A client of mine asked me to work with her thirteen year-old daughter who is a competitive ballerina in south Florida. I said sure, relishing the challenge of helping an adolescent in a sport that I have never experienced first hand. The cool part about working with athletes as a Sports Psychologist is that no matter what the sport, the underlying issues are similar. And so are the techniques that we can apply to address them!
This young girl was experiencing significant anxiety before big competitions as well as having normal adolescent challenges with her family and friends. We chatted for a bit about her life, her friendships, and her passion of dance. Attending a performing arts school, she was consistently dancing five to six hours a day during and after school. This left her with very little down time and much less social time than most of her peers, two significant challenges for anyone let alone an adolescent.
When she was ready, I went over the basics of mindfulness. Despite countless hours of practice no one had ever addressed the mental game with her. We talked about her beginning a meditation practice to take the edge off and gradually condition her mind to relax more. We also discussed simple mindfulness techniques, such as paying attention to her breath as a way of decreasing her overall sense of stress and anxiety. In particular, this would help her in competition. I asked her to notice her breath throughout the day whenever she remembered and to consciously deepen it. This little exercise can have a substantial impact on stress over time.
We addressed the importance of visualizing her routine before a competition. This was something she was already doing but not in a consistent and formal way. I told her about golf and the routines that make a massive difference in one’s performance. She was very open and eager to learn. In future conversations, we might more specifically address the principles of mental toughness, emotional control, and self-assurance, but this was a great start!