From Sports Psychology Today
It’s that time of year: I’m a huge hockey fan, having grown up with the Chicago Blackhawks on black and white TV. No helmets. Scarred faces, missing teeth. Much less padding. But were there more fights than today? I honestly can’t say.
Today it’s (my friend’s) vast screen TV and obnoxious pregame “shows” (what else can be expected from Las Vegas, that great faux-gold turd in the desert). But I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone from experiencing the “joy of” the Stanley Cup Final. My friend has never been a fan of hockey (or any sport), but enforced viewing through some of the playoff games, and she’s “hooked” already – unfortunately, by the Las Vegas Knights. My guess concerning my friend’s rapid “seduction” by hockey? Well it is a fantastic sport, after all! And a chance for female Homo sapiens to observe and enjoy “men being men” without any collateral damage, like in war. They can punch each other all they want; no one else gets hurt.
I have also observed that the “mental qualities” manifested by players may be a guide to help nervous Asperger types approach our confrontations with “hostile” neurotypicals. No kidding!
Performance Anxiety and Pregame Jitters
Many athletes feel performance anxiety in the opening minutes of the game. You may feel butterflies in your stomach or your heart pounding. Some athletes like to feel pregame jitters before competition. These athletes think of pregame jitters as a sign of readiness and energy. Other athletes think of pregame jitters as a sign of nervousness.
I would say that “pregame jitters” are a fact of life for Asperger types: every social interaction, everyday – along with a strong tendency to “rehearse” upcoming events – but aren’t daily practice and visualization vital to athletic excellence? Can we change our “attitude” toward this anticipatory physical phenomenon, and perhaps take a “neutral” view? I know, it seems a difficult task! LOL
Pre-game jitters are a natural part of competing and a sign you are ready to embrace competition. Even the best athletes in the world get the jitters. Michael Leighton, goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers, admitted to feeling nervous before his first NHL playoff game.”My legs were shaking a little bit, I was nervous,” Leighton said. “Once I made a few saves, you kind of forget about that and just get focused. It kind of goes away.”
This seems applicable to Asperger types; often, once I get to the “performance” part of social interaction, something automatic takes over and I jabber away –
The mistake many athletes make is interpreting pre-game jitters as there is something wrong or a problem. Pregame jitters can be harmful when they don’t go away in the opening minutes of the game. They can cause you to lose confidence and focus. When you’re focused on how nervous you feel, you lose focus on the present task.
Athletes need to embrace the pregame jitters as a sign they are ready to play. Your mental game tip is to stay calm when you experience pregame jitters in the opening minutes. (Yes, but how???) Stay focused on your strategy and what’s important to execute. Pregame jitters are important to help you prepare for the game and they will help you focus your best if you embrace them! Think of it this way: the best athletes get worried if they don’t experience pregame jitters!
Maybe our tendency to rehearse is an asset, if we use that energy to devise a strategy! Is rehearsal another “asset” that NT psychologists misinterpret as a defect?
Listed below are some mental game tips to help you perform your best under pressure and in the big game.
What seem like minor everyday social interactions for NTs can be extremely “big game” status for us!
1. Develop a consistent pregame routine. (Yes, psychologists judge preference for establishing routines in ASD / Asperger individuals a “developmental defect”. Screw them! We need to use our traits as assets…) A pregame routine can help transition you into the right mindset before competition. While you’re warming up your body, you also want to mentally prepare for the upcoming game. A pregame routine will help you focus your mind, prepare to feel confident, and to trust in your practice. During your pregame routine, remind yourself to trust in the practice you have done leading up to the game.
2. Focus on your game not your competitors. Many athletes tend to make comparisons to their competitors and thus psych themselves out. When you do this, you typically make negative comparisons, which can cause you to lose confidence in your game. Instead of gawking at your competitors, you want to focus on your pregame preparation. You should focus on your strengths and abilities, for example.
3. Focus on the process, not results. Focusing on results causes you to think too far ahead and sets too many expectations for competition. When you focus on the results, you lose focus on the current play, point or shot and you can’t perform your best. Remind yourself that focusing on results doesn’t help you execute. Then, refocus quickly on what’s important, such as the target or your strategy for the current play.
4. Have trust in yourself. Some athletes lose trust and tighten up in the big game. This can cause you to over control your performance and not play freely. You want your performance to just happen, without thinking too much about “how to” execute your skills. For example, a batter needs to react to the ball instead of think about how to make a good swing. Simplify your thoughts such as thinking about one thought or image to help you execute (feeling balanced). Avoid thinking too much about how to or technique.
Overall, you want to treat the big game as any other game. You don’t want to place too much importance on one game, which can lead to added pressure, a lack of focus, and trust in your game. Focus on what you do best. Follow your usual pregame routine and mentally prepare for the big game just like you would any other game.
What does all this point to for Asperger types? We must free ourselves from the poisonous messages we have received all our lives from neurotypicals who “judge” our traits and behaviors as “defective and subhuman” And USE our cognitive skills and superior sensory abilities to our advantage! This is very different than submitting to being “trained monkeys” as social humans demand of us.