• Why NOW is the time to start improving for next season. • Learn the difference between rest and sleep. • Why your eyes just might be your most powerful motivational tool. • The human connection that can boost your performance.
The best ways to maximize improvement during downtime
People are happiest when they’re improving. I’ve come to know that both as a top-performing athlete and as a normal, everyday person. Without improvement, there is no motion toward achieving goals; without goals… well, what’s the point of living?
The offseason is a great time to reflect on what your goals are and then run straight towards them. And, as you outline your goals—this plus that plus those equals goal achieved—remember that most athletes forget that resting is an essential part of that equation, so make sure to include rest in your offseason game plan. Figure out what it is you need to do before that first day of pre-season practice, so that, when you’re putting your practice jersey on for the first time, you know you’re as prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally as you can possibly be.
In a sentence: bring ALL OF YOU to the table to help your team reach their goals for the year.
"People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals- that is, goals that do not inspire them." - Anthony 'Tony' Robbins
As you prepare yourself to achieve those goals—both your individual goals and the goals of the team—know that there are five specific areas on which you should focus to get the most out of your offseason downtime.
Believe it or not, the first and most important thing for you to accomplish in the offseason is rest. Not to be confused with sleep, rest is an active, conscious effort to do nothing. That’s right: nothing. (Doing nothing is actually really important; so important, in fact, that there is a TED Talk on the subject.) For myself, the day after the season ends, I give myself a week or two to completely get away from volleyball. You should do the same.
Your body and mind have been through a lot all year. Practices, drills, meetings, reviews; wins, losses, emotional ups and downs; and the list goes on. It may be difficult, but it’s healthy to shut down for a time in order to adequately recoup. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, give yourself a break. Then, when it’s time to hit the gym again, you’re excited and ready to attack each day with the energy you need to play at a high level.
Your downtime is in excess in the offseason, so put it to good use: try to do things that recharge you, especially things that you don’t have time to do in season. Hot yoga is a fun way I stay active, but it’s also a great recovery exercise. Other things you could do: take a bike ride, swim at the lake, throw a Frisbee around with friends, or go hiking. Whatever it is that keeps your body moving but not stressed, and clears your mind, is a good, restful practice.
I know taking a break from the sport you love and live for can be hard, but keep in mind that proper rest and space from it will only help your performance in the long run.
The offseason is a perfect time to work on your mental game and to prepare for the inevitable ups and downs of the long and intense season ahead of you. Training your brain is just like training your muscles in the weight room: you can’t expect to get stronger unless you work it. I suggest taking 10-20 minutes a day to meditate, practice proper breathing, or to improve your visualization skills so that techniques you’ve been working hard on will transfer into action next season.
One of my favorite things to do is to take five minutes in the morning to visualize my teammates and me winning the upcoming championship. I try to create as much detail as possible in my mind: I envision my teammates and coaches jumping around after ‘the win’, imagine what the stadium sounds like, what it feels like, see myself hugging my teammates, and, finally, picture myself standing atop the highest podium, trophy in hand, knowing all my hard work has paid off. What an exciting image!
Even though a number of experts suggest both morning and evening visualization routines, I prefer morning visualization because it’s a reminder of why I’m working so hard at my game, a reminder of what I want to help my team achieve. And it gets me excited to do what I need to do that day to make the dream into a reality. Imagine how amped you’d be if you were encouraged every morning by your own best and most powerful motivator! And, take a hint from Morning-Routine.com, which states, “Your morning visualization… will make it impossible to neglect your goals longer than a day.”
[Tweet "Morning visualization makes it impossible to neglect my goals longer than a day! "]
Preparation can mean different things for each athlete. For some it’s building strength in the weight room, for others it’s getting leaner or doing extra rehab on a shoulder or knee so it will be less likely to give out (again) during the season.
Whatever “preparation” means to you, do it by making specific, SMART goals and attacking them with fervor. Making big gains in the weight room is difficult to do during season. There’s simply no time. But, offseason? Bring it on! Bump up the intensity! Know exactly what you’re working toward and prepare yourself physically to help your team to the best of your ability when it comes time for season to begin.
Film, film, film. Can’t say it enough: take time to watch film. Watch your past season’s games, analyze your strengths and weaknesses, and use that information to help you and your coaches prioritize goals for the offseason. Make it clear what you want to work on and then get after it. Ask your coaches to get additional film for you so you can study higher level players and see how they move, how they react to both good and bad plays, and how they approach each play throughout the game.
Most people—in fact, 65-80% of the population—are visual learners. Taking time to watch more skilled athletes play your position can be a hugely beneficial (and easily accessible!) learning method. More, it’s incredibly motivating to watch a great player and want to emulate them.
Another way to help you at your craft is to read a book. Learn from biographies how other athletes approach their sport; read an instructional on mental training; or better understand another athlete’s adversity and how they overcame it. As an athlete it's sometimes easy to get caught up in thinking, “I’m the only one who feels this way,” or “No way a successful athlete would be feeling like I do right now.” WRONG! Reading books and learning about what other athletes are going and have gone through can be a huge tool for you in getting your mind right for your upcoming season and your overall career as an athlete.
"Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for." - Socrates
During the season you see a lot of your teammates—not only on the court, but at practices, the locker room, in study hall, hotels, or during team meals—but exposure doesn’t always equal closeness.
The offseason is a great time to get outside the gym and learn about your teammates in different ways. Go bowling, to a movie, a concert, or just go grab a coffee and talk about anything other than your sport.
It’s unrealistic to think that everyone on the team will be best friends, but taking time to learn about your teammates and connect with them on multiple levels to build camaraderie can be a powerful thing. In the military, camaraderie is key to unit motivation.(Check out The Military Leadership Handbook.)
And, why should we care how troops get motivated? Because they think and train like athletes do and we could learn a lot from their mental prowess.
Now that you have these five tools in your arsenal to get you through and build yourself up during the offseason… go out and GET SOME!
USA Volleyball/Olympic Silver Medalist Positive Performance Mental Training Coach