Coaching the Wide Receiver - “How are you talking to yourself?”

By Drew Lieberman | Posted 6/4/2019

Self-Talk is one of the most powerful weapons that human beings carry with them daily. The way an individual talks to him or herself has a direct correlation to that person’s mood, productivity and confidence. Self-talk, like any other skill, must be practiced. The first step is to become conscious of the words and thoughts that flow through one’s mind throughout the day and to take control of those thoughts. The goal is to train the mind to be aggressively optimistic regardless of the circumstances. This starts by shifting perceptions, especially around adversity and obstacles. Rather than looking to avoid adversity, it is better to embrace the struggles and view them as a necessary evil that serve to train and strengthen the mind for the long haul.

“Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t be harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.”

            -Marcus Aurelius

There’s nothing that makes a person feel an emotion. People choose their reactions or what emotions to have. There is the circumstance (the situation people find themselves in) and then there is how that person chooses to react to it. That is perception defined.

It’s natural for most people to react emotionally and impulsively to perceived “adversity” because they view it as a negative. Few people see the opportunities that lie in the obstacles they encounter each day – a gift designed to build strength, toughness and confidence. If that’s how these obstacles are perceived, then that is what they are.

In the crucial situations during a football game, talent and athleticism are not the most sought-after abilities. Poise and focus are because they precede any other skill that a player may have. There are no physical skills that can substitute a player’s ability to execute his or her job with a calm mind during a high-pressure situation. This ability must be mastered before any other abilities can shine.

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This is why mentally challenging offseason training programs are so important! The best offseason programs are designed to develop nerve control and cool headedness under pressure. Stress training is designed to prepare athletes for success by giving them opportunities to talk to themselves positively during moments that others perceive to be high stress. Training and practicing under these circumstances gives players the chance to thrive in these situations on game day because they’ve had experience training their perception for months prior. They’ve developed poise: the ability to block out setbacks or distractions and the refusal to be intimidated by an opponent or circumstance.

“How are you talking to yourself?” is a powerful phrase to ask a player on a regular basis because it immediately puts everything into perspective and shifts a player’s mindset to focus on what’s important: controlling that voice inside their head. When players can understand that success is not marked by statistics or accomplishments but by controlling that inner voice – he/she will create a drastic shift in their mindset that allows them to value self-talk over all else. When a player is able to talk to themselves positively at all times, their physical abilities will take over and can be maximized.

This dialogue inside one’s mind is put on full display during a football game. At the wide receiver position – the most important thing a player can do before the snap is build a plan at the line of scrimmage. To do this he/she must hear or see the play call, run to get lined up and diagnose the defense in the matter of a few seconds. The receiver’s plan changes based on the route or blocking assignment called and adjusting it to the defense’s alignment.

To process all this information in such a short time, receivers must master self-talk. It is crucial to have the ability to stay focused on the task at hand for the next play despite anything that happened previously: a dropped pass, missed block, bad call by the officials, etc. The mental process before the snap must remain consistent at all times. No matter if it’s a two-minute drill, third-and-long or a huge crowd on the road, a player’s self-talk never changes. “There is the circumstance (the situation people find themselves in) and then there is how that person chooses to react to it. That is perception defined.”

Some of these game situations might change what a player’s job calls for like running a route passed the stick on third-and-8 or catching the ball on the sideline and running out of bounds in a two-minute drill, but those necessary adjustments are part of the game. The key for the great receivers is to execute their jobs with the same intention on every snap, despite the circumstances, and never allow the moment to interfere with their process at the line of scrimmage. This ability comes down to mastering the consistent and positive self-talk that is required to remain focused and motivated throughout the ups and downs of a highly competitive football game. “How are you talking to yourself?” is the most important question to ask.

(Thank you to Anthony Campanile for teaching and giving me this gift.)

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