I didn’t bowl this week. Usually, there’s no blog when this happens, so why am I writing this? Because usually, my weeks off are because of sickness, family obligations, or as part of my team’s scheduled rotation. We’re a five-man team in a four-person team league. The schedule gets shifted quite a bit when personal needs come up, but we all end up getting about 20 percent of the weeks off. This week was a bit different. This week, I asked for the week off because of a much-needed mental break.
The past few weeks were challenging mentally off the lanes, and I was also struggling a bit on the lanes. Even with only two weeks left in the season, I have supreme confidence in my team to perform well without me, especially since I’ve been someone they needed to “carry” the past couple of weeks. Due to weird scheduling, I took several weeks off in January and hadn’t had a night off since then, so there were some signs I needed a week off. This blog will focus on some of these signs, the importance of mental breaks, and the desire to come back fresh for a great last week.
See the clues, make the move
I’ve used “see the clues, make the move” as a phrase before when discussing tactical moves and lane play adjustments. However, this can also apply to any kind of adjustment, including mental ones. In this case, the clues are mental lapses that indicate some kind of change is needed.
While working with Team Canada, we used a “traffic light” system to generalize a bowler’s mental state:
- Green represented an “all systems go” attitude, with everything firing on all cylinders.
- Yellow represented some sort of issue, be it confusion, distraction, or frustration.
- Red represented when things were off the rails.
Each of these mental states will look different for different bowlers. In my case, I’ve been noticing less time in the green and more time in the red. Looking back at some struggles earlier in the season, they were mostly related to confusion and overthinking, but that’s not what has been happening the past few weeks. My struggle has been focus and emotional control. These are things I’ve worked hard on over the years, particularly emotional control, so when I’m struggling with managing my emotions, it’s a good sign that things are not as they should be.
In this case, the clue for me was that I was intensely focused on poor execution, getting discouraged, and losing focus on the ball reaction. Typically, when I’m in the yellow, I get frustrated and I’m more likely to be confused about ball reaction. There’s a difference here because, generally, when I’m not scoring well, I still have the confidence that I can figure things out and turn it around even if I’m frustrated. I rarely get discouraged, so this was a big sign for me last week during a sub-par performance.
Everyone needs breaks
In the past, I’ve taken breaks whenever needed. In my peak competitive days, the breaks could last several weeks. I practiced a lot and bowled in many tournaments, but sometimes I’d feel burnt out and decide to stop bowling. I’d miss tournaments and skip practices until I once again felt the desire to go and bowl, rather than a commitment or obligation to go practice.
Nowadays, I’ve generally gotten breaks from my league at regular intervals. And though I’m not anywhere near as competitive from a frequency point of view, I’m still very much a competitor who expects the best out of myself on the lanes. This can be harder without the work going in to execute at that level, so the breaks are as needed as they were before, but for different reasons.
Every athlete needs breaks, and there’s a reason that professionals have an “off-season.” The amount of work that goes into being a high-level athlete is off the charts, so they earn their downtime. Even if you are not an elite professional athlete, you need these breaks as well. The season is long, and it’s a grind bowling once or several times per week, not to mention tournaments. Bowlers do tend to have a natural off-season from a league standpoint, but often there are tournaments year-round. This is why I tend to recommend a schedule based around priority tournaments for competitive bowlers, with small breaks in between busy parts of the schedule. This is to regroup physically as well as mentally.
In this particular case, the timing feels bad. It’s our second-to-last week of the season, with my team in the thick of things for section placement and the overall league championship. Shouldn’t I “suck it up” and get it done over the next couple of weeks? Maybe. This is a question less of my mental state and more of my belief in my team. I’m the anchor and team captain, but this team is a rotation, and they’ve bowled well without me before. They’ve all been out-bowling me relative to their average the past couple of weeks. From this point of view, I’ve got more faith in them than I have in my own game at this moment, so the decision is an easy one.
Knowing the value of a break for myself, I’ve got every reason to believe that the team will be fine without me, and I’ll be even better for the biggest week of the season next week.
Coming back fresh
Often, a week or two without bowling is enough to feel mentally refreshed. For myself, the past few weeks have been stressful off the lanes, and I haven’t quite gotten myself into the right frame of mind on the lanes. With a week to refresh, I’m confident I’ll come back in the best possible state of mind for the last week of the year. It’s the first year in a while that my team will be bowling for something meaningful in the last week of the year, and the goal is to lead the team to the best showing possible.
Sometimes to achieve a goal, you need to work smarter, not harder. In this case, being smarter means taking a week to refresh mentally.
- Use a system to evaluate your mental performance as objectively as possible.
- Take breaks when there are physical or mental signs you need one.