How to Become Better at Sports

How to Become Better at Sports

You can feel you are great at a sport, suck at a sport, and everything in between.

The key word is “feel.” To become better at a sport, you have to improve your feelings.

Feelings or emotions create your body language, and dictates how you can physically move while competing in a sport.

Horse Rider Example:

A confident horse rider who feels safe and secure will spread their body language out freely and effortlessly. They will hold their head up high, and look straight ahead with their chin level to the ground. They will spread their shoulders out, and move their elbows up the neck of the horse away from their hips so their hands are well out in front of their body. They will lengthen their leg effortlessly and lower their heel for foundational security.

A nervous rider will do the opposite. They will lower their head and look at the ground in a blank stare while they contract their chin in. They will contract their shoulders forward and elbows in, at the same time as closing their hip angle. They will also pull their knees and heals up. The reason for this is the survival instinct to go into the fetal position. If your mind senses fight or flight will not work, then the fetal position takes over.  To make matters worse, the fetal position is the most dangerous position to be in while riding as it is the fastest way to fall off.

A rider who is somewhere in between confident and nervous will still have poker tells they are not feeling 100% up to the challenge, or the challenge they are facing is not easy.  If a rider is not feeling 100% confident about going over a jump, but still decides to go over it, they will not point their shoulders 100% at the fence. The will pull on one rein all the way to the fence, and their body will be slightly angled either to the left or right in order to give them a last-minute escape route.  

The real tell of confidence is a rider’s eyes. They can have a laser eye (no peripheral vision, can only see the target), or a dead eye (tons of peripheral vision) with a vacant expression on their face. The eye denotes where they are focusing, forward or inward. If their focus is inward, negative emotions are taking over and the rider will be thinking so many thoughts at once they will not be able to think of anything at all.

What Do You Do to Get Better at a Sport?

Traditional methods rely on strong foundational muscle memory when facing new higher-level challenges. If you develop strong muscle memory, muscle memory can take over when your head doesn’t feel like it is screwed on straight.  This method utilizes exposure therapy, of repeatedly facing a fear until the fear runs out. It works. This is why this method is used.

A new tool for your tool box is this: when you feel fear, stop what you are doing and take a time out. Then feel the fear until the fear is gone, and then start again. If the fear comes back, repeat the process.

The advantage of this method is fear is dealt with in a way less injury can occur. Fear causes stress on muscles, and can be very taxing. A strained muscle is more likely to be injured than a non-strained muscle.

If you think this method takes longer than the exposure therapy method, then you are both right and wrong. It will take longer at first as you will have to deal with a backlog of emotions, but it will take less time and be more enjoyable in the future as the backlog of emotions dissolves.  It is also the long-term cheaper method as injuries are expensive both mentally and physically.

Emotions other than fear can come up too using this method:

  • I am not good enough
  • I am not perfect, I am not ready yet
  • Envy: they do it better than me, why can’t I do it as well as they can
  • Feeling judged by self or others

Perfectionism is a weird emotion. It can relate to the “fear of making a mistake.” If you feel perfectionism, try this experiment: go around allowing and even encouraging every single mistake you can possibly make to come about. Do this in a lower challenge rather than an upper-level challenge at first. What this experiment does is it proves you didn’t die by making a mistake. Make sure you do this experiment in a supportive environment, where you feel you are around people who support you.

The last tool for your tool box is to watch and mimic someone else in the sport. Mimic not just their body language (although this works), but mimic and embrace their types of emotions – even pretend you are them or your own version of them. Coaches make mini versions of themselves. Find a coach you wish to mimic, be in their space, and learn not just their philosophies; learn their emotions.