Keeping a cool head

by admin on February 5, 2018

Mental skills coach Mark McMahon shares his tips to kerb big match anxiety.

When I started playing lawn bowls as a youngster in Hong Kong in the 1970s, it was fairly unusual to hear about sport psychology, and it certainly had not made any inroads into lawn bowls.  
These days, as sports become increasingly professional, it is definitely more common to hear about sport psychologists working within particular sports.
One of the reasons for this advancement, is the need to provide athletes with an enriched environment of support, as many are under increasing pressure from coaches, sponsors, fans and team mates to perform at their best.
There is a lot at stake, including sponsorship deals, remuneration and future career within the sport.
As the benefits of sport psychology are becoming more widely known, more and more people who participate in sport at all levels, are becoming interested or curious about what sport psychology may be able to offer them.
If I’m working with a group of participants from any sport, from beginner level to those who represent their State, I usually start by asking them to consider what percentage of performance is physical and how much is mental.
Then I ask them to tell me what percentage of time is spent on physical training, and what percentage is spent on mental training. 
There are no right or wrong answers, and there is certainly a great variety in the answers’ given. Importantly it gets people thinking and asking questions.
Psychological skills training can certainly be of great use to address psychological factors that arise in lawn bowls.
Like golf and snooker, and other sports, there is a considerable time gap between shots and this is when unhelpful thoughts and emotions can impact performance. 
However, there are many psychological tools and techniques that can be incorporated into a bowler’s game; and these can be greatly beneficial in terms of performance outcomes. One simple technique is known as the AWARE method, and I’ll explain it here.
Many club bowlers experience anxiety or ‘nerves’ before ‘big’ matches. 
It’s tempting for most people to try and push the anxiety away, by using self-talk such as “I can’t be anxious” or “I have to settle down”, or simply denying it’s there. 
Using the AWARE method, the first step is to Accept the anxiety (“yeah ok. I’m a little nervous today”), visualize it outside of the mind/body and thenWatch it. 
Next – “Act as if” it’s not there. 
If it becomes problematic again, then Repeat the steps as before; and finally, Expect the best. 
Accepting that we are anxious at the beginning of a match, can be the first step in dealing with the adverse effect that anxiety or nerves may have on performance; and stands bowlers in good stead for matches in which there is a close finish. 
Until next time, happy bowling!