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Conquering Psych Outs Q & A – Part 1

Q - I know my family has the best intentions, but when they come to see me bowl, they give advice I don’t need, and it distracts me. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. What can I say to them?

A - In the context of competition, family and friends may very well be a supportive and overall positive factor for bowlers. In addition to any useful knowledge they may impart, their emotional backing can bolster spirits, boost confidence, enhance self-acceptance, and reduce stress. Yet this isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, friends or family can also be sources of stress. This is true whether they’re present during competition or just discussing bowling with you away from the center. Common issues include harsh criticism; conditional support; excessive, demanding, or inaccurate advice; controlling behavior; extreme distress over disappointing outcomes; competitiveness; and envy.

The key for athletes is thinking, feeling, and acting independently while respecting others’ feelings and perspective. Well-developed communication skills are essential for minimizing conflict and maximizing behavior that is helpful and uplifting. The goal is to draw what is positive from the relationship for the good of both your bowling and ongoing contact. Because our needs with family (including your spouse) and with friends are so intense, the issues cited are potentially disturbing and disruptive. Constructive communication can lead to more favorable interaction, if not complete resolution, of the issues from the athletes’ point of view. Families are a team and so are friends. When it comes to tools for communication and respect, the spirit as well as the specifics are the same whether your teammates are on the lanes or in the home.

When advice offered is counterproductive, as in the question asked, it’s necessary to confront the person and the situation in a constructive way. Be quite appreciative of the intent to help. Yet make clear that your concentration is broken when the advice is offered during competition. If you’re being coached, indicate that it’s essential for you to follow only the coach’s input. A chat between your coach and family members may be most helpful in clearly establishing these boundaries. For youth bowlers, it’s of primary importance that parents and coach have an open line of communication. The coach must explain how contradictory information will confuse the athlete and potentially undermine the coach-athlete relationship. Excess information, even if accurate, can be overwhelming. This doesn’t mean that family members can’t be very involved and offer useful feedback. It does mean that family will serve their bowler’s interests by following the coach’s guidelines with respect to input.

Q - I’ve just entered a league with better bowlers than I’m used to competing against. I feel a bit intimidated and tense. How can I cope?

A - To improve your skills and reduce anxiety, we suggest viewing this as a terrific learning opportunity. If your ultimate goal is to become the best bowler you can be, then bowling at a higher level of competition is an invaluable part of that learning process. Carefully observe what more advanced bowlers are doing and soon enough your game will be  strengthened by adding what they know to what you know. Watch the way their feet move and their overall delivery, note the various releases, and observe adjustments as the lanes break down. You may observe when you’re not competing as well as between shots. If you observe between shots, be sure to allow sufficient time for refocusing so you’re fully prepared for your next shot. This means going through your standard pre-shot routine.

Goal setting should prove very helpful. Formulate a clear idea of steps in your skill development consistent with a Master Plan. This will enable you to work on attainable goals and feel satisfied and rewarded as you progress. Awareness of skill-related goals also emphasizes your bowling process. This emphasis has important implications:

First, consider yourself successful if you’re becoming a better bowler and performing at what is realistically your present potential. Making these your expectations should substantially reduce competitive pressure.

Second, a process orientation, especially when combined with a “here and now” approach (i.e., immediacy), is conducive to good concentration and managing anxiety.

As far as optimal performance is concerned, the challenge is the same regardless of the level of competition: The elements are you, the ball, the lane, and the pins. Use your mental game skills to be focused, loose, and positive about your game and yourself. While you can learn from more advanced bowlers, when it comes to your actual bowling, they don’t enter the picture. What does count are your performance and growth. These are under your control. Empower yourself and you won’t be intimidated. Use relaxation methods as needed to contribute to being calm. Progressive muscle relaxation in particular may help if muscles are tight (also try stretching).

As you gain experience and skill, your confidence will increase along
with your comfort. Congratulations for the step forward!

(This information is an excerpt from the book, “The Handbook of BowlingPsychology” by Dr. Eric Lasser, Fred Borden, and Jeri Edwards.)