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Bowls In Focus : June July 2011
Bowls In Focus 25 Your best friend on the green can be the voice in your head You‘ve just a played a crucial bowl poorly, both narrow and short. You suddenly become aware of the club selector sitting at the side of your green, or the teammate you‘re trying to impress. Your blood is boiling, your teeth clenched, and any number of four-letter expletives are popping into your head. Some of you might think that this type of approach makes you play better, and that was the person I used to be too. But after having my eyes opened to the alternative, I soon realised how destruc- tive and unproductive this behaviour was to those wanting to produce better results on the green. Positive self-talk is an important mental skill that you need to be aware of and practice. I‘m talking about the conversations you have with yourself – the little voice in your head that you can never turn off no matter how loud you scream at it to cease. You can‘t even turn the volume down. Think about it, during our waking hours we‘re always having a conversa- tion with ourselves. Throughout life, most of us are hard-wired to yell, scold and reprimand our children, animals or employees whenever our expectations are not met or when we believe an error has occurred. Understandably, we‘ve taken this behaviour into the sporting world too, especially with ourselves. You probably find yourself supporting and encouraging your teammates more than you do yourself. Typically, we Australians love to knock down a tall poppy, and for most of us we are a prime personal tar- get. Consider how you rebuke yourself whenever you deliver a bad bowl. What you may not realise is that negative self-talk (i.e. filling your brain with negative thoughts) is akin to putting dirty petrol in a car. Sooner or later the car will just stop! In human terms, you can easily find yourself performing badly because you are not using your mind in a positive way. The more you chastise or punish yourself verbally, the less likely you are to make necessary corrections to a poor or average end, and so, by extension, the worse your game will become. Negative self-talk will have you forming limiting beliefs about yourself that will have you expecting failure rather than success. As sportsmen and women even though we strive for perfection, we have to accept that we are all prone to human error occasionally. In film and TV, ‘bloop- ers’ or mistakes are just that: ‘missed takes’. There is nothing wrong with being human and making a mistake, as long as we learn quickly from it and have another crack. We are all battling our inherent negative force: the fear of failure, so we have to be our own best friend, our own confidante, and our number one supporter. We have to en- courage ourselves loudly on the inside without feeling self-conscious. While we can‘t just turn off the negative self-talk, your aim should be to counteract every negative that comes into your mind with a positive. You need positive words, phrases or affirmations that can counteract that previous de- structive thought. Replace ‘that‘s wrong’, ‘you idiot’ and - Nooo!’ with ‘I‘ll improve’, ‘I‘m focused on’, ‘I can and I will’. The key is to retrain your brain. Negative words and images prevent champion- ship performances. Not convinced? You may be thinking the idea of positive self-talk is futile, and I‘ll admit that at first I wasn‘t convinced, butIwasreadytogiveitago. The road test My challenge was to start focusing on replacing every negative thought or comment with a positive one, and my focus turned to my sporting idol at that time, Pete Sampras - the winner of 14 Grand Slam tennis titles. ‘What would Pete be saying to himself right now?’ I‘d ask myself. ‘What would he say at set or even match-point down, stepping up to let loose one of his thunderbolt serves?’ In his prime Sampras certainly wouldn‘t have been hoping, wishing or wanting to not lose, he would just have the sheer self-confidence to believe he could and serve a massive ace or thunderbolt passing shot almost at will. He wouldn‘t be thinking about that last volley he put into the net when the court was wide open or any other human er- ror that we are all prone to occasionally. There‘s not much we can do about mis- takes like that, except to keep training to slowly eradicate them from our game. But we can control our self-talk. My new verbal dialogue after a crap bowl was something like: ‘Okay, no dramas . .. t hat was just a ‘missed take’, c’mon, champion ... you can do it, you‘ll get it with this one’. ‘You‘ve done it before, you can do it again’. ‘You produce your best under pressure when it counts’. Like me, you may also find it helpful to have a key word that you can say over and over. Repeating a word like ‘focus’ will drown out other distractions and keep you calm while you prepare for your next shot. I know this all sounds corny, espe- cially when you start working at it. No one has to hear you though; you don‘t have to scream it from the roof of the club. It‘s just an intrinsic conversation. It may take a bit of time to break the old bad habit of wanting to curse when you play a shocker, but you will reap the benefits in the long run. Soon after I began working on improving my positive self-talk my inner confidence began to soar. Needless worry and self-doubt was immediately replaced by positive thoughts and af- firmations. Constructive thoughts about how I wanted to feel or what I wanted to see happen with the next bowl or the next end, etc. I had discovered a new sense of serenity, coolness and compo- sure after playing one of those ‘rubbish’ bowls that we all detest. Why it works The body of a sporting champion is merely the best vehicle in the best performing condition – like a formula- one racing car. The brain of a champion is the best possible driver, in total control of that vehicle. Fuel for the body is food, drink and oxygen, while fuel for the brain is words. The only barrier separating competitors and champions is the qual- ity of brain ‘fuel’ being used by the driver of the vehicle. Sportspeople are usually unable to achieve ‘champi- on’ status through negative training methods such as criticism, bullying and punishment. ‘Learning by crosses’ cannot succeed and will only cripple you by constantly focusing on errors and failures that must be cor- rected. Don‘t be your own worst en- emy. This con- stant ha- rassment starves and destroys inter- est and usually re- sults in dis- cour- age- ment and mediocre performance. ‘Learning by ticks’, however, always results in the highest rate of success possible. It is essential to promote happiness by focusing exclusively on the victories and near- victories, which results automatically in generating and multiplying successes. Praise stimulates and nourishes personal improvement in all areas of human activities. The concept of right/ almost right instead of wrong is the sure catalyst to produce win instead of lose. By changing how you use your mind during a game, it‘s very possible to make a significant improvement to your performance. Have a go. Try focusing on the positive, reinforcing self-belief, dealing with how you respond to com- mitting errors in a more positive way, set mini-goals and maintain an optimistic winning and professional attitude. I did, and I found it worked wonders. I became more relaxed and confident, with many more positive self-talk words and imagery passing through to my conscious and sub-conscious brain. This led to my most successful year in 1994 after learning and studying more about the power and effect of eliminat- ing negative speak - winning a world title and a Commonwealth Games gold medal. Remember, if you think that you can do it then you‘re right. If you think you can‘t, you‘re absolutely right. So start training your mind now! Interested in taking your bowls to a higher level? I will be running two intensive coaching camps at Port Macquarie and one or two on the Gold Coast in the coming months. Other former Australian players will be part of the team as well. For further information please contact me on 0412 089 833 or camcurtis@ optusnet.com.au. - Cameron Curtis • Former national coach Cameron Curtis will be running a series of advanced coaching camps up north in the near future. Former national coach Cameron Curtis was the architect of Australia’s most successful team ever and spearheaded its domination of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Here he offers some though-provoking stuff for budding champions... The Winner Is Upstairs ‘Victory always starts in the head. It’s a state of mind. It then spreads with such radiance and such affirmations that destiny can do nothing but obey’ Douchan Gersi
August September 2011