As a child, bowling was my passion. I practiced every chance I could, attended camps, and took in every bit of information that my coach was willing to share. I bowled in several leagues each year, and my Dad drove me to tournaments all over the state. As high school drew to a close, I set my sights on making my college bowling team. Despite my efforts and passion, I was not successful either of the two years I tried out. No matter how hard I tried (and I tried VERY hard), something seemed to be getting in the way (roadblocks). While bowling in leagues in college with the guys who did make the team, I always seemed to be a class below them, even though I knew in my heart that I should be at their level. Frustrated and out of answers, I quit. For 13 years.
My second stint at the game produced a huge surprise and one of the great lessons in my life. I was now married, had a brand new daughter, and was starting my first job after graduate school. Joe, my neighbor and now dear friend, asked me if I would like to substitute on his team. I agreed. I quickly realized that this time around I had absolutely no expectations, and there were many other important things in my life to occupy my mind beside bowling. Substituting quickly turned to being a regular on the team. At the end of that year, following 13 years of picking up a bowling ball maybe six times, I averaged 14 pins higher than I ever had in my life! I also topped my high game and my high 3-game series by considerable amounts. After 13 years of inactivity in the sport, I accomplished things that I was not able to in 13 years of concerted effort. The mental garbage seemed to have disappeared.
Looking back on this entire process from the eyes of a psychologist, I realized that there are lessons to be learned and wisdom to pass on. First, expectations and mental roadblocks can burden an athlete and preventing him or her from realizing their full potential. It’s only when you release these burdens (yes, if you have them you are actively holding onto them and have the freedom to let them go at any time) that you can reach new heights in your game. I was reading every instruction book I could get my hands on, trying every drill known to the sport, and obsessing about my progress (or lack thereof) day and night. What I should have been doing is dedicating more time (a alot more time) to the mental side of things. What also became apparent was all the time I had put in on my physical skills was actually being stored in my muscle memory and making me a better bowler. The results were just being impeded by my mind.
Does this mean that you have to take a decade or more off from your sport if you become mentally stuck? Of course not. I learned the hard way, but you certainly do not have to take the same path. If I would have sought out a good mental coach, I could have cleaned the mental garbage out of my mind and broken through to new levels of success much more quickly than I did. Do I regret this roundabout path? Not one bit. My journey taught me volumes about sports and about life. I wouldn’t trade it for 20 perfect games, or even a spot on my college team. And perhaps most importantly, my experience gave me the wisdom to help other athletes struggling with their own mental roadblocks.
So, if you feel that something is holding you back in your sport despite heroic efforts, it may be time to talk to a mental coach. As always drop me a line with any questions at DrRich@mindforsports.com. If you have a similar story, I would love to hear it.