my inability to find a solution. Following this we went into a practice that I was executing particularly poorly from a passing perspective, which resulted in the group having to start the practice over again and again. I could feel my emotions and perceived pressure building as my error count notched up. For a few plays I backed away from challenge and let a teammate pick up the slack on attack. However, my perseverance kicked back in and I made myself an option, which unfortunately resulted in me throwing another ball away. As we rotated through our combos, I went into a defensive role but then at the next opportunity I decided to step back up to the challenge again. When you are training at the elite level, training can feel messy and unrewarding. Errors are made as we battle against each other trying to create the intensities and expectations that are required to play at SSN level. As it seemed to be one of those days, I continued to make a variety of passing errors and barely held it together for the rest of that practice before I was able to excuse myself and run off to the changing room and let my emotions completely take over.
Prior to that session I had done some video of our match play from the weekend prior (where I felt like I also made a butt load of errors) and recall my analysis and self-talk being particularly negative. It probably doesn’t take a psychology degree to work out why my mental state and resilience going into that session was much more fragile than usual. For the rest of the week’s sessions I was extremely anxious every time I had ball in hand. Second guessed my instinctive response to attacking situation and questioned my ability to make sound passing decisions in the moment. The exact opposite state to how I perform best as an athlete. Fast forward to the end of the Team Girls Cup, Coach Stacey and a few of the girls came up to me to commend me on the fact that I had made one error all weekend. 😊
When back in Perth after a few days off to recover from the tournament we had a team mental skills session where we conducted a mental skills audit. This was a means of reviewing how well we had utilised our strategies throughout the pre-season tournament.
During the audit we were able to get a gauge of whether we had consistently carried out certain areas throughout the tournament. What was surprising to reflect on, and extremely encouraging, was that my answer to a few key statements was an unequivocal ‘yes’. The other really interesting thing I noticed was that my answer to the following question was ‘no’:
Well thank goodness to be quite honest as my performance in training had been less than mediocre! Experience and engaging much more in my mental skills training that I ever have before paid dividends for me in moments of extreme stress (the matches) and when we are at our most unfamiliar (in terms of combos) and unprepared (in terms of opposition insight).
Now, back to continuing to work on throwing to someone wearing green 😉
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