Author – Vedika Jogani
A recent graduate from Ithaca College with a Master’s degree in Sports and Exercise Science, specializing in Mental Performance, Vedika Jogani is OMP’s Product and Content Manager. During her studies, Vedika worked closely with Ithaca’s Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams and Women’s Volleyball Team as their Mental Performance Consultant. Vedika is currently completing her Certified Mental Performance Consultant Certification.
In the NFL, every second counts and players find themselves facing unexpected challenges that test not only their physical capabilities but also their mental resilience.
Monday night’s Broncos vs Bills game provided a prime example of how mental fortitude plays a key role in a high-pressure position of a kicker.
The Broncos’ quarterback Russell Wilson takes a knee, and in a split second, the kicking team rushes onto the field.
Wil Lutz, the kicker, lines up for a crucial kick that will win the Broncos the game. The tension is palpable. Lutz kicks, and to everyone’s surprise, he misses.
But the drama doesn’t end there. Buffalo, in their attempt to defend against the initial kick and because of how quickly the Broncos have rushed their kicking team onto the field, has 12 players on the field, resulting in a penalty. Lutz gets a second chance to kick, this time from 5 yards closer.
Kicking is as much a mental skill as it is physical one. It’s not just about the strength of the leg but also about the clarity of the mind.
Now, imagine the pressure of having to rush onto the field amidst the chaos. How does a kicker prepare mentally when put into the spotlight with only a little time to spare?
This is when the art of mental preparation becomes paramount. Using these skills can allow athletes to prepare for quick on-field transitions:
- Visualization and Focus: Mentally rehearsing the scenario where they need to rush on the field, line up for a kick and block out distractions can allow them to build a blueprint for success. Maintaining unwavering focus amidst the chaos becomes a crucial aspect of mental training.
- Controlled Breathing Techniques: Taking deep, intentional breaths can help athletes regulate their heart rate and stay calm under pressure. This simple but effective technique can become an anchor providing a moment of clarity in a high-pressure situation.
- Pre-established Routines: Having a pre-kick routine can act as a mental safety net. Kickers develop rituals – from the way they approach the ball to the specific steps they take before the kick. These routines serve not only as physical preparation but also as a mental cue, providing a familiar and calming rhythm even in the most hurried situations
- Mindfulness Practices: Incorporating mindfulness into their training regimen can help kickers stay present in the moment. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and awareness exercises, enable athletes to let go of distractions, focus on the task at hand, and navigate the on-field hustle with a clear mind.
Then comes the missed kick. It’s a situation that every athlete dreads. The true test lies in the ability to rebound.
Lutz found the mental strength to reset and repeat the action allowing him to be successful the second time over. Athletes can prepare themselves to repeat an action they’ve just failed at.
- Reframing the Narrative: Rather than viewing the mistake as a failure, athletes can reframe it as a learning experience. What went wrong, what can be adjusted. Having a growth mindset allows for continued success.
- Resetting and Reestablishing Focus: Athletes can use specific rituals and focus cues to symbolize a fresh start. This can include visual or auditory cues that remind athletes to refocus on the task at hand.
- Confidence building strategies: Using positive self-talk and reminding yourself of past successes can help to regain your confidence and perform your task successfully.
Athletes often train not just their bodies but their minds to overcome setbacks. They develop mental routines, techniques, and coping mechanisms to navigate the emotional rollercoaster of success and failure.
Whether it’s a missed kick, a fumble, or a strikeout, the ability to shake off the disappointment and focus on the next opportunity is what separates great athletes from the rest.
In the end, Lutz successfully converted the second kick, turning a potential low point into a triumphant moment.
His mental fortitude and ability to navigate the unexpected serve as a valuable lesson for athletes in any sport.
The game is not just played on the field; it’s equally a battle within the mind.