Sometimes when the deck is stacked against us, life is rapid-firing lemons and we don’t even have a glass to hold any water much less determine whether its half full or half empty, it helps to just laugh a little in the face of impending doom.
Like a circuit breaker, humor can clear the mind, reset the emotional hour glass and after a momentary rinse we can refocus our attention to what is most important. Referred to as the Stroop Effect, the brain gets challenged through conflicting information, getting interference with completion of a task caused by one area of the brain dominating and inhibiting the response of other areas. In order to have the ability to focus & refocus when it counts most, we must practice it time and time again under the progressive and systematic duress that training provides. Box breathing (4-count inhale, hold for a 4-count, 4-count exhale & hold for a 4-count) is a simple yet highly effective tool to utilize to control the HR thus reducing the heightened psychomotor state. This should first be practiced completely relaxed, namely before and after training. As athletes develop a good practice of this over weeks and months time, it should then be integrated into simple exercises such as Dead Bugs, Pull Ups and Staggered Squats. In particular, exercises that have a high RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) because they expose us to inflexibilities, instabilities and ineffective movement quality which are at a greater risk to being performed poorly.
Slowing down, steadying these exercises will drive a greater level of focus and specificity into a mind-movement connection that will further push a greater carry-over effect into specific skill acquisition…just as ‘mathletes’ don’t sloppily throw around calculus, geometric & algebraic numbers but rather painstakingly fine-tune for accurate solutions…just as musicians are in a perpetual state of chasing perfect pitch and tone. As the athletes gain mastery over this, further integrate into the rest protocols between bouts of high-speed efforts such as agility drills, suicides, tag games and such.
High level responses to this should progress to commercial resisted breathers, snorkels and straws. Over time as this becomes automatically-habitual, check to see the athletes’ responses within training, practice and games. Often times you will observe athletes who can maintain a higher level of ‘coachability’ as measured by positive reactions to higher levels of discomfort, abrasive coaching & teammates, bad plays, bad officiating calls and the weight of insurmountable pressures. As coaches, we should make conscious efforts to note and encourage humorous moments, things that culturally make the team laugh & giggle. During the scheduled moments in training that we foresee the inevitable “This SUCKS!” face, then strategically suggest that they employ their box breathing, encourage them to encourage each other and enhance your athletes’ ability to “Embrace-the-Suck” by getting them to pseudo-sadistically laugh within their our own misery.
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