The ball cracks off the bat, flying deep into the night sky. As the outfielder tracks towards the center field wall, they notice a change; the lush green grass fades into coarse red dirt.
The warning track; a shift in terrain to warn the outfielder that they’re close to hitting the wall and that they need to slow down.
If the outfielder pays attention to the warning track, they’ll slow down and adjust accordingly. If they ignore it, they risk an unpleasant surprise.
Warning tracks don’t just exist on the diamond; they’re a part of every athlete’s mental experience, and having the awareness to know when you’ve hit the warning track and how to respond is key to strong mental wellness.
Mental Wellness and Self Awareness
Self-awareness is knowing when you’re approaching the warning track.
“One of the things that we say to our athletes, coaches and people who work in sport is “what are the signs and symptoms or sensations that you feel when you’re about to hit the wall,” sport psychologist Dr. Erin Ayala says. “Great athletes know when that takes place and they are able to take action. They know to take a step back or slow down when needed.”
Hitting the warning tracks looks different for everyone but there are some common signs that athletes and coaches can look for…both in themselves and in others.
“It could look like a change in sleep, irritability, running late for things, making silly mistakes, or changes in appetite,” Ayala says. “A really common one is a sense of social isolation, not having the energy to go out with buddies and retreating from the world around them.”
This just leads to increased stress and prohibits the athlete from reaching peak mental wellness and performance.
On the flipside, athletes with strong self awareness recognize when their needs are not being met and take active steps to replenish themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.
What to Do When You’ve Hit the Warning Track
The downs that an athlete will experience can come from a variety of sources, including poor performances, frustration with those in their environment, and mental or physical burnout. Whatever the cause, there’s no avoiding them, nor can we avoid the negative thoughts or emotions we experience when we’re approaching the wall.
The good news? We can turn our awareness into a call to action, and focus on recovery strategies that are within our control.
One of the best things to do when struggling with mental wellness is simply talking to someone about your struggles. That could be a teammate or coach, but also family, friends or anyone else who is a trusted member of your circle.
“Talking about it is really important because keeping it inside isn’t going to do anything,” Ayala says. “The more you try and push it away, the more it’s going to come back at you.”
Talking about those stressors and struggles is important because it sets a precedent for the person on the receiving end that they can speak up when they’re going through their own issues.
“The more we talk about it, the more we all know that it is a thing,” Ayala says. “For mental wellness and mental health, there are ups and downs for everyone.”
Ayala also recommends finding professional support or counseling such as sport psychology when faced with mental struggles in sport…and even before struggles arise.
“You don’t need to have a mental health disorder or diagnosis to work with a sport psychologist,” Ayala says. “All athletes can benefit from sport psychology and if you’re stressed. That’s a great reason to go to one. Being willing to make that phone call can be a game changer for athletes because they then have a dedicated hour to themselves once a week where they can really start to unpack this stuff.”
In addition to knowing when to reach out for help, strong mental awareness allows athletes to better understand how they react to adversity, and how to respond to it thoughtfully and controllably.
“We can’t control external situations, we often can’t control our feelings or our thoughts but we can control how we react to them.”
This article is part five of a five-part series from Premier’s Research and Analytics division on unlocking personal performance potential. Read part 1 here. Read part 2 here. Read part 3 here. Read part 4 here.
To measure your own performance mindset and profile, try Premier’s Athletic Wellness and Performance Assessment.