How to Improve Your Athlete’s In the Moment Self-Awareness

We’ve all heard the ancient axiom, “know thyself.” For athletes, this is a crucial component of mental toughness and consistent performance. How can you, as a coach, help your athletes develop a greater sense of self-awareness, especially in the moment?

Self-Awareness, In the Moment Self-Awareness, Present Moment Awareness, Inner Signal Light, Inner Traffic Light, Thoughts Drive Performance, Sport Psychology, Coach Education, Coach Development, Mental Toughness, Resilience, Team Culture, Culture Development, Personal Development, Mental Conditioning, Cognitive Performance, Mental Training, Mental Game, Mindset

You Can’t Adjust What You Aren’t Aware Of

I often tell athletes, “You can’t change what you aren’t aware of.” Think of taking your truck to the mechanic and asking them to fix it. When they ask you what is wrong with it, you say, “I don’t know.” The mechanic would have no idea where to start. You aren’t the expert, but its important to say that it drifts right, or about the clanking noise you hear.

The same is true for athletes. They need to be aware of their mind and body throughout the competition. They can’t adjust their attitude, effort, strategy or mechanics until they know what the problem is.

Jimmy Walker, winner of the 2016 PGA Championship, experienced the benefits of a heightened in the moment awareness as he walked the fairway on Baltusrol’s 18th. He told Sports Illustrated that after hitting his tee shot, “I could feel my heart racing a little bit, could feel my palms getting a little sweaty, my breath getting a little short.”

For Walker, these were red flags. He knew they wouldn’t help him on his next shot. He had to settle himself down in order to play his best.

Why Self-Awareness Matters

An athlete’s mental state has a huge ripple effect on his or her performance. This isn’t just common sense, but scientific.

Author and co-founder of the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, FL, Dr. Jim Loehr, shared that, “Feelings of confidence, energy, aggressiveness, and fun reflect a very specific biochemical and neurochemical balance in the body.” The opposite is also true.

“When our feelings shift from confident to fearful, powerful changes occur in the brain’s chemistry that can profoundly influence coordination and balance, concentration and muscle-response accuracy,” Loehr wrote.

The Thoughts Drive Performance model summarizes this relationship and is an easy way to share it with your athletes.

Once athletes know their indicators, they can recognize their red flags like Walker did and make the necessary adjustments.

Build Athlete’s In the Moment Awareness

A simple way to help your athletes tune into “IM Awareness” is to use the metaphor of a signal light. A signal light has three indicators telling us how to proceed. Your athletes can think of these lights as indicators for themselves too.

  • Red: they feel out of control (pressing, rushing, panicking) – stop and reset.
  • Yellow: they feel a little off (angry, nervous, tense, fearful) – slow down to recalibrate.
  • Green: they feel good (in control, confidence, composed, focused) – good to go.

Self-Awareness, In the Moment Self-Awareness, Present Moment Awareness, Inner Signal Light, Inner Traffic Light, Thoughts Drive Performance, Sport Psychology, Coach Education, Coach Development, Mental Toughness, Resilience, Team Culture, Culture Development, Personal Development, Mental Conditioning, Cognitive Performance, Mental Training, Mental Game, Mindset
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Help Your Athletes Build In the Moment Awareness

Coaches can help their athletes tune into their inner signal lights by asking them to pay special attention to their inner state during practices, scrimmages, and competitions.

The UCLA Bruins baseball team makes this a daily priority. “In practice we teach guys to learn their own best level of excitement, presence, and demeanor. Know when you are too amped up, trying too hard, trying to make a perfect pitch…,” according to John Savage, Head Coach in Heads Up Baseball 2.0.

By tuning in, athletes can better focus their mental training to target their unique indicators. If becoming too amped up inhibits their best performance, athletes can learn the skill of diaphragmatic breathing to use in those yellow light moments.

Going back to Jimmy Walker’s victory… to address his yellow light, he said, “I focused on controlling what I could control.” This alone is a foundational mental skill.

Bonus Download

To help you develop in the moment self-awareness in your athletes, hang An Athlete’s Internal Signal Light poster in your locker room. Simply, click the button below to download yours – its free.

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Increase Athletes’ In the Moment Self-Awareness

As your athletes develop a keen awareness of their minds and bodies, in the moment, they’ll be able to make the micro-adjustments necessary for peak performance.

Your QB will notice excess muscle tension and relax before he overthrows his receiver. Your hitter will recognize her nervousness and embrace it before she chases a pitch out of the zone. And so on…

Help your athletes unlock peak performance by increasing their in the moment self-awareness.

Question: How else can you help your athletes develop in the moment self-awareness?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.