By Jackson Masiel,
It’s game 7 of the NBA finals and junior Quinn Vaewsorn is just about to make the winning shot. At least, that’s what Vaewsorn imagines as he shoots hoops in his front yard.
Not only does the varsity basketball players spend countless hours physically conditioning, doing ball-handling drills and attending team practices, he also sets aside a good portion of time to practice getting into “the zone.”
“Simulating a game-time situation is how I practice mental toughness,” Vaewsorn said, wiping the sweat from his forehead and going up for another shot.
Most sports preparation is physical — whether it’s pumping iron in the gym, running wind sprints, aerobics or stretching. But equally important is the state of mind.
Staying mentally sharp allows athletes to be in the right frame of mind during games.
“You have to be mentally focused to manage plays and anticipate on defense,” Vaewsorn said.
Mac Gray, junior and club soccer player, believes that many coaches under emphasize the mental aspect of sports. Endurance-based sports like long-distance running require a tough mind to push the extra mile when it gets uncomfortable.
Senior Michael Vernau calls this “mental callusing.” Vernau is the sixth ranked cross country runner in the country and believes the best way to become mentally callused is to run a lot.
“Experience is key. The more and more I hit the brink of my physical ability, the more familiar that feeling becomes,” Vernau said.
Dan Gonzalez, coach of the Davis High basketball team, stresses the value of staying positive. Specifically, he makes sure that his players are keeping up academically.
“Falling behind in school adds a new level of negativity that players can’t get away from on the court,” Gonzalez said.
One of the main issues for athletes today is the stress from school and other obligations. This, combined with constant exposure to technology, can lead to over stimulation and fatigue of the central nervous system.
According to John Underwood, who runs the “Life of an Athlete” human performance project, the central nervous system (CNS) dictates athletic ability.
“Central nervous system readiness is the single biggest factor in performance in anything,” Underwood said.
As the Life of an Athlete program emphasizes, a healthy lifestyle is imperative to avoid CNS fatigue and achieve “readiness.” Getting optimal sleep, eating healthy food and living drug-free are choices that affect performance.
While awake, the human brain becomes cluttered, fatigued, and loses effectiveness.
“The biggest factor in recharging the CNS is sleep,” Underwood said. “The goal from the time you wake in the morning…is to spare as much CNS energy as possible.”
Underwood’s program encourages 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep for high performing athletes.
“Skill abilities actually integrate with movement memory areas of the brain during sleep,” Underwood said.
The Life of an Athlete project also strongly warns against the damages of drugs and alcohol.
Michael Vernau is the program’s vision of an ideal athlete. Along with a strict training regimen, Vernau leads an exemplary lifestyle. He goes to sleep every night at 9, eats clean and stays away from drugs and alcohol.
“It kind of sucks, because I miss out on some high school experiences,” Vernau said.
But it is Vernau’s strict lifestyle that allows him to achieve at a high level.