At All Stars Gala, athletes reveal what they tell themselves when the going gets rough
PITTSFIELD — They bounded up steps in their Wednesday best, striding forward for handshakes and photos.
On this night, the determination that earns athletic distinction was in the rearview for these Berkshire All-Stars.
But as they came off a stage at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires, a dozen athletes paused to explain what they do when the going gets rough.
- "We just keep fighting. You can't stop."
- "I just start bouncing up and down and never stand still."
- "You cannot get in your own head. If you do, it's game over and you're going to go downhill."
That's advice, respectively, from Lexi Mercer of Hoosac Valley, Adam Quinto of Pittsfield and Michael Wellspeak of Mount Greylock — three standout athletes in basketball, tennis and lacrosse.
When asked how all-stars get themselves out of slumps, these three and a dozen more reeled off strategies. Believe in your training. Find the joy. Know when to rally — and when to dig deep. The most important thing, most agreed: Play for the team.
Tim Clayton, who just closed his Wahconah gridiron career, knows that success doesn't happen alone.
"It comes from your teammates. You rally them up with you, usually after the other team scores," he said.
One of those football teammates, Conner Noyes, backed him up. "You can't just leave your teammates behind. You kind of just have got to put yourself out there."
Wellspeak, the Mount Greylock lacrosse player, sees his performance as inseparable from the team. When things are not going well, he fights to bring his energy up, trusting that it will be contagious for teammates — and sickening for the other team.
"You can't feed off low energy," Wellspeak said.
Even in an individual sport like tennis, Quinto said, he never wants to let the team down. At low moments, he'll review coaching advice and pump himself up. "Am I being lazy?" he says he'll ask.
Other athletes spoke of similar mental resets.
Grace Phair, who runs track for Monument Mountain, says that when things aren't firing right, she'll reflect on why that might be, and work to regain motivation. If a meet isn't going as she had hoped, she will take a longer view, and see events as practice.
"Sometimes the best thing is just to think what fitness you can get out of it," she said.
Other times, it's about remembering that, hey, you've got this.
This month, track and field athlete Madison Ross of Mount Greylock found herself at the nationals in Greensboro, N.C. "Terrified," she said, despite holding many school records.
"I had to believe in myself because I got there. I earned a spot there," she said. Confidence flowed back, and when the long jump event came up, Ross set a personal record.
Trust your training, her teammate Maddie Albert says, and let it chase doubt away.
"I trained for this and worked hard," Albert says she'll tell herself.
Before races, their coach, Brian Gill, would ask, "Are you ready?"
"We would all say, `Let's roll,' " Albert said. "That kind of helps me calm down and put everything on the track."
Aubrey Blanchard, a midfielder on Monument Mountain's soccer team — 20 goals and four assists this year — finds her mojo, at low points, in her boundless love for the sport.
"I'm like a little kid," she said of her playing style. "I just kind of run around. If I hustle, I can make the most of everything. As long as you're always moving, and putting pressure on the ball."
Carter Matthews, who played baseball and soccer for Pittsfield High, admits that he has some superstitions. That's why he wore the same pants and helmet and even listened to the same pregame music.
Until something didn't look so lucky. "I will change the routine up. I feel it gives me more energy."
On the soccer pitch, it's different, he says. In off moments, "I'll try to let the game come to me more." Until there are only 15 minutes left and the team is behind. "That's when you've got to go all out."
Jakin Miller, a nordic skier who just graduated from Mount Greylock, has learned, like others, to trust his training. "The more I think about it, the worse I do."
And so he goes to work.
"The faster you go, the more it hurts," he said of his sport. "If I don't think about it, I can dig deeper."
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