Competitive Fishing – The Challenge of Winning and Losing
Chris Flint / Sportsmens Compass Contributing Member/Guru
Last year, FLW Northern Costa Series announced the tournament schedule for the 2016 season. I was beyond excited to see that the series would be coming to my home water again, the St. Lawrence River, in Clayton, NY. From the moment they announced the schedule, a day did not pass that I did not think about that event. This river is a special place for me and it is also where I made my first top 10 cut as a Rookie in the Costa series in 2012, where I finished in 6th place. Fishing giant deep water smallmouth bass is where I’m comfortable so my confidence level was through the roof!
Fast forward to July 2016 and the event was quickly approaching. I had taken almost three weeks off from work to prepare for the tournament and set my camper up in Clayton, NY. This would give me the opportunity to fish Lake Ontario. I don’t have much experience there even though it’s so close. I knew from the past that the lake would play a big factor for the win. I also knew the lake can get nasty and with the weather patterns I predicted there would be a day when the lake would not be fishable. This would work out great for me to get a big bag of fish out of the river. Little did I know that the wheels would spin off and my game plan would quickly crumble as fast as I put it together. Reflecting back, after the event it is always easier to figure out why. The mental game of fishing is always a huge factor that I study and here are a few things I learned after this event.
My wife Jen is my fishing partner. Although she does not fish, she plays a huge role in what I have accomplished fishing and with sponsor support. As my partner she is my coach, assisting me in trying to stay in that mental game which can be more challenging than catching fish sometimes. She is one of the most positive people you will meet, and she presses me every day to keep a mindset of being a winner no matter what happens. This tournament I learned about the subconscious mind and how it plays a huge role in everything you do on and off the water.
A look at the Subconscious
Subconscious- of or concerning the part of the mind of which on, is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions.
That is a powerful definition. Now think about it as it relates to competitive sports. Think back to when you were a little kid being influenced by your family members as you grew up. Learning to walk, ride a bike, swim, all of those new things you did as you grew. As a kid you were told over and over, “come on you can do it, great job” and rewarded for things that you thought you could not do. It was positive reinforcement that was building your subconscious in order to make you a better person. As you grow up this is where your fears are developed as well. Sometimes we cannot do things as well as we thought, or maybe we were not rewarded or even told we weren’t good enough to be one thing or another. Either way, those things are there in your brain and you have to overcome them, because your mind will always go back to what it was told to do.
Fast forward to being an adult. The mind and the subconscious has grown and become more evolved and powerful then we even realize. As a result of this we can become our own worst enemy when it comes to achieving goals unless we retrain our brain to clear the distractions and obstacles that we face while in competition. This is where becoming a consistent winner gets challenging. For those who learn to retrain their pattern of thinking and challenge the subconscious into always saying you will win, and you will succeed becomes an important factor. Recently, I was a prime example of not allowing myself to perform to my ability.
Fear can be a powerful thing that influences our behaviors. Men never admit fear, right? Which is what can create problems for us in competition and in life. I am going to admit I fear things and maybe they do not influence how I perform in sports or life. However when you look at your fears and realize how insignificant they really are they can be easy to overcome. For example, I am scared to death of spiders. Those little creeps freak me out for some reason. If I am somewhere and a spider shows up, watch out. You will hear me yelling for my wife to come and kill it as I run the other way .What has a spider ever done to me? Nothing, but something in my subconscious mind tells me to fear them whenever I see them. So how do I retrain my brain to fix the problem? Well, some spiders obviously can kill you with their venom. Fortunately, I live in a place where we rarely come across that kind of killer spider. So I “Google” spiders and look online at all the various types and sizes and learn that they are all just a creature of mother nature that has a specific duty in the ecosystem. The last time I checked a spider never beat anyone up, stole their iPhone or robbed them so I guess I can give them a little credit there. So that little thing that made me run was all just a subconscious thought that I told myself over and over I was scared of, when there is nothing really to fear. I added a little comedy to the spider lesson but that also helps to reduce the anxiety I feel when I see one. The next time I encounter the little creature I have trained my subconscious to positively reinforce what I think about spiders and how I react to them.
So how does dealing with being afraid of spiders help me become a better angler? It is not the fear of the spider it is how I learned to rebuild my subconscious mind in times of fear, stress, anxiety or whatever distraction might be thrown at me. All of us anglers know in this sport there are plenty of factors that can affect how our day will turn out. Weather patterns, fishing pressure, mechanical issues, etc. Learning how to retrain your subconscious mind in times when things are not going right will help you overcome the obstacles that you face.
You practice for your next big event, you have prepared, studied and dialed in a good bite. You feel like you are on top of your game going into the event. The weather has been stable and the fishing has been generally good for you. The tournament day starts and there are always added stressors; your co-angler is late, your navigational lights will not turn on before you pass through check in, your fish finder locks up. You say to yourself, “why does this stuff always happen to me when its game time?” At that very moment the thought comes into your mind from your subconscious you have already started to let the wheels come off the wagon and spin out of control. If you don’t quickly fix your mind your day is likely going to go into the books as a less than average day and not what you expected. Instead of letting this happen, prepare your mind before each and every event for these types of problems, figuring out ways to positively reinforce your subconscious mind to keep you focused when these distractions occur. I have not mastered what I am telling you, but I do practice it every single day and some days are easier than others. The first thing I do is I always attempt to find my happy place, (credit to Happy Gilmore) and what makes me comfortable, and put that image in my head. For me, it’s our four crazy German shorthaired pointers, they are my life. They make me smile and laugh every single day even when they are being maniacs. When a distraction occurs I think of them, it reduces my levels of stress and anxiety. Find your happy factor and keep it close to you, embed it in your mind. Place it where you can see it so it is available when the distractions start to happen. For example, my wife made note cards and put a picture of each dog on the card with a positive quote, I kept these cards in my glove box of the boat, every time I have to go in there I can see them and smile, it constantly reinforces my happy place.
Next time something bad happens that drives you to distraction what are you going to do to fix it? Obviously having a fit and getting angry about the issue will not be the solution to your issue. Think about it like this, is it end of the world? Did you die? Nope, so take a breath, envision your happy place and find a solution to the problem. So your fish finder won’t turn on and you’re at a loss of how to find your fish again. Well you just practiced a full week and had a great practice, I bet that you know every weed turn, log and rock pile in the area that you fished. It’s there in your subconscious mind and you think that the fish finder was the only way that was going to lead you back to those fish? Think again, are there poles and lures still sitting on the deck of your boat? Yes there are. Get your head in the right place and start fishing. Before you know it your focus is back, fish start biting and you soon forgot that you even needed a fish finder to start your day.
There are millions of examples of why things go bad and how we can overcome them, it’s all about retraining your brain to believe that you are a winner and will succeed at what you are doing. Every single event you fish, no matter how big or how small, you will always have the group of guys that are smashing big bags of fish in practice. Then they will come to the docks for weigh in and have the “angler excuse story book”, my fish were gone, fish did not bite, the weather changed, someone was on MY SPOT! Well the fact of the matter is every single angler is facing different variables and distractions the ones who learn to overcome those distractions are the ones cashing checks on a regular basis.
For people that know me I seemed to have been followed by major distractions the last few years fishing the BASS Opens and the Costa Series. For those of you that don’t know me I am sure you have seen some pictures or read about me. I am the guy that sank his boat on Lake St. Clair and was clinging to a buoy with my co-angler. The day that happened my co-angler and I had 18 pounds of fish in the live well and those fish never made it in to the stage. As I clung to the buoy and watched my boat level off in the deep waters of St. Clair I took one of my most famous selfies ever as I rocked back and forth on a shipping buoy wearing two life jackets. Fast forward to the next year on day one in the Bass Opens on Lake Erie driving a brand new boat, I break down 20 miles off shore and my boat gets washed onto Peele Island and swamped. In the last two seasons, I have fished eight major events. I have broken down eight times just before or during those events. I never once sat down and cried and said why me. Instead I think how fortunate I am to be able to chase my dreams and live a life I enjoy. Life is hard, sports are hard and would any of it really be any fun if you did not have challenges? For me, challenge makes me a stronger person. I have failed and I have lost. I have also achieved many great things and I have won all of which I cherish. In life and in sports it’s all about how we perceive things, so get off your pity wagon and retrain your brain to become a successful winner! By the way, I have to admit I may be afraid of the big water because of the aforementioned events. I never did go out on Lake Ontario for this past Costa Series. I have discovered this fear and I will overcome it.
I am fortunate enough to have great people in my life who help me train, learn and become a better person. My family and sponsor support all help me to chase my dream and catch it. In return I hope I can help a few people become great in whatever they are looking to do. Stay tuned… I will have more articles coming up on how to mentally become a winner and influence your life in the best way possible.
Don’t chase your dreams…. catch them!!
About Chris and Jen
We are the Flint’s, my wife Jen and I are high school sweethearts and have been together for 23 years. My wife moved to the North Country from Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up in the North Country we have developed a passion for the outdoors. We have a unique relationship; we are best friends, co-workers and dream chasers. Both of us are Police officers and work together on the St. Lawrence County Drug Task force, I am employed with the Village of Canton and Jen works for SUNY Potsdam Police Department. I have been a Police Officer for 17 years and Jen, 12 years. We are both very proud to work in the North Country community that we grew up in. Our motto in life is to take the good out of each situation that life throws at us.