Richmond star Alex Rance explains the role mental fitness plays in his career and everyday life, in a piece for Aflplayers.com.au brought to you by Fitness First.
As much as physical preparation is vital, your mental fitness is equally, if not more, important.
Around three or four years ago, I was quite an erratic performer in the AFL – I would play some really good games but also some really bad ones.
So while I was still a good, serviceable player, the gap between my best and my worst was too large to be considered a great player.
I lacked a bit of direction with my mental state. I was very results based and was constantly thinking about the type of player I wanted to be or the type of game I wanted to play.
When a football career becomes difficult, things become overcomplicated which, in turn, makes things a lot worse.
I used to think I had to listen to pump up songs before games to get me ready but because I’m naturally an energetic person, it only would lead to wasted energy.
I needed to find a balance and improve my mental fitness so I didn’t get too emotional through the highs and through the lows. This was mostly due to the maturing process, so I had a few conversations to a couple of our coaches.
I had a chat to Justin Leppitsch, who first taught me my craft at the Tigers, and I also spoke to Ben Rutten in recent years about compartmentalising parts of my life and making sure I’m not dragging any extra baggage when I don’t need to.
It’s all about finding a balance and ensuring I focus on the processes rather than the outcome.
My natural tendency is to get a little hypo, which becomes distracting, so I needed to find a way to chill out before games.
I don’t really listen to music pre-game but I make sure my routine is pretty low-key, so I might play a game on my phone to try and relax rather than hype myself up.
Finding ways to disconnect away from the field is an important part of my mental fitness.
“My natural tendency is to get a little hypo, which becomes distracting, so I needed to find a way to chill out before games” – Alex Rance.
For example, when I’m cleaning the house or doing the dishes – a couple of things I don’t overly enjoy – I like listening to country music.
Not many people enjoy country music but it’s a great distraction from the job I’m doing.
I remember listening to it one time and liked what I heard, there are not a lot of wasted words in country music, I guess. It’s this pretty nice, happy and upbeat music. They talk about their trucks, drinking and girls and that’s about it.
It calms me down and takes me away from all the problems I have for the day.
I also like thinking really creatively. I enjoy sitting down and thinking of inventions, apps, funny videos, ideas or anything creative that I find funny and enjoyable.
At the moment, I’ve been pretty caught up with my academy, which has been a real passion project of mine, so that’s been a good distraction.
Another thing that helps with my mental fitness is traveling. Regardless of if I’m in my own home or elsewhere in Melbourne, I’m still in Australia and feel like the lifestyle is always scrutinised. We have to watch what we eat, watch what we drink, watch who we’re with, watch what time we’re out to, so I think it’s nice to get away and not be constantly watched all the time.
To have that mental relief and go away to another country is very beneficial for players.
However it probably takes a little bit of time to open up and relax when you board the plane and not become as cagey. I think as time goes on you get better at turning off that key, but it’s still hard because you’re in that Melbourne or Australian bubble copping all the scrutiny and the distractions that take you away from a fun and enjoyable life.
So it takes a bit of time to be able to get yourself into a state of carefreeness.
But in regards to mental fitness, you can also overdo it. It’s like a bell curve, if you overthink or don’t think enough, you’re not going to achieve your best results.
You need to find a happy medium and have enough control that you can sift out the rubbish but not be so controlled that you can’t let yourself go and actually enjoy a bit of the journey. I think it’s really important to find that balance between the two.
When you’re overseas, you still have a certain element of structure so you’re not letting yourself go completely but at the same time enjoying what you’re seeing and experiencing.
There are some stats around that after two weeks of doing no exercise, your body starts to deteriorate and not be at the standard it previously was. So it’s important to stick to our programs and I make sure that if I have a long break or go away, the club still trusts that I won’t break down when the training load increases.
It’s also great to have that change in setting too when exercising overseas. Every now and again we might train at MSAC or something alike to change the stimulus in-season, but it’s really refreshing to go for a run through Palm Springs or through some national parks in Washington and take your mind off the monotony.
While you’re still running laps and punching out the same program, you’re breathing different air and experiencing different sights.