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The Mental Game of Water Polo

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					        The Mental Game of Water Polo
                                          By Diggy Riley



When we hear that a certain individual is “mentally tough,” what does it really mean? Many of the
top athletes today are described as having this “mental toughness.” So what exactly is it? It
means having the ability to control your emotional state in order to be focused, relaxed, and
confident in the pool during practices and games. It’s not letting a bad call by the referee upset
you, or letting a bad pass or missed shot affect you. It’s the ability to be in charge of your
emotions, allowing you the opportunity to perform at the highest level possible. Sounds easy
right? It’s not. However, there are certain things that can be done to help you build this “mental
toughness,” which will elevate you game to new heights.

The fuel of mental toughness is maintaining positive energy. On February 22, 1980, the world
witnessed the power of positive energy, when the United States ice hockey team defeated the
Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Considered by most as huge “underdogs” to win the
gold medal, the Americans skated onto the rink and outperformed the Russians, even though the
Russian team possessed more experienced players with superior skills. The ability to summon a
massive flow of intense positive energy when meeting a challenge-being mentally tough-brought
victory to a team that could have won in no other manner. So how did the United States hockey
team get in that “Ideal Performance State” enabling them to win the gold? Let’s look at a few
things you can do to help you become “mentally tough,” enabling you to perform at an ideal state.

No one is born with a positive attitude; top performers develop theirs. For top performance, a
positive attitude is always as important, and generally more important, than a particular skill. A
positive attitude is the reality-based belief that you can produce great results, under any
circumstances, no matter how many obstacles stand in your way. I won’t kid you. It’s not easy to
develop a positive attitude. One simple but effective way to develop a positive attitude is to train
(positive brainwash) your mind. Whenever you find yourself saying things like, “I keep missing
that shot all the time,” or “I stink so bad at defense,” change your attitude immediately and say
something like, “I am getting so much closer to making that shot,” or “I am improving so much on
my defense.” Don’t let negative thoughts crowd your mind. Fill those six inches between your
ears with only positive thoughts. You will see a drastic change in your game as well as your
personal life. TRY IT FOR ONE DAY AND SEE THE IMMEDIATE CHANGE!

            ·    Develop a positive attitude

            ·    Top performance is a result of being in a positive emotional state

            ·    Positive emotion follows positive thought

            ·    Positive thinkers make better performers

In order for you to be mentally tough, you need to be motivated. In other words, you need to have
a passion for water polo and a purpose on why you are in the pool everyday. When I look back at
my 2 CIF Championships, and 1 NCAA National Championship, the thing that really stands out
isn’t the winning but the joy of just playing the game I so much loved. Don’t get me wrong.
Winning was awesome, but I really enjoyed the sport like no other. I was motivated on being the
best player in the pool at any given moment. That is what drove me, and gave me the passion to
be mentally tough in any situation, win or lose. What is your motivation for playing water polo? If
you don’t know, sit down by yourself and spend an hour thinking it. Something is motivating you
to get up early mornings and jumping into a cold pool, right?

            ·    Discover the source of your passion for water polo

            ·    Love the battle more than the outcome

Another area that can help put you in an ideal performance state, is visualizing success. When I
played, I used to relax in my room before games and visualize an entire game. Sounds crazy
huh? In fact, I went as far as mentally seeing and hearing the crowd yell, the smell of chlorine in
the pool and every single possession offensively and defensively. I always imagined myself
succeeding on both ends of the pool. I was unstoppable. The success from visualizing transferred
with me in the pool. I knew I would succeed. Such is the power of internal vision. The chemistry of
billions of cells throughout your body-especially those in the central nervous system-changed in
response to something I imagined. You can move from a negative emotional state to a positive
emotional state by evoking proper imagery through visualization. This gives you another tool for
controlling your emotional state, and thus your performance. Visualization can also help you relax
in situations where you are anxious, nervous or just tense. The Edison boys swim team worked a
lot on relaxing this past season using visualization techniques. Coach Tague also spends an
enormous amount of time with the boys helping them visualize their “best race ever.” The boys
had their best season arguably, in the schools history, and I believe a lot had to do with using the
technique of visualizing.

            ·    Use visualization to provide energy and relaxation through control of emotional
                 states

            ·    Visualization improves performance through mental rehearsal

So long as you aspire and achieve, practice and perform, there will remain a gap between what
you want to be and what you are, a world of frustrations and annoyances that beset you as you
seek sustained excellence. The journey is not an easy one, and it will never end. The key is to
enjoy the trip. When you are at your best, in your Ideal Performance State, there is no difference
between what you want to be doing and what you are actually doing. You are totally focused on
meeting the challenge of the moment. Aware and confident, energized and relaxed, you exult in
the battle. You cannot control the outcome, but you are in full mastery of what you can control-
your attitudes and skills. Performing well is a result of feeling good, of being in the right emotional
state. Your emotional state is not some uncontrollable mystery, but the reflection of the chemistry
of your nervous system. I have given you the most accessible and most powerful of many tools
you can use to maintain and enhance your ability to perform at the highest levels. With the
strategies of mental toughness, you have the power to narrow the gap between what you are and
what you want to be.

Much of what I have written has been taken from a book titled:
Mentally Tough – The Principals of Winning at Sports Applied to Winning in Business, by Dr.
James E. Loehr and Peter J. McLaughlin

				
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posted:4/26/2010
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