Frederickton (CUP) — Athletes can push, pull, kick, hit, and shove their way through a game, but the physicality can only take them so far.
Mental preparation before a game is a key element people forget about. “The things we think about, the ways we feel, influence us on a daily basis,” said Assistant Professor in Psychology and Sports Consultant at University of New Brunswick (UNB), Ryan Hamilton. “Whether it’s because we hate Mondays, or believe we can’t hit a free-throw or serve the ball, we look for evidence that it’s true, and so we need to have the right mindset.”
Hamilton has been working with the varsity athletes and other organizations outside the university for over 13 years, and works with teams to develop their mental skills alongside their physical ones.
The V-Reds men’s hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, wrestling, and cross-country runners benefit from Hamilton’s expertise, and meet with him on an almost-weekly basis. The longevity of the season directly affects how often teams meet with a sports consultant. The soccer season, being shorter than other varsity sport, requires more consultations and pre-game sessions. Men’s hockey, however, which has a longer season, meets with Hamilton less frequently.
Other variables included in the mix are how successful or unsuccessful the teams are.
“It took a while to build a program that’s as successful as it is now. It’s changed and evolved over time, and one of the things we work on now is being comfortable with the idea of winning,” said Hamilton. A winning streak does not necessarily lead to a winning mentality. In fact, Hamilton says it can be a hindrance on a player, as they become focused on the outcome. Part of his job is to ensure the outcome is set aside and athletes focus on the game.
“We’re not anticipating how it’s going to feel—positive or negative—we’re not planning a celebration, and we’re not planning to drown our sorrows,” he said. “We’re not planning for the outcomes, we’re just really involved with the process it’s going to produce them.”
Another roadblock for Hamilton is “physical caps.” Height, talent, lung capacity, and other physical attributes can contribute to how far one can push themselves. Sports Consultants help athletes with expressing their capabilities and not pushing themselves to further these “caps.” Anxiety, low confidence, and other mental blocks are also major factors.
“[I] allow the athlete to express how good they are—how much they’ve done to prepare more than anything else—rather than trick them into having an extreme performance that’s outside anything they’ve ever done before,” he said. “I think if you’re chasing that dream you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
The mental preparation is not just for the field, court, or rink. Meeting with players outside their training is a main part of Hamilton’s job.
“There have been personal disappointments and injuries,” said Hamilton, “and lots of athletes come and sit in the chair you’re sitting in right now and cry, are devastated and dealing with all sorts of issues that not one fan would ever know about. It’s challenging, but it’s also special, you know?”