I have grown quite a bit as a jammer over the last 5 years. Just recently, I was thinking about my good bouts vs my bad bouts. What was different about them? Why did some bouts feel like a constant mental struggle, while others flew by like the blink of an eye? Although there are several factors that contribute to having a “bad bout”, I realized that I tend to perform much worse when I am trying too hard to make decisions during a jam.
My increased knowledge of strategy, defensive maneuvers, and offensive plays is great, but sometimes I can’t stop thinking about everything at once. When I line up for a jam, I sometimes find myself thinking about where the other jammer lined up, where my team is lined up, who might be playing offense for me, which opposing blocker might be playing offense for their jammer, where I should attack to have the best effect, how I should distract the blockers from helping their jammer, who might be prone to get a penalty off the line, and on and on…
I have realized that while this increased knowledge is great, focusing on it only made me perform worse. I would hesitate off the line, I would try to mess with the other jammer, and I would try to impede offense more than just focusing on getting out of the pack. It was (and still is) frustrating.
When I first started jamming, all I cared about was getting out of the pack as quickly as I could. When I was a rookie, I didn’t have that many decisions to make. I was unaware of the effect my movements and actions would have on the rest of the pack. This lack of knowledge allowed me to focus on the present moment. Now, I am a much better skater because of the knowledge and skills I have gained, but I need to learn how to sometimes turn off my decision-making process and, in the wise words of Nike, to just do it.
The reason you practice basic skills over and over again is so you don’t have to think about them – they become automatic, and allow your mind to focus on other things. Thinking too much about things you already know how to do can limit the way you perform other tasks. One researcher, Sian Beilock, has termed this overthinking as “paralysis by analysis”.
For example, next time you are skating in a jam, try to think about your crossovers as you approach the pack. Focusing on something as automatic as crossovers will make it extremely difficult to focus on more highly skilled activities, such as juking the blocker, looking for offense, or taking a smart line around the pack.
Overthinking can be triggered by a variety of reasons – fear, lack of confidence, trying to be perfect, or under extremely competitive situations.
To avoid overthinking, try one (or all) of the following:
- Use relaxation techniques before important competitions. Meditate, do yoga, or listen to some music before competing.
- Start practicing under stressful situations. Even if you’re just scrimmaging, try to imagine that it is a competition. Put pressure on yourself to perform at your best. Once you’ve garnered this feeling, train yourself to work through it, clear your mind, and focus on what’s important.
- Give yourself mantras or breathing exercises to help lower anxiety in the moment. Even repeating something like “stay focused” or “be strong” can help you stop overthinking the situation.
Once you are able to recognize that you are overthinking, it becomes much easier to adjust your mindset. You must learn to be confident with your actions on the track and trust your training and instincts will get done what needs to happen. Save your thinking for when you’re on the bench between jams and the analysis for the after party. When you’re on the track, be there mentally as well as physically!