It happens all the time. Whether it’s when you need a strike to win a game, or you have many strikes in a row, or you are competing in an event or against opponents that take you out of your comfort zone, people are affected by pressure. Everyone understands dealing with pressure is a significant aspect of competition, and as such people are always looking for the advice which is going to “cure” them of dealing with the symptoms they experience caused by the mind.
Dr. Dean Hinitz is the sports psychologist of Team USA, and he says psychology is not formulaic.
“There is no one tip that can cure everybody,” said Hinitz, who has worked with many touring pros and college teams.
When a person seeks his counsel, Hinitz understands his field is very much case-by-case. For example, when I have six or more strikes in a row, my right hand, without exception, always get sweaty. No matter how much cool air is blown on it, or how many times I wipe my hand on my pants, or how much rosin I put on my hand, it always returns to being sweaty in a matter of seconds. As a result, I can’t get a good grip on the ball at all during the release, and I drop the ball way too early and get nothing on it. I know it’s psychological, though, because as soon as I miss, my hand feels completely normal, and I throw great shots again.While Dr. Hinitz says it is difficult to know what exactly is happening, one hypothesis he has is: I know I’ve thrown several good shots in a row, so I am afraid of throwing a bad one out of nowhere for fear of looking stupid. Again, that’s just a possibility and I don’t know if that is the case, but that is an example of how different people can be.
Just as it is generally known developing a physical game is a process, so too, I think, is developing a mental game. There is no one tip or set of tips which can make any person throw the ball great, so why should that be the case for dealing with pressure?
I do have three pieces of advice which I believe will help everyone get going in the process of building a tough mental game.
1. Practice. As you are practicing, be very aware of everything you are feeling and everything you are doing. When you throw a really good shot, reflect on it so you remember what it felt like. As you keep bowling, make sure you stay in-tune with how your feelings change. For example, I might feel great for a game, but then all of a sudden, my thumb comes out a little later than it has been. That changes my focus, and instead of continuing to focus on the feel, I’m thinking about when the ball is going to come off my hand. So now my hand will start to sweat and it completely changes everything I’m doing. As long as I’m aware of this, next time I practice I’ll realize when the change is about to happen, (by feel) and be able to try thinking differently to avoid going down that path. I can also imagine, when I am off the lanes, what the feeling is when my focus is shifting and I can prepare myself to deal with it, however that may be. A lot of it is about just focusing on one thing or idea or feeling, and not letting change affect your focus. If you practice this, you will be prepared during competition.
2. Another piece of advice I have is read books, not just dealing with sports or sports psychology (although those are helpful too, such as “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey), but books talking about overall attitudes toward life. Examples I have are “Siddhartha” (by Hermann Hesse), “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (by Robert M. Persig – don’t worry, it’s not really about motorcycles!), and, as strange as this sounds, “The Tao of Pooh” (by Benjamin Hoff). Just to give you a small idea as to what type of material this is, here is a short description of the wisdom in “The Tao of Pooh” : “While Eeyore frets, and Piglet hesitates, and Rabbit calculates, and Owl pontificates…Pooh just is, and that’s his clue to the secret wisdom of the Taoists.” (Benjamin Hoff) These books will make you look at everything just a little differently, and often times just the slightest change in perspective can have a dramatic result.
3. The final thing I have to say is trust yourself. You’ve been bowling long enough to know what a perfect shot feels like. It’s really all about being able to get as close to feeling that shot as possible without having to think too much. Much of the time, the answers you seek aren’t found outside, but rather inside.