I truly believe that the most overlooked part of the youth athletic training process is the “Mental Game”.
You can have the most intricate set and reps scheme, a great plan for training and practices, and have the optimal blend of structural balance within your programs.
But looking at the long term ”big picture”, if you can’t get your athletes to work hard at every thing they do, and truly believe that the work is going to benefit them, then you may never see your athletes play at or near their potential..
In the world of technology that we live in today, I think many coaches and trainers get too caught up in trying to find a new exercise or drill when they should really focus on how to get their athletes motivated to work harder.
The mental aspect of training is so important and is rarely ever touched upon by coaches or strength and conditioning professionals. In athletics, the most talented teams don’t always win. It’s the teams that have the belief and confidence that they won’t lose. Look at the last two World Series Championship teams.
The San Francisco Giants and the Saint Louis Cardinals were both underdogs going into the World Series. Both teams had to face the American League “giants” the Texas Rangers. On paper the Rangers were the better team in both years. However, they never came out on top. If you listen to interviews from the players and coaches of the Giants, and Cards, what you will hear them talk about the most is a belief that they were going to make it happen, and that they would do it together, as a team. Both the 2010 and 2011 World Series championship teams had something in common; a manager that believes in accountability, and a strong mental approach to competition.
I believe that we, as coaches and strength and conditioning professionals, can promote these feelings and create the environment throughout our training that will give our players the edge they desire…but we have to demand it, and exemplify it, each and every day.
Mental toughness is having the developed psychological edge that enables you to:
1. Generally cope better than your opponents with the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on you as a student athlete.
2. Specifically, to be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, resilient and in control under pressure.
The key psychological characteristics associated with mentally tough athletes are;
a. Self belief/ Confidence
d. Composure (handling pressure)
Mental toughness is often thought of as an elusive quality that only the elite possess. I myself, as well as many sport psychologists and coaches believe it can be taught.
For the majority of athletes, the outcome of athletic competition is the most accessible and common way to build mental toughness or confidence. These players get their confidence from their results.
They believe in themselves more if they are winning than when they are losing. This is a terrible roller coaster to ride for a young athlete. Nobody wins all the time.
I teach my athletes to get their confidence from their preparation. When a coach takes the time to point out to his/her athletes that at practice every rep counts and show them that they are accomplishing difficult tasks, and doing things that they didn’t think were possible. This builds confidence, a positive attitude and a belief that they can handle themselves in any situation that arises.
We as coaches have to create this environment that creates and promotes mental toughness – which is teaching our athletes how to do the right thing ALL THE TIME!