This is Part 3 in our sports psychology series on how the quiet mind/quiet eye technique improves ball-hitting accuracy and player performance. In this segment, a leading expert offers proven self-help techniques you can use to access the relaxed mental state you need to up your game.
Many polo players turn to sports psychologists and mental coaches to learn how to control their nerves and increase concentration. For some it’s a short-term treatment; others, including former 10-goaler Adam Snow, choose to continue for years. You may have a finite goal—for example, to overcome a specific performance issue, such as fear—or you may have generalized anxiety that has been holding you back from performing on an elite level.
Whatever your challenges are, overcoming them is your route to developing a “quiet eye,” a state of enhanced concentration that enables you to block out all distractions and shoot with precision. See Part 1 and Part 2 of THE MENTAL GAME (By the way, “quiet” doesn’t mean just turning the volume in your head down a few notches. It means silence. Even positive thinking at the wrong time can be disastrous.)
“The basis of quiet eye is to empty your mind first, so you’re not thinking. You’re just there. Your mind isn’t doing anything; it frees you to assess the situation and respond appropriately,” says Bill Cole of Cupertino, California, who pioneered the field of sports psychology and has helped polo players of all levels improve their performance.
Here are some examples Cole has used to help polo players:
THREE QUIET MIND TECHNIQUES
* USE A GO-TO: Before the game, sit quietly for one minute or so as you look at an object in front of you. Keep your eyes relaxed, but fixed on this object. Breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Relax your lower jaw and allow your mouth to remain slightly open. Within seconds, your mind will begin to become calm, to clear out, and your thinking will decrease. This is quiet eye, leading to quiet mind. The visual object is called a "Go-To." You can also use this for a few seconds anytime in dead time periods of the contest to regain quiet eye.
* CONNECT BREATH TO ACTIONS: Since your breath is always in the now, the present time zone, it is an excellent focal point to use to bring your mind back to the now when it wanders. During a dead time period, feel your boots in the stirrup. Wiggle one boot a bit in one direction and when you do so, expel a small breath of air out. Synchronize these together in a well-timed pattern for a few seconds. Each time you wiggle the boot, your breath goes out. Within a few seconds your mind will become "attached" to the boot wiggle, and your mind will clear. This is called "attachment breathing.” What are you attaching? Your mind to the boot. You are attaching your focus back to the now.
* USE A MANTRA: Choose a word or phrase that symbolizes how you want to feel when you compete. This may be something like "present," "clear," "in the now," "focused,” "right here, right now" or just simply "now." This becomes your mantra, a word or phrase you repeat in your mind both before the contest and during dead time periods. Let's say your word is "now". It would go like this: In your mind or under your breath, say the word "now" . . . pause . . ."now". . . pause . . . "now" . . . pause . . . After just a few seconds your mind will have nothing in it except for "now" and your mind will be quiet and calm.
Next: Conquering fear and self-confidence challenges. Can you hypnotize yourself into being a better polo player?
Photography: Helen Cruden and Snoopy