By Jensyn Hartzell
Performing well in an athletic setting includes a combination of proper technique, mental strength, proper conditioning, and teamwork. But athletes are not perfect.
Every athlete has weaknesses and bad habits, whether it be a lack of communication skills with teammates or consistently using wrong technique to execute a skill while playing.
Breaking these bad habits can be challenging, especially as a collegiate student-athlete, since bad habits could have been done so many times over so many years.
More specific examples of bad habits include throwing temper tantrums when losing, using incorrect footwork to shoot a layup in basketball, and consistently being late for practices.
According to Dr. Chris Stankovich, founder of the Advanced Human Performance Systems, the first step to break a bad habit is to accept that “there is nothing ‘easy’ about breaking an old bad habit or beginning a new good habit.”
Breaking bad habits begin with a choice within the athlete to change. Athletes must be aware of their habit at all times in order to break it.
According to Dr. Stankovich, “striv[ing] for a long-term life change rather than a quick fix or short-term adjustments” can be an important factor in breaking bad habits.
For example, if an athlete had a bad temper on the court or field, they most likely have a bad temper when it comes to other things in life as well. These athletes like this should focus on working through their emotions in all aspects of life.
According to PsychologyToday’s writer Christopher Bergland, a world-class endurance athlete and coach, “intervention techniques such as “Episodic Future Thinking” help people visualize outcomes in more detail-specific ways.” This means to use long term goals as motivation instead of day to day goals.
An example of Episodic Future Thinking would be to focus on how your body will look and feel in three months of consistently working out instead of focusing on how you will feel after working out for that day in particular.
Dr Stankovich said it is important to “change your approach when necessary.” There are various methods to breaking bad habits, so athletes must find one that works for them.
“I find that watching films helps me a lot because I see myself doing something wrong and then I can fix it when I am playing,” freshman Washington College men’s lacrosse player Grant Thomas said.
“Whenever I know I developed a bad habit I take time to get some extra reps on what I’m doing wrong, but make sure I do it correctly,” senior WC women’s volleyball player Abigail Smith said.
According to Dr. Stankovich, one of the best things to do to break a bad habit is to face it head on.
“Sometimes when we think too long, we actually lose our enthusiasm and motivation,” he said, referring to this as “paralysis by analysis.”
When athletes or coaches notice bad habits, they should begin correcting it as soon as possible. The longer the bad habit is able to continue, the harder it will be to break it.
Breaking bad habits is difficult, but not impossible. Athletes especially have to focus on breaking their bad habits when it comes to their sport, as it could be detrimental for their career and their team to let it continue.
By being honest with themselves, finding a method that works for them, and working hard, athletes can break their bad habits no matter what it is.