The world of college athletics has taught me several things. It has taught me how to be a good teammate, the importance of sleep and proper nutrition, how to balance a crazy schedule, and many other important lessons. The main lesson that came to mind this week is how important it is to prepare for preseason.
Preseason is brutal. On my team, we have two-a-days that consist of fitness testing and practice in the morning followed by more fitness testing and practice in the evening. This year, we had several different kinds of fitness tests. The first was a timed two-mile, and, although the time we had to beat seemed relatively reasonable, we also run at an elevation of over seven thousand feet, which makes the test much more difficult. We also ran timed 120-yard sprints, laps around the field, and ladders. Not only this, but our coach added a special test this year—30 sprints up a hill at the Great Sand Dunes. Needless to say, it is really important to prepare both physically and mentally for preseason as well as the rest of the year.
Now, I believe there are several ways to train physically in order to complete all the fitness requirements. The most important training should be cardio exercises. The only way to be good at running is to run—a lot. Throughout the summer I mixed up what kind of running workouts I would do, for some days I would do sprint work to increase my speed and other days I would run long distance to improve my endurance. In order to avoid injury, I would also swim and bike so that my legs could recover and I could still work my lungs. Alongside cardio workouts, I also lifted at the gym and did hot yoga to make sure my muscles also received proper training. While I did all these workouts, I made sure I was fueling properly and getting adequate sleep in order to perform at the highest level possible.
In my opinion, getting physically prepared is the easy part. Mental toughness is much harder to achieve. This is still something I struggle with on a pretty frequent basis, for no player anywhere is happy when their coach tells them to get on the line; however, I have gotten mentally tougher since last year and it has really helped my performance. There are thousands of books all preaching different strategies to increase mental strength. The tips I read about that stuck with me the most were from a book our coach made us read called "The Champion’s Mind" by Jim Afremow. He wrote about several practical strategies athletes can use to get through practice. One of my favorites was his instruction to think about a part of your body that does not hurt while you are training, such as your eyelids. Even though this seems pretty funny, it really is helpful to direct your focus on something that is not sore. Outside of the tricks outlined in that book, our coach also told us a story about Carli Lloyd that inspired me to increase my mental toughness. In an interview, Carli said she trained every single day, including holidays, so when the competition heats up and she feels fatigued, she knows she has done everything in her power to be successful. I think that is an excellent mentality to have that can increase mental strength.
Preparing for preseason is daunting. It is a time to beat your body to the brink in order to increase fitness as well as mental toughness. The only way to be prepared for such a brutal couple of weeks is to train physically with different types of cardio and strength workouts as well as dedicate specific time to increase mental strength during the off-season.