by Lisa Clodfelter, MA, LPC
“If your mindset is defeated, the results will be the same no matter how often you put up a physical fight” – Mac Duke the Strategist
Mental toughness. Now there’s a couple of buzzwords, right? We hear that phrase thrown around a lot in the context of sport. Psychological researchers define mental toughness as follows:
“Having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to: generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sports places on a performer; specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.” (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002, p.209).
There appears to be widely growing acceptance of the central role that adequately developed mental skills can play in determining the success of individuals and teams in sport. The question is:
“How do we nurture this edge in a team environment?”
There are strategies that will allow a sufficient level of “buy-in” from the athletes and establish a culture that nurtures the development of relevant skills and bolsters consistent performance.
I have found the language, messages, and feedback coaches convey to their athletes can have a profound impact on the enhancement of how athletes embrace and develop key mental skills. This post provides some strategies for creating an alignment between coaches and athletes to establish a team approach to effective mental skills training.
The strength of your team’s mindset often determines the quality of their game.
Through their daily messages and feedback to the team, coaches have a huge impact on creating the culture of valuing and implementing the skills and strategies mental skills consultants introduce. Not to say that mental skills consultants have all the answers, but it is vital that all support staff come into alignment with a common purpose and theme that helps create that “buy-in” from the team.
Regularly Plan and Collaborate with Coaches
Before significant interaction with athletes, coaches should work together around determining the rationale for various strategies and how best to implement those strategies. Collaborate on and develop a common vernacular to use with the team (e.g. “quiet your mind”, “stay in your process”, or “compete”) to help reinforce key messages.
Consistency in Reinforcing Similar Behaviors
Once the entire staff is on the same page, a culture based on focus areas and key messages emerges. Conflicting feedback from the coaching staff no longer exists and a united language of consistency is created.
For example, when working with an individual to maintain process-focus, hearing from another coach “the opposition looks sharp today – you’re going to have to bring it to win” can be very detrimental. In contrast, it is much more beneficial if the athlete hears “one ball at a time, follow your process, and focus on your breathing”.
Make Mental Skills a Part of Everyday Practice
To prevent mental skills from becoming just something to discuss around a dry-erase board, support staff must discuss and emphasize using mental skills in every practice. This gives the athletes a chance to try on these skills in real life situations (while having support available along the way) before they are required to utilize them in a pressurized competition environment.
Additionally, coaches are highly trusted by athletes and spend a great deal of time with them. It goes a long way with the athletes when they are consistently hearing the entire staff united in feedback and embracing and reinforcing the key messages.